Billie Faircloth, FAIA, is one of four panelists participating in “Integrating Climate Research Into Design Practice,” a session to be held during AIA’s 2023 Conference on Architecture June 7-10 in San Francisco. Faircloth is a partner and research director at KieranTimberlake in Philadelphia, where she leads the firm's transdisciplinary research group. We spoke with her about what sustainability means to her as a practitioner.

Sustainability is action. Sustainability is acting on our ethical and professional responsibility to consider the people and environments impacted by our endeavors. It also means confronting the dynamic complexities therein. It means being brave enough to challenge whether or not a new building is a solution to a community’s needs in the first place. It means arguing for the reuse and repair of what we already have.

Architects are currently engaging in boundary-moving work. Our knowledge of building materials is expanding, and we are starting to understand that materials are connected to people, place, ecology, and equity.

I think sustainability also means moving the focus of our work from energy to impact. That means we can move beyond simply designing for energy usage to modeling ecological impacts while confronting the complexities of building materials through the framework of life-cycle thinking.

We’re also moving our work from global to local. We understand global-scale impact, but we need to understand how day-to-day decision making connects to local-scale impacts. We need to account for the disproportionate risk carried by historically marginalized communities.

Our working knowledge of materials and their connection to design, architecture, and construction is a pervasive conversation, and we are increasing our capacity to engage it directly. Sustainability means acting upon this knowledge transformation.