Interview with Bert Gregory,President and CEO of Mithun, Seattle based architecture firm
How do you feel sustainability is progressing in the market and among professionals?
Sustainability is a fundamental factor of design and business in the 21st Century. Guy Battle (of the London-based firm, Battle McCarthy) in his interview last month with BetterBricks, pointed to a “massive sea change in attitude just in the last 12 months” in sustainable building. I couldn’t agree more. Economics, health and values are driving the worldwide movement toward environmentally intelligent design. In the European Union, carbon limits and resource costs are creating a huge demand for smart buildings. Community values have brought forth new neighborhoods, and whole cities, such as Malmo, Sweden, have adopted very aggressive goals for environmental performance.
Here in North America, we will see that demand accelerate even faster as resources become more expensive, the links between health and indoor air quality become better understood, and knowledge of every individual’s environmental footprint comes to the forefront. In the private sector, marketplace demand will give environmentally intelligent buildings more economic value. People are recognizing this. The education of architects, designers and engineers in sustainable design has accelerated exponentially because our clients are demanding it.
What are some of the key selling points on sustainability that you use with your clients?
Decisions about sustainable design are all about choices, so we don’t really “sell.” When we begin a relationship, we spend a great deal of time sitting on the same side of the table as our clients. We work with them to understand their goals, long term economic parameters, return on investment, and what choices they can make in the areas of sustainable design that will establish a higher value for their building, development or portfolio. Whether from the private or public sector, our clients are generally very clear about what they value in a project. Healthy buildings are at the top of their list. By planning sites, buildings and interiors for water and energy efficiency, private and public organizations can also reap substantial savings in both long-and short-term operating costs. At the same time, they can use these facilities to make a bold statement about their commitment to the smart use of resources. Ultimately, they need to make the decisions, but we can be sure they understand all of their alternatives.
Where do you think the movement is going? What is the next evolution in design?
The platform is there; the playing field has been established. Many design firms, contractors, jurisdictions and owners have implemented strategies to educate their staff in U.S. Green Building Council, or local green guidelines, which is a great first step. Additionally, clients and designers are beginning to establish aggressive goals regarding environmental impact for individual building designs. However, the future of green design is truly in broad-based systems like large-scale city planning. In the long-term, we need to take an integrated systematic approach to all that we do, which will come from multidisciplinary design. On a larger scale in the United States, we may need to see a modest realignment of tax and regulatory policies before this truly takes off. Internationally, we’re hoping that countries like China emerge as a location for the cutting-edge of sustainable design. That country is certainly consuming a dramatic amount of natural resources. Fortunately, there are many people who are very aware of the need to address this issue.