Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on Autodesk's Redshift blog.
By Lynelle Cameron
Most people don’t see themselves as having the personal power or influence to make a compelling difference in climate change.
But so many of the design decisions made every day have a climate implication; each one can help promote a low-carbon future that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. Those who create the products and built environments of everyday life—from mechanical engineers to architects—have an important role to play by designing for climate change.
But it’s also a business issue. Energy is one of the largest contributors to climate change, accounting for 84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And as temperatures rise, so will energy costs, the EPA predicts.
Fortunately, the 2015 Paris climate agreement is an encouraging step toward ensuring those rising energy needs don’t mean catastrophe for the planet. The Agreement forged a consensus among 197 nations (despite recent claims that U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing to withdraw) to keep average worldwide temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, thus averting climate calamity. But to achieve that, there’s work to be done.
In terms of architecture and construction, that could mean designing buildings that use less energy. On the manufacturing side, it could be designing products that last longer and use less virgin material. One thing is certain: Energy and resource productivity is paramount in all forms of design.
Designers and engineers who are aiming for higher productivity—and thus addressing climate change—typically employ these five approaches:
Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building, saved 25 percent of its material costs because the architects focused on how to lightweight the structure while maintaining its strength. And they did that by analyzing how wind would strike the building and then shaping it into a twist so that it would cut through the wind. Those decisions were planned from the beginning of the project, not tacked on as a “green” afterthought.
If designers and engineers, like Opto22, use the simulation tools available today, they can run the early analyses that yield similar energy, material, or time savings—while also saving money. But project stakeholders must be aware of the gains so that they start to expect and even demand sustainable practices throughout the design and engineering process.
Designing for repair is also key; after all, the most sustainable product is often the one that lasts the longest. HP knew this when it released the Elite x2 1012 G1 tablet. The company offers online repair documentation and readily available replacement parts so that users can repair their units themselves.
The team behind the Urbee hybrid electric car applied whole-systems thinking to the goal of producing an affordable, fast, safe method of personal transportation that runs on a small amount of energy. By taking into account all the interdependent factors and uncovering issues they could address up front, the team was able to deliver a fuel-efficient hybrid that gets 150 miles to the gallon and weighs just 1,200 pounds.
Global architecture and engineering firm HOK has taken significant steps in this area by signing on to the AIA 2030 Commitment. This national framework tracks progress toward meeting the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which charges the worldwide design-build community with achieving carbon neutrality on all new buildings, developments, and major renovations by 2030.
“More of our designers are engaged in energy discussions with clients, engineers, contractors, and consultants,” said Anica Landreneau, HOK’s director of sustainable consulting. “Having discussions about energy efficiency earlier and more frequently in the design process has enabled us to identify significant first-cost and operational savings for our clients.”
Simply put, sustainable design is good design. And responding to climate change is much more pressing today than ever before. If more designers and engineers commit to asking efficiency questions early, using simulation and analysis tools, and taking a long-term and whole-system view, the climate-change needle will move. And the best part is, they’ll be reducing emissions while increasing value for their customers.
Image courtesy of Autodesk
Lynelle Cameron is President & CEO of the Autodesk Foundation and Senior Director of Sustainability at Autodesk, Inc. She founded both to invest in and support people who are using design to solve today’s most epic challenges. Prior to Autodesk, Lynelle led sustainability teams at HP and has 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector at the intersection of conservation and economic development with WWF, TMI, and NOLS. Lynelle serves on the Board of CEH, Innovators International, UC Berkeley CRB, and previously Biomimicry 3.8 and Net Impact. Lynelle has degrees from UC Berkeley, U of Michigan, and Middlebury College.