The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants dealt a significant blow to our ability to fight the climate crisis with federal policy. This decision will have immeasurable effects on the built environment, as AIA President Dan Hart outlined in his statement.
But all is not lost. States, cities and corporations can take immediate actions to mitigate the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Here are three ways architects can help.
1. Provide local leadership in climate policy.
Cities, counties and states have already shown tremendous leadership in climate policy. The recent surge in adoption of advanced energy codes, benchmarking policies and building performance standards show that they will continue to chip away at the some of the largest sources of emissions in their portfolios, including buildings. Buildings and the electricity they consume comprise 38% of US GHG emissions.
The federal government and the EPA still plays an essential role in introducing policies around things like transportation (27% of US GHG emissions), agriculture (11% of US GHG emissions) and industry (24% of US GHG emissions). The emissions that require cooperation across state lines and across entire industries and sectors underscore the need for Federal policy tools that work hand in hand with state and local policies..
Don’t let anyone tell you that architects don’t make policy. Locally, individuals can advocate for city-wide policies that address climate change by contacting their representatives and government officials. In Washington, D.C., the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 remains the gold standard for cities and states looking to establish aggressive renewable energy goals and move local businesses and developers to action.
2. Continue to educate and collaborate with the private sector.
Money talks. Despite the EPA’s ruling, the private sector’s investment dollars have already spoken. The market has shifted to favor disclosure of GHG emissions. Individuals and institutions are pulling their money away from climate risk and investing more heavily in low carbon, zero carbon and socially equitable solutions.
BlackRock is one of the world’s largest investment management companies. Chairman and CEO Larry Fink has been vocal about BlackRock’s requirement that the businesses they invest in disclose plans for how they will actively decarbonize to be compatible with a net zero economy. Here are two key quotes from his 2022 letter to the CEOs of the companies BlackRock invests in: “Few things will impact capital allocation decisions—and thereby the long-term value of your company—more than how effectively you navigate the global energy transition in the years ahead. … We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients.”
Companies quietly celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling limiting the federal government’s authority to regulate pollution may find themselves out of favor with investors and losing ground when it comes to employee recruiting and retention. Institutional clients may see their bond ratings dip, which would affect their ability to get projects built. We also can pressure the institutions where we work to take aggressive actions to combat climate change.
3. Speak up.
Our voices matter. The collective voice of a group of organized citizens can make a difference. More than $225 million worth of grants are currently available for states that adopt the latest energy codes. The AIA has offered guidance on how architects can help their jurisdictions pursue these grants. That funding was the direct result of the testimony to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that I and others provided in advocating for more stringent energy codes. Our recommendations made it from the Committee to the Biden administration’s platform and into the infrastructure bill.
Find opportunities to get involved with local government. Attend city council meetings. Send emails to and call your elected officials. Sign online petitions. Ask your local AIA chapter how you can join lobbying efforts. If ever there was a time for us to use our voices to advocate for change, it’s now.