President Joe Biden made a commitment to “Build Back Better” in the wake of COVID-19, the economic crisis, social upheaval, and regulatory rollbacks by the former administration. A growing group of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms is calling on his administration to also build back greener. He can do this, they say, by adding sustainable building strategies to his climate agenda and environmental justice plans.
“The gaps that have exacerbated many of our problems the past year existed before the pandemic exposed them,” said Pete Smith, FAIA, presidents and CEO of BWBR. “We have a great opportunity to fill those gaps with more and effective sustainable strategies, and it needs support throughout business and government to do it.”
The president has already signed multiple orders and memoranda relating to climate and environmental justice, but only a few have directly addressed the building sector. Actions so far have focused on fair and affordable housing. What remains, according to the Sustainable AEC Leaders making their appeal to the administration, is a panoply of executive actions that are designed to address the building sector’s outsized impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and social equity—and its vulnerability to climate change.
The letter recommends actions in six categories:
- Enhance federal building standards—Includes a return to Obama-era requirements for high performance along with new initiatives aimed at decarbonizing the federal building stock, like a base building code for all federal buildings, which are not subject to local codes.
- Stimulate building reuse and upgrades—Calls for tax code reforms and other means of promoting reuse and retrofits.
- Promote healthy housing and resilient communities—Suggests national guidelines for healthy housing, along with better resilience tools like higher-quality flood maps.
- Electrify to achieve a carbon–free grid—Highlights opportunities like model net-carbon building codes and model electricity rates that incentivize grid harmonization.
- Promote material health and product transparency—Addresses toxic cleaning products and building materials, along with embodied carbon.
- Promote healthy schools for all—Includes the idea of an Office of Healthy, High Performance and Resilient Facilities within the Department of Education.
By speaking as an industry sector rather than an advocacy group, the Sustainable AEC Leaders hope to gain more traction within the Biden administration. Companies can review the AEC letter here and sign on to be included in that campaign by filling out this Google form by March 10.
BuildingGreen, Inc. is a consultancy and information company trusted by thousands of AEC professionals for insight and guidance on sustainable design, resilience, and health in buildings and communities. BuildingGreen also supports and facilitates peer networks for sustainability leaders interested in learning from each other and advocating for positive change, with initiatives including this letter to the Biden Administration.