News Brief

AIA’s “Big Move”: Redefining Design Excellence

The American Institute of Architects has made its boldest move yet toward declaring great design and sustainable design one and the same.

It’s a bold step forward, and The American Institute of Architects (AIA) isn’t shy about saying so. It’s nicknamed the change “the Big Move Toward Environmental Stewardship.”

The move began gradually, years ago, with a “sustainability scan” that took stock of how AIA was foregrounding sustainable design across its departments. It gathered steam more recently with a change to the Code of Ethics requiring architects to consider the environmental impacts of every project. And it had almost achieved its zenith at this year’s Conference on Architecture in Las Vegas, where delegates overwhelmingly passed a resolution promising AIA itself will pursue urgent climate action “until zero-net carbon practice is the accepted standard of its members.”


That’s right, because this resolution wasn’t official until it was ratified by the AIA Board of Directors, which happened in early September. The ratified resolution has three main parts, according to a press release:

  • declare an urgent climate imperative for carbon reduction
  • transform the day-to-day built practice of architects to achieve a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient and healthy built environment
  • leverage support of peers, clients, policy makers, and the public at large

“In December, the AIA Board of Directors will allocate staff and budget to support the initiative’s high-level goals,” the press release said.

One major feature of the Big Move is adopting the tenets of the Committee on the Environment’s (COTE) Top Ten Framework as its new “Framework for Design Excellence.” This means that AIA is redefining good design as sustainable design.

“For the past several months, AIA’s Board, leadership, staff, and key member groups have worked together to determine how best to focus AIA’s resources and talent to address climate change,” said Robert Ivy, FAIA, executive vice president and CEO of AIA, in a statement to BuildingGreen. “In addition, AIA will continue to draw upon the experience and expertise of our chapters as the plan is developed and implemented, to take best advantage of our members’ leadership and ability with regard to responsible environmental stewardship in the built world.”

“We need to focus on the ‘urgent’ part of urgent climate action and seriously consider the changes we need to make in creating the built environment,” said Betsy del Monte, FAIA, who introduced the climate resolution at the conference along with 50 other AIA members. “Architects can step up to lead the way, but we don’t have time to waste.”

More on the AIA and sustainability

AIA Ethics Code Now Covers Sustainability in Depth

AIA Declares Climate Emergency in Historic Resolution

AIA Prioritizes Resilient Design, Product Transparency

For more information:

The American Institute of Architects

Published September 23, 2019

Melton, P. (2019, September 23). AIA’s “Big Move”: Redefining Design Excellence. Retrieved from

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September 26, 2019 - 12:32 pm

Its about time... Now if we can influence track home builders that it makes sense to go green we might be getting somewhere.

Thanks for the article.

October 7, 2019 - 11:02 pm

Urgent and imperative are rhetorical statements if sustainable design is considered a side-bar to our main contractual obligations. It is too easy for clients to say they are not interested and unwilling to pay for our good intentions, no matter how passionately we argue the urgent and imperative concerns of climate change. The AIA has the power to and should take real action by changing the standard contracts to include sustainable design, energy, modeling, etc.