Architectural firm adopts carbon-neutral challenge


Progressive AE designed the Bissell Tree House at John Ball Zoo incorporating roof water runoff cisterns to collect rain water for use in restroom flushing. Courtesy Michael Buck 

Climate change has become a hot topic in recent years, and the architectural industry has not shied away from it.

Architecture 2030, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization, issued a 2030 Challenge, which was adopted by the American Institute of Architects.

According to Architecture 2030, the challenge is for all new buildings, developments and renovated buildings to become carbon neutral (using no fossil fuel GHG-emitting energy to operate) by the year 2030.

Over 1,200 firms, organizations and individuals have adopted the challenge. One of the firms is West Michigan-based Progressive AE.

“We acknowledge the impact that the built environment has on climate change and the natural environment,” said Bryan Koehn, principal and director of design for Progressive AE. “We are passionate about engaging with our communities and creating positive change that will benefit people, organizations and our planet.”

The challenge is based on architects thinking into the future of how the climate might change and how weather events might impact the buildings they design, whether through water, heat or cold in an environmental zone and also making sure the materials that are used will be withstanding.

Koehn said it is important the buildings they design are restorative — giving energy back to the grid to become net carbon zero.

In order for architects to carry out a futuristic design based on climate change, Koehn said the industry is reliant on data from forecast models that are outside of the industry.

While the topic of climate change has drawn more attention in recent years, most, if not all, architects have been using the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating systems as its standard for designing sustainable and energy-efficient buildings for years.

Michael Corby, executive vice president for Integrated Architecture, said his firm was one of the earlier adopters of the LEED Rating System.

“(LEED) was started a couple of decades ago, and it definitely became the standard for buildings to legitimately claim that they were comprehensively green and sustainable,” he said. “It is kind of a multifaceted program that focuses on energy. It focuses on how well the thermal qualities of the buildings are, how well it is insulated and (how well it eliminates) health-related hazards.”

In order for the buildings to become energy efficient, Corby said Integrated focuses on the thermal energy of the building, the orientation of the building in relation to the sun and renewable energy sources.

“We use a lot of photovoltaic products that capture the sunlight energy and convert it into electrical energy,” he said. “We have used solar thermal, which is basically taking the sun’s energy, heat energy for the water system; it preheats the water. We have used geothermal wells, which is basically using the Earth’s energy. … Instead of paying a lot of money for electricity or gas to heat and cool the building, the primary energy source is the Earth and the energy in the Earth. The secondary is electric and gas. So, it saves money in that way by not depending on electric and gas as your primary energy source. We also use wind energy, the energy in the wind to convert into electricity by using turbines.”

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