Spurring the Building Industry Ahead in the Green Movement

Spurring the Building Industry Ahead in the Green Movement

The Importance of Engaging with the Sustainable Design Community

As previously reported in this column, green house gas (GHG) emissions for 2007 exceeded the worst case scenarios developed and projected by a number of organizations. Due to its aggressive environmental policies, California (the fifth largest economy in the world) ranks 12th in the United States for GHG emissions. While laudable, California's ranking still leaves much to accomplish.

Members of California's building industry, including architects, engineers and contractors, are teaming with legislative and grassroots organizations to take strong leadership roles in reducing the industry's drivers for climate change. They are also planning for the most effective use of our resources (private and public) in mitigating changes that will inevitably affect California.

In the legislative arena, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger initiated two teams to develop and implement state climate policies: the Climate Action Team (CAT) and the Green Action Team (GAT).  The CAT is focused on reducing GHG emissions and coordinates the efforts of more than a dozen other key state agencies. The GAT focuses on developing low emission state buildings (new and remodeled) and encourages the private sector to build low emission buildings.

Additional government organizations striving to reduce the environmental impacts of new and existing buildings on our Golden State include the California Air Resources Board, California Energy Commission, Department of General Services, Division of the State Architect, the California Public Utilities Commission, and California Integrated Waste Management Board.  

In the private sector, there are numerous design and construction organizations supporting the tenets of sustainability including:
American Institute of Architects - California Council (AIACC)
Committee on the Environment (COTE)
U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)
Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)
Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA)
California Commissioning Collaborative
Build It Green
California Building Industry Association
Global Green
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers

The building industry represents nearly half of our national GHGs. While many efforts are being made now to reduce these drivers, we are collectively still far from using our limited public and private resources in the most coordinated and successful ways to help California prepare for and adapt to climate change.

In my opinion, it is far more effective for a building professional to become deeply committed to furthering the mission of just one or two of the above-mentioned organizations than to divide his/her attentions among all of them.

Opportunities abound for those of you who wish to increase your involvement in this fast-growing area of environmental advocacy:

— Seek out and join a commission or board of an influential state and local governmental agency or NGO who want/need to have the building industry's perspective present as they debate and take action.
— Work with the AIACC to further the Smart Growth agenda at all levels of government.
— Apply your skills in using building performance measurement tools and information to allow others to be more effective as they strive to become more carbon neutral in their lives.

It is now clear that there will be huge and difficult changes impacting California and the rest of the planet, and we must increase our efforts now to both coordinate and expedite public and private initiatives to plan for and address these changes.  I invite you to be part of the solution, working with one of the above-mentioned organizations to mitigate these impacts and to be judicious and appropriate in the use of resources.

This article was originally published in Focus, a newsletter of the AIA California Council, Summer 2008 edition.

Christopher (Kit) Ratcliff is the third-generation leader of Ratcliff, the century-old, award-winning architectural firm in Emeryville, Calif. He has pledged the firm's resources toward sustainable practice in concert with the AIA's 2030 Challenge and is committed to bringing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change to the attention of clients and colleagues. Visit www.ratcliffarch.com to learn more.