For a good part of my professional career, my passion has been designing sustainable science buildings for my clients across the country. I’ve also had the privilege of sharing these design ideas with my colleagues and peers through regular involvement with the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories (I2SL) and many other organizations, such as the US Green Building Council, that work to promote sustainable strategies in laboratory environments.
For the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, I want to share some thoughts regarding why now, more than ever, I am renewed in my sense of urgency on this topic, and why we should all take this matter to heart in light of the recent pandemic that has turned the world on its head.
Why should sustainability be one of the key drivers in designing a science building?
The answer is actually quite simple: laboratories are huge energy consumers. Compared to the typical office or commercial buildings, a science building is one of the most energy-intensive and can consume four to six times more energy than similarly sized structures. In order to make the most impact ecologically, it makes sense to focus on reducing energy use in these spaces.
As many of you are doing right now, I too am trying to take a fresh perspective on my work and its importance during this pandemic. What has struck me most are the reports of our Earth becoming less polluted, less congested, and overall healthier as a result of the momentary pause on human activity. Personally, I have noticed this effect in my own professional life. By not flying to client meetings or conferences, I have significantly reduced my carbon footprint (although I truly miss the in-person interactions!).
This time has lifted the curtain, ever so slightly, on a more sustainable world — a world where human impact on the environment is so clear for everyone to witness.
This tiny glimpse into a different world gives me a lot of hope. I hope we will come away from this unprecedented time with renewed enthusiasm to problem-solve and innovate sustainable design solutions. I hope more people will consider their impact on the environment and become active in reducing their footprint. Finally, I hope we all are able to think more creatively about our work as designers of the built environment and how we can become champions of sustainable change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring about this change not out of happenstance, but out of intent!