Calling all Design Professionals: Climate Action Now!

Climate Action Now50% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030, net-zero emissions by 2050 – these are the goals that scientists have stated in no uncertain terms must be met to achieve no more than 2 degrees Celsius global temperature rise. In the meantime, 2021 had the greatest number of over billion-dollar weather and climate disasters impacting almost every region across the U.S. and globe. We know that around 40% of emissions are attributable to the built environment and that creating resilient, adaptive environments is essential due to the impacts we’re already experiencing. So what are design professionals to do in this decade before 2030? How do we rapidly scale up climate action across all the design professions?

That’s the topic that the AIA Strategic Council’s Scalable Climate Action task group, which I had the opportunity to lead, took on in 2021 with some clear, actionable recommendations based on our research.

The resulting Scalable Climate Action report, available here on the AIA website, identifies six levers of change that can trigger rapid wholesale shifts in how we design and practice:

  1. Achieve Carbon Literacy: Fill the confidence gap in our ability to talk about and design for a changing climate. Create 94,000 architects as carbon literacy leaders.
  2. Focus on the power of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments: Shift the investments of the design profession at all scales to promote sustainable, resilient outcomes.
  3. Include Public Architects: Embrace the power of those in “alternative career paths,” such as public and corporate architects, to drive climate action.
  4. Update AIA Ethics and Contract Documents language: Use the full force of AIA’s standards to integrate climate action in daily practice.
  5. Advocate for Government Action: Design professionals must seize current opportunities to directly engage in changing climate action funding and legislative, code and regulatory actions.
  6. Respond to Changes in Professional Liability: Recognize that with the changes in mainstream acceptance of climate change and its impacts, the expectations of what is responsible design can be changing too.

For each recommendation, the report describes the current state and a roadmap of steps over a 10-year period to achieve measurable change at the individual, firm, regional, and national levels.

The report was well received by the AIA Strategic Council and Board in December, and the work continues particularly on the development of a Carbon Literacy credential. This parallels the important legislation passed in California that now requires all licensed architects to complete five CEUs on Zero Net Carbon Design by 2023.. In the meantime, the expectations for professional liability are starting to change, according to some industry leaders. Additional information is in an article written in the January AIA trust newsletter, “Climate Impact on Professional Liability.”

What does this mean for us, our clients, and colleagues?

The opportunities to make significant industry changes to drive climate action are real, urgent, and within the grasp of each of us, no matter where we live or our types of practice. Things like becoming carbon literate, changing your financial investments, having your voice heard with your local officials, designing for a changing climate and just talking about the importance of climate action with anyone and everyone.

To paraphrase a great line from “Apollo 13,” – silence is not an option.

Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA, LEED Fellow, is a Principal Consultant at Cameron MacAllister Group. She co-leads the firm’s sustainability consulting efforts and works with design firms to integrate greater sustainability and resiliency outcomes throughout their practice. If you are interested in learning how Mary Ann can help your firm, contact her directly at 314-805-9332 or via email.