January 11, 2008

AIA Members Strive to Be “Legally and Ethically” Green

by Bill Quatman, FAIA, and Ryan Manies, AIA
Shughart Thomson & Kilroy, PC

How do you . . . apply sustainable design principles to adhere to the AIA Code of Ethics and Document B101-2007?

Summary: The AIA Board added a new canon to the AIA Code of Ethics calling on architects to be environmentally responsible, explain Bill Quatman, FAIA, and Ryan Manies, AIA. Moreover, AIA Document B101-2007 includes language requiring architects to discuss environmentally responsible design approaches with their clients, they point out.

Are you ready for some football? How about a “green” one? And we’re not just talking about the color of the turf ... It seems you cannot open a magazine, turn on the television or radio, surf the Internet, or read a newspaper without being bombarded by references to "green design," "sustainable architecture," or one of the countless environmental initiatives taking place at any one time.

Take for example the National Football League's efforts to "Green the Super Bowl." Not only did the NFL create the position of "director of NFL environmental programs," but it will attempt to be environmentally responsible this year by offsetting greenhouse gas emissions created during the Big Game. The NFL's plans include buying certificates to offset the amount of carbon generated through electricity used at the Super Bowl combined with the planting of hundreds of native tree seedlings. Together, the event is predicted not only to be carbon neutral, but carbon negative.

To call sustainable design a movement or a trend would be a gross understatement. There is no doubt, green is here to stay. At the lead of the Green Wave is the AIA, as it should be. The AIA has embraced sustainable design in a big way, from Board policies to the new 2007 AIA Contract Documents® and, now, to the AIA Code of Ethics. As of December 2007, it is the duty of AIA members to learn about sustainable design and advise clients as part of professional practice. This is no better evidenced than by the new revisions to the 2007 Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the recently released 2007 edition of the AIA Contract Documents.

Code of Ethics Changes
In mid-December 2007, the AIA Board adopted a new section of the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. Canon VI deals solely with sustainable design and states:

Canon VI
Obligations to the Environment

Members should promote sustainable design and development principles in their professional activities.

E.S. 6.1 Sustainable Design: In performing design work, Members should be environmentally responsible and advocate sustainable building and site design.

E.S. 6.2 Sustainable Development: In performing professional services, Members should advocate the design, construction, and operation of sustainable buildings and communities.

E.S. 6.3 Sustainable Practices: Members should use sustainable practices within their firms and professional organizations, and they should encourage their clients to do the same.

The letters “E.S.” stand for “ethical standard” which means it is a “goal” for AIA members, as opposed to a “rule” for which an AIA member can be disciplined. As a refresher, the AIA Code of Ethics is arranged in three tiers of statements: (1) Canons, (2) Ethical Standards, and (3) Rules of Conduct. The Code’s Preamble clarifies that: "Canons are broad principles of conduct"; "Ethical Standards (E.S.) are more specific goals toward which Members should aspire in professional performance and behavior"; "Rules of Conduct (Rule) are mandatory; violation of a Rule is grounds for disciplinary action by the Institute."

Because these new sections of Canon VI are "Ethical Standards," AIA members are to "aspire" towards these goals of sustainable design, development, and practice. A failure to meet any one of the new Ethical Standards will not be grounds for disciplinary action by the AIA. Regardless of whether disciplinary action may or may not be taken against a member who does not live up to the Ethical Standards, the commitment to sustainable design should not be taken lightly.

New contract duties
As most architects know, in November 2007, the AIA released the 2007 update to its AIA Contract Documents. The 2007 Update includes nearly 40 updated or new contract documents—including a brand new Owner-Architect Agreement entitled B101. In furtherance of the AIA's policy and commitment to sustainable design, the new Owner-Architect Agreement (B101) includes two new requirements to promote sustainability and shape the landscape of environmentally responsible design and construction. Warning: These sections are not mere “goals”—they are legal obligations for any architect who signs this new form!

Under Sections 3.2.3 and of the B101, during the Schematic Design phase, and as part of the architect's basic services, the architect is required to discuss with its client the feasibility of incorporating environmentally responsible design approaches into the project and consider them in completing the design. Here is the exact wording, highlighted in italics for your convenience:

§ 3.2.3 The Architect shall present its preliminary evaluation to the Owner and shall discuss with the Owner alternative approaches to design and construction of the Project, including the feasibility of incorporating environmentally responsible design approaches. The Architect shall reach an understanding with the Owner regarding the requirements of the Project.

§ The Architect shall consider environmentally responsible design alternatives, such as material choices and building orientation, together with other considerations based on program and aesthetics, in developing a design that is consistent with the Owner’s program, schedule, and budget for the Cost of the Work. The Owner may obtain other environmentally responsible design services under Article 4.

Unlike a failure to meet the Ethical Standards, which does not result in disciplinary action, a failure to meet a requirement under the B101 Agreement can be much more serious. Because the B101 is a legally binding contract between two parties, the failure to "discuss with the Owner alternative approaches to design and construction of the Project, including the feasibility of incorporating environmentally responsible design approaches" could be deemed a breach of contract by the architect, with possible financial consequences.

Note also that similar contract provisions are found in other AIA owner-architect agreements: B103, sections 3.2.3 and; B104, section 3.2.2; and B201, sections 2.2.3 and

A recent study revealed that 83 percent of designers believe they have a responsibility to offer green design solutions to their clients, but only 17 percent actually do so. The Green Wave has caught some architects unprepared to deal with this new area of practice. With the implementation of the AIA Ethical Standards and the requirements under the B101 Owner-Architect Agreement, there is need for education on this important topic.

Sustainable design is no longer a lofty goal toward which to aspire. Sustainable design is now a legal and ethical mandate, a requirement. Ready or not, being green is here and is now part of required practice for AIA members and those who use AIA Contract Documents. Are you ready to play ball?


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This article represents the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of The American Institute of Architects. It is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws, suggestions, and illustrations apply to specific situations.

For more detail on the AIA Code of Ethics, visit AIA.org.