Peter Arkle

“I am so sick of hearing about sustainability,” gripes one of my readers on “Our profession is on life support,” writes another, “and I have to apologize to my clients for the … fee for our professional services on a daily basis. … Green hype doesn’t matter to our clients and isn’t turning into fee.” And yet another comments, “The only green we should be talking about is how to get paid for practicing architecture.” While some readers may see sustainability as a distraction from their economic woes, in actuality it can raise their billings—if they’re smart about it.

First, LEED represents a big chunk of new work. One reader points out that three-quarters of the RFPs he’s receiving come with LEED standards attached, so it’s not just common, it’s often compulsory—especially with public work. According to the USGBC, as of September, 14 federal agencies, 35 state governments, and 442 localities have LEED mandates or incentives, and nearly 30 percent of all LEED projects are government-owned or -occupied.

In fact, federal, state, and local governments have more than 1,500 certified buildings, with nearly 8,800 more registered with the USGBC or in the queue—all told, more than 1 billion square feet. Depending on costs, my own calculations suggest that volume could represent one-quarter to one-third of annual spending in the construction industry—just for government-sponsored LEED buildings. That’s a lot of work to turn down because you’re “sick of hearing about sustainability.”

Furthermore, architects can renegotiate the terms of their compensation to include, for example, performance-based bonuses. Last year, according to the USGBC, the real estate research company RREEF estimated that productivity benefits alone from LEED buildings to date represent up to $450 million in additional revenues for companies, a figure that could climb to $22 billion by 2020. Imagine collecting a percentage of that in royalties: Design a better building, get paid at a better rate. Make more money with fewer projects.

Finally, you can expand your services. Get involved earlier, to create smarter financing and budgeting, and stay longer, to ensure smoother operations and maintenance. As strategic problem-solvers, designers can apply their expertise toward the most pressing problems—alleviating over-burdened infrastructures, saving crumbling housing stock, retooling insufficient transit, repurposing older buildings, reclaiming materials safely and profitably, harnessing clean, affordable, renewable power. We can expand our abilities, our services, and our billings all at once, but first we have to prove our worth. You can make yourself not just relevant, but indispensable—and benefit society at the same time.