Introducing sustainable design early leads to more resilient projects

Many companies are influenced by the misconception that only some projects can qualify as sustainable.

October 03, 2018 |
Leland Federal Building

The G.T. "Mickey" Leland Federal Building in Houston. Image © Joe Aker.

Ten years ago, the goal was to convince clients that sustainable design was the solution to climate change. Those days are gone. Now, the majority of our clients have a deep understanding that climate change, air pollution, water quality, and deforestation are threatening the future of our cities. They also know that the built environment plays a significant role as both the cause and the solution. In fact, many Fortune 500 companies now see sustainable design as an opportunity to improve their social, environmental, and long-term economic performance—what many refer to as the Triple Bottom Line. Some have even hired “Directors of Sustainability,” employees whose sole focus is to develop corporate sustainability strategies that align with the company mission statements.

In this new reality, the biggest challenge for Gensler’s clients—including several who are on the Fortune 500 List—is not the lack of concern about the built environment, but the ability to develop a sustainability and resilience plan that aligns with the company’s Triple Bottom Line (i.e. its social, economic, and environmental goals). Unfortunately, too many companies are influenced by the misconception that only some projects can qualify as sustainable. Many people still think that high-performance building projects that are LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certified are either too expensive or too complicated to achieve, and that those certifications are reserved only for a few select developments. We try to convince our clients that this isn’t the case. Besides, a few select high-performance buildings by themselves will not go far toward achieving the LEED goals of slowing or even stopping climate change. We need to find sustainable solutions that can guide the design of all projects, whether they involve new buildings of existing ones.


Start with sustainability

At Gensler, we bring sustainable ideas to our projects at the very beginning. This critical first step can transform a risk-averse, cost-conscious construction industry and allow for an open-ended dialog that facilitates a more deeply integrated and visually rich design solution.


Integrate a sustainable process throughout

We also provide our clients with a holistic “integrative process” (see illustration, below) that can reduce ambiguity and stream sustainability and resilience throughout a project. A successful integrative process can lead to the implementation of basic design strategies related to ecology, renewable energy, water conservation, indoor air quality, and local architecture, making the process accessible in a language that everybody can understand.


Starting early allows us to learn and adapt as we go

By implementing a process early, we’re able to provides opportunities for integration of sustainability and resilience, and it furthers a deeper understanding of our clients’ challenges and goals. Only through a holistic integrative design we can begin to act fast and tackle the social and environmental problems we face today.

Sustainability shouldn’t be the goal of just 1 percent of building projects. We need to achieve 100 percent better outcomes.

Integrated Design - Image courtesy of Gensler.
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Published by Gensler, a global design firm with 5,000 practitioners networked across five continents, GenslerOn features insights and opinions of architects and designers on how design innovation makes cities more livable, work smarter, and leisure more engaging. Our contributors write about projects of every scale, from refreshing a retailer’s brand to planning a new urban district, all the while explaining how great design can optimize business performance and human potential. For more blog posts, visit:

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