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How Can Engineers and Architects Impact Climate Change?


If you think the sun’s heat is feeling more intense in recent years, you would be correct, as we’re currently in the midst of rapid climate change. According to a NY Times report, 2016 was the hottest year on record. But so was the year before that, and the year before that. In fact, 2016 was the third consecutive time that the present year was the hottest year on earth.

Of the 17 hottest years on record, 16 have happened since the year 2000, according to the same New York Times report.

Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist from Penn State said it’s possible that 75 percent of the Earth’s heat is from human impact. With energy use being responsible for 84 percent of greenhouse emissions in America, businesses contribute to this problem significantly.
According to Architecture 2030,“buildings contribute nearly half of the nation’s CO2 emissions.”

The growing consequence of global warming comes in many forms. Droughts, floods, storms and rising sea levels threaten economic stability and health, among other problems. That threat has led to a growing call for engineers and architects to be a part of the solution. This may beg the question, what can engineers and architects do to impact climate change? The answer is plenty.

From designing to manufacturing, many have implemented a lot of changes across the globe to reduce the carbon footprint, develop sustainable designs and improve energy efficiency. Here are a few ways progressive engineers and architects are doing their part to fight climate change.

Asking Key Questions Before Development

Before the project even begins, it’s important to get with planners and question how building will affect the climate. You should want to know how the demands of the building will use resources, then attempt to try to identify if there’s a more efficient way to do it.

“Can this choice increase the functionality? Boost productivity? Reduce energy usage? How durable is this material? What’s the typical challenges for buildings in this area (weather, crime, etc.) and how can the design help address it? Is this material as sustainable for hurricanes as other options? Can this space be used for different purposes, (like a large meeting room that can be divided into smaller rooms)?” Questioning the purpose of everything will make a better building and will be a great impact in the community and inspire other businesses to build more responsibly also.

Achieve Lowest Energy Usage Possible

The Bullitt Center is a great example of a sustainable building because it was planned and executed to achieve zero energy by using high efficiency equipment. Forward-thinking builders approach projects by discussing how to reduce the energy from the biggest energy burners in buildings, including heating, cooling, and other related systems.

The more obvious energy-friendly decisions include renewables like solar panels. But the true super star was designing with programmatic synergies in mind.

Take Advantage of Simulation Tools

Simulation technology allows designers to analyze a building concept by creating a realistic mock up that offers valuable information used to inform design and engineering decisions. For example, the electronics company Opto22, used a simulation tool to analyze their Groov hardware interface. Groov is used to control things like the famous Bellagio Water Fountains. The simulation revealed several opportunities to increase energy efficiency and reduce raw material requirements, which allowed Opto22 to lower assembly and labor costs by 70 percent. Simulation tools can do the same for any project, helping to cut energy, materials and wasted time.

These ideals only scratch the surface of what’s being accomplished in the industry. There isn’t one specific way to achieve the most environmentally friendly, efficient building. However, every project should begin with a similar question, “How can this design or construction project make this community a better place?”

If engineers and architects focus on efficiency and reducing energy usage, the impact they make will be undeniable and invaluable.