Featured Author

Elizabeth Bellsey

Marketing & Business Development Coordinator

BAM Architecture Studio

  • Member, SMPS-NY
  • Leadership Committee

On January 26th, the SMPS Leadership Committee brought together a panel of A/E/C sustainability specialists to discuss the future of environmental trends in our industry.

Industry experts talked about drivers shaping the future and trends impacting sustainability in the New York City area. While sustainability was top of the list, it was apparent that healthy living was a common theme on the future trends list. This was seen through all the topics discussed which included WELL Certification, a tool for advancing health and wellbeing in buildings; Circular Economy, which looks past the linear concept of “make, use and dispose” and involves a regenerative system; workplace environmental design in buildings involving sustainable choices for interiors, rebuilding resilient sustainable communities with healthy living amenities and strategies for involving communities in choices through the use of technology in outreach strategies.

The panelists discussed how LEED has played a powerful role in the past 30 years to make sustainability a design priority. Rating systems are a powerful tool for both guiding behavior and promotional opportunities, which in our industry has led to developers caring about LEED and energy use in their projects. Another important benchmark taking hold is WELL Certification, which monitors the impact of the built environment on human health and wellbeing through specific standards. WELL focuses on impactful interior design through selections of healthy materials for individuals, rather than products that emit harmful chemicals. These topics led into circular economy, or the best use of a product throughout its lifecycle. A practice more commonplace in Europe, it is only just starting to be discussed in the United States. Clients want to design spaces in a healthy way for people and the planet, and have started to ask about certifications and long term use. Having a team well-versed in these topics will give your firm a competitive edge for clients.

The panelists discussed the overlap between technology, sustainability, and resiliency. Climate change is a pressing issue, and our industry can leverage technology to determine risk. From a water management and MEP perspective, in areas that flood, technology can provide analytics to determine areas of the greatest potential damage. Having this information allows communities to prepare before a disaster strikes and support emergency response teams. It also enables communities to know which structures will withstand disaster and those that need to be considered.

Another element of technology is the opportunity to see how a space succeeds at environmental sustainability and end-user wellbeing for the long term. By incorporating technology into design, sensors that monitor building air quality and other factors provide useful analytics for building managers and designers. By reviewing the analytics, it allows for early intervention if a negative report arises and supports information gathered from post-occupancy surveys. Information from sensors not only ensures continued operation of a space, but also contributes to overall client satisfaction. In addition, we may see a rating system that gives a buildings sustainability rate posted on the outside of the building in the future.

Though sustainability has come a long way in the public sector, the panelists agreed that the private sector has a huge opportunity for growth in supporting sustainable design. Outside of public-private partnerships, the private sector requires more incentives to truly incorporate green practices, and there aren’t currently enough economic drivers to push in that direction. Creating job markets that align with environmental goals will be the greatest encouragement for self-motivated private sector involvement.