[As part of the evolution of Green Building Law Update, I like to try out new post topics and formats.  Today I am beginning a new feature at Green Building Law Update:  “Sensible Interview.”  Please let me know what you think.]

Back in December, Kimberly Miller of Sensible City provided me with a press pass to EcoBuild, which is a fantastic event for those interested in discussing green building policy.  At EcoBuild, I was able to interview some brilliant people that have been involved with green building much longer than myself. One such individual was Marvin Malecha, the 2009 American Institute of Architects (AIA) President. I hope you enjoy the interview. 

Chris:  The topic of your keynote speech at Ecobuild was "Inheritance & Responsibility."  How does inheritance and responsibility tie into the current green building industry?

Marvin Malecha:  Perhaps our greatest inheritance is the environment. But it is important to understand that inheritance does not always imply that an abundance was given. In fact many times inheritance has also been defined as the debts of another generation to be paid by the next and the next. In the case of the environment we are in a position of both. We have inherited a world with areas still pure. Areas that contain within them the memory of a planet that was a pure habitat. A planet that nurtured life.

We have also inherited a planet with grave problems that have evolved over time causing toxic sites to be established and levels of carbon in the air that threaten life. Our recognition of both the unspoiled and the spoiled must lead us to a strategic action plan for the environment. Our responsibility is to protect that which is yet unspoiled and to save those species soon to be lost forever if we do not act. It is our responsibility to restore in as timely a fashion as possible those systems we have placed under duress. 

The current green industry provides the tools for both actions. We do have the technology to utilize building materials that are in harmony with the land. We do have the capability to purify water through natural systems that can be established in opposition to traditionally engineered water purification plants. We can plan settlements with a greater density to preserve open tracts of land and protect wildlife habitats. New building materials can utilized recycled materials. they can be produced utilizing manufacturing techniques that minimize carbon emissions in the manufacture and reduce waste. New systems can help to regulate building operations reducing the power necessary to operate a building and thereby reduce carbon emissions and more buildings can be constructed of local materials establishing the sense of region while minimizing the energy expended in delivery.

Chris:  Green Building Law Update tends to focus on the legal aspects of the green building industry.  As you know, the AIA recently incorporated new duties for architects related to green building.  Can you discuss these duties? 

Marvin Malecha:  The AIA has established a sustainability requirement for annual continuing education by members. Four hours out of a required eighteen hours are now necessary to maintain membership in the AIA. It is the intention of the Board to insure that every AIA member is knowledgeable about questions of sustainability and able to employ these ideas in architectural work. It is important to note that the AIA also considers sustainability course work as meeting the health, safety and welfare requirements of the institute.

Also, the Board of Directors has included a provision on sustainability in the institute Code of Ethics. The connection between environmental well-being and human health is essential and it recognizes the most fundamental responsibility of the architect. 

Chris: How do architects manage the risk associated with green building projects?

Marvin Malecha:  The management of risk in contemporary society is a reality of professional practice. Such risk is simply unavoidable and therefore several steps must be taken by the institute on behalf of its members and by members individually.  It is necessary for the institute to foster significant research on the subjects related to sustainability and environmental well-being so that members will be able to act from a basis of knowledge.  It will also be necessary to encourage research on the subject of building performance so that architects will be able to act from a body of knowledge rather than unconfirmed opinions.

Certainly, it is also necessary that to address the design of a truly environmentally responsible project a diverse team of professionals must be engaged. Diverse teams like a diverse natural environment are healthy, even vital in this age of heightened awareness. The Institute makes no assertion that it is the only source of knowledge on this subject. We are reaching out to a broad spectrum of partners from all of the associated professional disciplines and related professional associations. Our commitment is to a carbon neutral target not to any specific rating system. We encourage this same commitment to integrated teams by our members.