AIA Sustainability

Why Are Architects and Green Buildings So Important?

It might surprise policymakers, the media, and the public to know that achieving real reductions in energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions requires looking beyond cars, trucks, and SUVs, and that architects and architecture are central to the solution.

Buildings are the largest source of both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in America as well as around the world. Buildings account for as much as 48 percent of all greenhouse emissions and 68 percent of electricity consumption. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences' Whole Building Design Guide, buildings generate 35 percent of the carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas associated with climate change), 49 percent of the sulfur dioxide, and 25 percent of the nitrogen oxide found in the air.

Currently, the vast majority of this energy is produced from nonrenewable, fossil-fuel resources, and the amount of energy used to erect and operate buildings has been increasing dramatically. If current trends continue, U.S. annual energy consumption is projected to increase by 37 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent in the next 20 years.

Utility costs have also been on an upward trajectory, with electricity costs rising throughout the country. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change report entitled Towards A Climate Friendly Built Environment provides an excellent overview of the current environmental impact of building and construction and the profound effect that green buildings can have on the future health of our communities and planet.