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How Architects Can Mitigate Climate Change

We talk a lot about what vulnerability communities have as we adapt to climate change, and with that, what landscape architects and homeowners can do to make us less vulnerable. We know we need to stop redirecting stormwater and allowing it to remain where it falls, for example.  And how trees will mitigate heat, but what is known about what architects can do to help?

We know all too well that the built environment has been a major contributor to carbon emissions, and that the greenest structures are the those already built. But the many ways architects can work to reduce future outflows of greenhouse gases are valuable as they design and construct new buildings.

Building regulations and conventions lag behind the science.  It took until 1993 for LEED ( or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design  ) to create certification for green buildings.

Thirty years later, it is now the widely known standard. Still building codes vary from city to city, and some need to catch up to the latest versions of the International Building code. 

Many factors contribute to the carbon footprint of a building; architects can minimize those they have control over.  One item is decarbonized cement, or bio-cement. Because it is cement production has the emissions problem, there are some companies that are looking to grow cement from biological sources and skip the mining, refining, and grinding altogether. The typical Portland cement mix can be changed to emit less carbon.  For example, the Holium Co. has developed a new type of cement that creates 30 percent less emissions, even though the result is a material just as strong as Portland cement.  It is able to achieve this by introducing slag and other production waste products into its mix.   

There are also new textiles and acoustic surfaces that architects can use that prioritize sustainability. As well, the latest sustainable insulation and cladding products include power-generating roof shingles and carbon-sequestering building panels; they all prioritize natural and recycled materials. Wood is a leader in sustainable material trends. A new process with wood ages new lumber naturally and quickly without the need for paints and stains. 

It is a lot to take in, but while conventions in architecture must change to mitigate the climate crisis, it is encouraging that many are already in progress or at work.