Experts tell us why sustainable architecture is the next big climate solution

Caroline Knapp

The global built environment—including building operations, materials and construction—generates 42% of annual CO2 emissions, according to Architecture 2030. Shifting to sustainable architecture in the industry means looking at new and existing buildings. 

Sustainable architecture is the practice of designing buildings and landscapes with a minimal environmental footprint. It uses the latest technology, renewable energy sources and cost-effective natural materials while considering longevity.

Architecture is deeply rooted within community and social justice—creating an accessible, inclusive world means engaging with locals and listening to their feedback to address specific community needs. This approach ensures that the benefits of sustainable architecture are widespread—reaching both people and the planet. 

We reached out to two of our environmental partners to ask one question: how is sustainable architecture important to the climate movement?

Photography by Smart Shelter Foundation.

Smart Shelter Foundation

Smart Shelter Foundation promotes and builds safe, sustainable structures in developing countries and shares that knowledge with local communities. Focusing on disaster-prone areas, they integrate nature-based solutions and recycled materials into their earthquake-resistant building principles.

“15% of total annual global CO2 emissions are caused by the concrete and steel industry. Smart Shelter Foundation promotes a unique strategy by researching and practicing vernacular techniques with natural materials, and adding reinforcements to make buildings more resilient for disaster-prone areas. SSF brings together experts and students, sharing information and demonstrating that sustainable architecture is critical to address the Sustainable Development Goals for responsible use of resources and climate action.” - Tessa van Weelie, Coordinator & Martijn Schildkamp, Founder and Director at Smart Shelter Foundation
Photography by Architecture 2030.

Architecture 2030

Architecture 2030 believes that building design is the central solution to the climate crisis. Through online resources that educate on building policy, design and planning, Architecture 2030 helps the architecture industry move toward climate-positive design practices.

“The imperative is clear. Buildings are responsible for over 35% of annual global CO2 emissions. Of those total emissions, building operations are responsible for approximately 27% annually, while the embodied carbon of just four building materials – cement, iron, steel and aluminum – are responsible for an additional 7.7% annually. 
Embodied carbon represents the carbon emissions associated with making building products and construction, from raw material extraction to manufacturing, transportation and end-of-life disposal or recycling. It is anticipated that embodied carbon will be responsible for the majority of the carbon emissions associated with global new construction between now and 2030. It is crucial to address embodied emissions right now to disrupt our current emissions trend, and because the embodied emissions of a building project are locked in once the project is constructed and cannot be taken back or reduced.” ​​– Vincent Martinez, COO/President of Architecture 2030

Meet more environmental partners working in sustainable architecture

Photography by Trees Forever Inc.

Trees Forever Inc.

Weaving land stewardship and sustainable landscape architecture together, Trees Forever Inc. acts within local communities to restore public spaces and native trees. One of their key programs, Roadside Improvement, works to address and act on a city’s environmental needs. From native landscaping to prairie planting along roads and trails, Trees Forever Inc. aids in managing stormwater, snow and erosion.

Photography by Central Coast Green Building Council.

Central Coast Green Building Council

Switching to sustainable architecture practices might seem like a big feat if you have no help getting there. To solve that challenge, Central Coast Green Building Council offers the Green Building Mentorship Initiative which connects architects to mentors. From carpentry and ecological design to natural building and landscaping, the mentorship offers numerous paths to break into sustainable architecture.

Photography by Landscape Architecture Foundation.

Landscape Architecture Foundation

Resiliency is key to ensuring sustainable architecture initiatives thrive in a changing climate. By focusing on the environment, social equity and economic opportunity, Landscape Architecture Foundation helps architects implement green practices throughout landscape design.

Take Action

Supporting sustainable architecture can look different for everyone. You might switch to renewable energy during your home repairs, offer advice to a friend who’s redesigning their yard, or donate to one of our environmental partners listed above!

"Commit, then figure it out"

Doug Tompkins, dear friend and one of the great influences of 1% for the Planet's founders.