Sustainable Design + Resilience Planning with Ariane Laxo

We speak to Ariane Laxo, Sustainability Director and associate Vice President of design firm HGA. Our discussion today covers the intersection between sustainable initiatives and the world of architecture and design. To Ariane, addressing the climate crisis is of paramount importance. She says that from a scientific standpoint “we know that the next ten years are critical to counteract climate change.”

So what can architecture and design do to proactively face down this crisis? And what actually constitutes a sustainable built environment? Ariane poses these questions to herself at each design juncture. To her, a sustainable building comes down to one encompassing question: “How can we design in ways that help people thrive and don’t negatively impact human health?”

To address these questions, Ariane first outlines her industry’s overall carbon impact. The building industry itself produces a huge amount of global CO2 emissions, in fact, according to Ariane, about 28 percent yearly. Construction materials are another 11 percent on top of that. Including transportation industries (which are closely tied to the built environment), about half of global CO2 emissions originate in Ariane’s industry.

So, these things considered, how has the architecture and design industry gone about solving for a decrease in carbon output? Ariane points to a number of global initiatives beyond her own organization. Architecture 2030 has spearheaded change by proposing a goal of net zero emissions for participating architecture firms by the year 2030. She also mentions the International Living Future Institute and their Living Building Challenge, as well as the International WELL Building Institute as leaders in industry sustainability initiatives. She says that though there is competition in the industry, that when it comes to sustainability there exists a desire to share knowledge and information to help everybody solve for sustainability.

Ariane says any truly sustainable approach must be a comprehensive strategy, taking into account the ways in which the built environment impacts not just those who dwell within those environments, but must reach all the way to those who initially create construction materials. Too often these materials can cause chemical harm (from “chemicals of concern” in industry lingo) in the creation process, so sustainable thinking aims to put human health at the forefront, from materials to finished product. In short, “human health is non-negotiable.”

HGA’s end-goal is for each project to incorporate “regenerative design,” which Ariane describes as “projects [that aim to] give more back than we take.” Presently such an outcome isn’t yet feasible with each project, but HGA is on course to get closer to this aim as time goes on.

For HGA and Ariane, what solving for climate change in architecture really boils down to is a reduction in carbon. But for Ariane personally, she asks herself this question: “How can I help educate and inspire the people who have the power to make decisions, to make these choices for this collective good? … How can we help folks see that their decisions have this huge ripple effect?” Ultimately, Ariane conceptualizes her work as “solving for changing minds even more so than just solving for climate change.”

SolveCaster™

Karrah Krakovyak
Sustainability Innovator
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