Leadership or limbo: Moving to building green’s next level

After interviewing more than 50 AEC firms for our Greenbuild Report in the November issue, I wonder if the sustainability movement has hit a wall in the nonresidential construction sector.

November 29, 2015 |
John Caulfield
Leadership or limbo: Moving to building green’s next level

3 PNC Plaza. Photo: John Marino via flickr Creative Commons

It is indisputable that buildings are more efficient and sustainable than they’ve ever been. What once were one-off installations, from cogeneration systems to graywater recapture, are becoming standard. And despite uncertain government subsidies, renewable energy alternatives are at the point of acceptance in several markets.

However, after interviewing more than 50 AEC firms for our Greenbuild Report, I wonder if the nonresidential construction sector has hit a wall, where codes and standards not only set the bar for high-performance buildings, but also set the limit above which projects are less likely to venture.

To hear some architects, engineers, and contractors tell it, clients outside of federal and state agencies are concerned primarily with how much their buildings are going to cost to run, and only the rarest of this clan are willing to invest in designs or materials that go much beyond what’s minimally required, or in marketing that highlights these features to prospective customers.

And while there’s been much talk about how Millennials actively seek out live and workplaces that conform to their supposed inclinations toward environmental stewardship, there’s scant evidence that corroborates how these attitudes translate into decisions about choosing hotels, schools, homes, medical centers, or employers.

The irony is that AEC firms we spoke with had no trouble coming up with any number of examples of high-performance reconstructions or new builds that are saving energy and money, and contribute to reducing the built environment’s still-mammoth carbon footprint. The question is whether these firms are making their cases strongly enough to overcome the marketplace’s resistance or indifference to recognizing its role in this effort.

“It’s not enough to know that it’s the right thing for a building; you must be able to explain why,” said Jeff Boldt, Principal and Director of Engineering with KJWW Engineering Consultants.

A good place to start is convincing developers and owners about the benefits of hiring the whole Building Team as early as possible. Time and again AEC executives recounted how early collaboration helped refine a client’s vision and set in motion solutions that, as often as not, took that vision to higher levels of efficiency and sustainability.

It certainly helps that the AEC industry, in conjunction with software manufacturers, is taking more seriously the need to develop genuinely collaborative tools that provide a common platform for these kinds of discussions among the broadest array of stakeholders, including owners, property managers, and even end-users of buildings.

As was pointed out at a recent technology symposium conducted by the engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, the Internet of Things, combined with sensor technology, is starting to generate a blizzard of data about how buildings perform—and will need to perform better as their environments and demographics change.

Being able to disseminate and analyze these data to offer actionable design and construction solutions is already a competitive advantage for forward-thinking AEC firms. So will be keeping up with the rate of change that finds codes and standards trailing innovation. AEC firms that aspire to leadership positions in energy efficiency, sustainability, and—to a growing degree—resiliency, should no longer accept “client’s prerogative” as an excuse for submitting to the status quo.

John Caulfield | Building Team Blog
Building Design+Construction
Senior Editor

John Caulfield has been a business journalist for more than 30 years. Most recently, he was senior editor for BUILDER magazine, covering news and business trend in the residential housing sector. Previously, Caulfield was Executive Editor for HOME CHANNEL NEWS, which covers the retail home-improvement and building supply markets. Caulfield holds a Master's degree in Journalism from Marquette University and a Bachelor's degree in English Literature from Boston College. He can be reached at jcaulfield@sgcmail.com.

Related Blogs

Illustration: Pixabay

December 30, 2016 | Building Team | Building Team Blog

Women AEC professionals need you to take action. 

Lissette Méndez-Boyer (left) and Natalya Shimanovskaya work on their FABRICation project at Beyer Blinder Belle’s New York office. Photo courtesy BBB

September 06, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

AEC firms are taking a page from the tech industry, by infusing a deep commitment to innovation and disrupt...

Intel Co-founders (l. to r.): Andrew Grove, Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons   

June 27, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

“Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” The late Andrew Grove (1936-20...

Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis , U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons; photo filter via BeFunky.com

May 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

As buildings become increasingly connected, opportunistic hackers have countless avenues into a building’s...

Lexus RX 450h self-driving car. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

May 09, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

Despite popular belief, the country is not in a great age of technological and digital innovation, at least...

Deep Learning + AI: How machines are becoming master problem solvers

The world’s top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo during the third match of the Google DeepMind Challenge match in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Reuters/Google/Yonhap

March 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

Besides revolutionary changes to the world’s workforce, artificial intelligence could have a profound impac...

Yotel, New York City. Photo: JasonParis, flickr creative commons

March 09, 2016 | Hotel Facilities | Building Team BlogRobert Cassidy, Executive Editor

Hotels are going for a new minimalist look to attract younger guests, but some older business travelers don...

Is the booming freelance economy a threat to AEC firms?

Photo: Pixabay

February 24, 2016 | Architects | Building Team Blog

By shifting the work (and revenue) to freelancers, “platform capitalism” startups have taken considerable m...

How the Fourth Industrial Revolution will alter the globe’s workforce

Photo: Pixabay

January 26, 2016 | BIM and Information Technology | Building Team Blog

The next great technological metamorphosis will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before, due to...

Potential vs. credential: How men and women differ in career progress

Courtesy Pixabay

January 05, 2016 | Architects | Building Team BlogDavid Barista, Editorial Director

Recent research suggests that women face yet another career impediment: the confidence gap.

Add new comment

Your Information
Your Comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Overlay Init