A Sustainable View

April 1, 2004
Lewis Goetz, FIIDA, FAIA

When sustainable design is the same as good design.

FORUM IIDALooking forward to a time when sustainable design becomes a standard element of good design.There is enormous interest in sustainable design in today's design fields. The reasons behind this passion for all things "green" vary—from a need to address some of the social and economic ills of society, to being the trendy thing to do and being in the forefront of a new concept, to simply doing the right thing. Increasingly, though, it is apparent to designers in all specialties that sustainable design is not only the right thing to do, it's in many ways the only way we should design. Just as we must design within building codes and ADA requirements, we will someday have to meet sustainable goals as part of basic design requirements. That may not specifically mean LEED certification, but it will mean being responsible to our planet and resources. The federal government is leading the effort and is well on its way to requiring all or most of its projects to meet some LEED certification. That's a good thing since the government is one of the largest users of space for commercial purposes. However, the government has not taken the step of making the private sector comply with this type of thinking, the next wave of government regulation about which many designers are speculating. If we look to other countries and cultures outside of the United States, the sustainable concept is well ingrained in other societies. Look at any progressive country with limited space or resources, and you will see policies which relate to waste and resource management that directly regulate how designers of the built environment design and implement their designs. For example, you won't readily see buildings torn down in Europe since they have limited landfills in which to dump products from demolished buildings. Demountable partitions are used in most office buildings so reconfiguration can be done without wasting resources. Energy conservation is paramount in buildings, and natural daylighting is mandated in some European countries—not only to provide healthful interior environments for the occupants, but because natural daylighting can help reduce energy costs.I am impressed that in the United States we have pursued this goal of sustainability largely because we know it's the right thing to do and not because it's the law. However, I also believe that for such principles to become mainstream, legislation may have to be passed. If we look back through our history, it was not until clean air acts, clean water acts and even littering laws were enacted that our society stopped literally trashing our planet. As a child before littering laws were enacted, I remember roadsides filled with trash. Today our roadsides are largely clean. I commend the design profession for taking this issue on and designing in ways that are respectful of the planet and our natural resources. If we continue in this vein we will make a difference, and maybe even change the tide of thinking in this country. To further that effort and to make it happen faster, the government will ultimately need to provide incentives or mandate by law reasons for doing what we as designers already know as the "right" thing. Over time my hope is that sustainable design will become a standard element of good design like building codes, ADA requirements and other issues for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the people and planet for which we design. There won't be any hyperbole over "sustainability," a word that may just disappear; but won't that be a nice thing for the planet and our next generations?

  • IIDA president Lewis J. Goetz, FIIDA, FAIA, is founding principal and CEO of Group Goetz Architects, Washington, DC. IIDA is headquartered in space 13-122 at the Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL, and can be reached at (888) 799-IIDA;
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