The Big Picture

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. License: CC BY 2.0.


It’s easy to get caught up in the details—earning one more LEED point or getting that documentation you need for recycled content.

But it’s a lot easier to achieve all the project goals if the owner and the whole project team are in agreement about why you’re putting in all this work in the first place. Stuff like:

  • slowing down climate change

  • dealing with global water shortages

  • avoiding depletion of nonrenewable resources

  • preventing public health problems associated with manufacturing

  • righting social wrongs

Here we set the scene, providing context that can help get—and keep—everyone on the same page about project goals.

  • Carbon Offsets and How to Select Them


    With more owners looking to reverse the embodied carbon impact of their buildings, it’s important to know how to buy legitimate offsets.

  • Social Sustainability and Architecture


    Architects can increase social value through thoughtful design of the built environment.

  • Ethnography: A Creative Tool for Human-Centered Design


    Social science research methods can generate innovative and sophisticated design solutions that respond to human needs and cultural values.

  • Our Buildings Are Killing Our Oceans


    Carbon is more deadly than many other toxic substances we fret about every day. And acidification might be more of a problem than climate change.

  • Net-Positive, Regenerative Design, and Other Ways Buildings Can Do Good


    Instead of making a big fat net-zero your goal, regenerative design encourages whole-systems thinking and projects that actually add benefit to the environment.

  • Sustainability: Too Much or Not Enough?


    The drive toward sustainable design is a long one. Are we there yet?

  • Ecosystem Services


    Functions performed by intact ecosystems provide essential support for human life, but how do we quantify their value?

  • The Water-Energy Connection


    The production of electricity is highly water intense, just as the transport, heating, and cooling of water is energy intense. So saving energy saves water and saving water saves energy.

  • The Precautionary Principle


    The precautionary principle employs "guilty until proven innocent" methodology, and suggests that we should avoid using questionable chemicals and materials until we know they're safe.

  • Synthetic Gypsum


    Synthetic gypsum, used in drywall, is chemically the same as virgin gypsum but is created from a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. Are designer and contractor concerns about heavy metal contamination justified?