courtesy AIA

Sustainability is not a concept that is new to our profession. Neither is equity. Over 50 years ago, Whitney M. Young Jr. rebuked AIA for not taking a stance on civil rights as “thunderous silence” and “complete irrelevance.”

To be vocal and relevant, our profession needs to challenge itself every day to address the goals of sustainability and equity. We cannot remain aspirational. We also cannot apply and consider practices separately for these goals—we must address them concurrently. In fact, we define sustainable design as a built environment that protects the planet and enhances human health while creating equitable and resilient communities.

We have an urgent climate imperative for carbon reduction. The causes and effects of climate change disproportionately affect low-income groups and negatively impact their overall well-being. Our design solutions affect more than the client and current occupants. Good design positively impacts future occupants and the larger community.

For every project, ask yourselves:

  • What is the project's greater reach? How could this project contribute to creating a diverse, accessible, walkable, just, and human-scaled community?
  • Who might this project be forgetting? How can the design process and outcome remove barriers and promote inclusion and social equity, particularly with respect to vulnerable communities?
  • What opportunities exist in this project to include, engage, and promote human connection?
  • How can the design support health and resilience for the community during times of need or during emergencies?

If you’re working on a Sustainability Action Plan for your practice or firm, start with a diverse and culturally responsive group. AIA’s Guides for Equitable Practice can help ensure your organization meets career development, professional environment, and cultural awareness expectations of current and future employees and clients. The plan should also be a living document that you can amend as needed based on your measured progress.

If you are pursuing LEED certification, remember that the program has a “Social Equity within the Community” credit. It is tied to LEED’s Social Economic Environmental Design (SEED) Network evaluation, a tool for assessing the social, economic, and environmental impact of design projects.

In October, we will announce the winners of the Film Challenge. You will be able to draw inspiration from these stories about architects collaborating with civic leaders to design sustainable and equitable communities.

This issue highlights the winners of the 2022 COTE Top Ten Awards, recognizing projects that integrate design excellence with environmental performance. For the submissions, we ask for examples of successful outcomes of strategies across the triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental value. You do not need an award submission as impetus to incorporate a triple bottom line in your projects. We hope reading about these projects will spark your creativity and curiosity—starting with active listening of all stakeholders.

Also look for the latest AIA Sustainability & Resilience Trends Survey, which will be released in the coming months. It measures member awareness of sustainability and resilience issues and compares data to previous reports.

In your role as stewards of the built environment, use your critical eye, question the status quo, and look at radical changes in the way you design and deliver buildings. Enhance the awareness of the public and policymakers about the role buildings play in climate change, public health, and resiliency.