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August 2, 2021
Sustainability Leader Dan Jaconetti speaks with gb&d on design for climate change
gb&d magazine recently spoke with HED's National Sustainable Design Leader Daniel Jaconetti to learn more about his projects, sustainable design, and climate change. Below is an excerpt from this interview, but you can read it in its entirety using the link at the bottom of this page.

“We need to get to zero emissions as soon as possible,” Jaconetti says. “It’s not a dramatization: Lives are at stake. We must use our influence within the industry and on every project to not just do less harm but be a regenerative force. The water leaving our site should be cleaner than when it fell, the air should leave the building purified; that’s what the 2030 Commitment is about—making every facility a working piece of the ecosystem rather than a source of damage. This is not advocacy; it’s being responsible corporate citizens.”

Jaconetti is both the National Sustainable Design Leader and a senior project architect for architecture firm HED. His works showcase his consideration for the environment and his belief in fighting climate change. Some of these include Saddleback College’s New Advanced Technology & Applied Sciences Building, San Diego Energy Equity Campus, Lathrop, and Fifth Avenue in Chicago. He is currently working on a new health stem facility at Michigan Tech University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Q: How do you factor climate change into your work?

A; Our first responsibility is to educate, and then it’s to design for clients the best possible building or project that meets their needs.

Being the best possible building means it’s resilient, energy-efficient, comfortable, and doesn’t have toxic chemicals in it. This is part of the reason why, a couple years ago, AIA took their framework for Design Excellence and merged that with sustainable design. Now, for any chapter in this country, if you submit for a design award, you are evaluated against sustainable criteria, because they’re saying that a project’s design cannot be excellent unless it’s also sustainable, and that’s why we too adopt it at HED.

We used to use a checklist, like a LEED checklist to measure every project against. It’s great, but it’s also very black and white. We’ve now moved into using the AIA framework for Design Excellence. Now when you sit down with a client and have your initial kickoff and talk about strategies, the types of questions are things like: “How could this project engage and benefit the community?,” “How is this project going to participate in a responsible water cycle on the site?,” “How can you actually participate like you’re a piece of the natural ecosystem?”

The energy piece is probably the one that makes the most sense to people—being as efficient as possible. You’re putting out less emissions and you’re taxing the system less.

It’s not just about environmental resiliency, though. Walk down a city street with a bunch of vacant storefronts. That doesn’t do well for the city, but if the project is designed so that it can change and evolve, when somebody leaves someone else can come in. Those are all things we need to share with and prepare our clients for at the beginning of the project.

Q: What’s happening now? And where do we need to go from here?

A: We’re part of a large firm roundtable with AIA with 50 peer firms. As a group of architects we’re working together to transform the industry. We’re doing the right things as a group, but you often face clients, politicians, or general people that don’t understand the importance. We have to work together to understand that.

If we look at the energy piece, for example, and people say, “Net-zero must be really expensive, it’s not affordable, how are we going to do it?” Saddleback is a good example. As an architect you have to do all the right things, which means you start with the climate analysis of the site. With Saddleback, we learned pretty quickly that 80% of the comfort requirements of the building could be met through passive strategies. That means you are only relying on energy for 20%. That means if you want to cover that with renewables, like onsite PV, it becomes much more feasible because of the size of the building and the amount of panels you can have on the roof.

Is it scary to say net zero to a client out of the gate? Is it better to talk about energy efficiency? As you prove net zero is achievable say, “Hey, we can make this net zero.” Or, from an educational standpoint, do you start out of the gate by saying, “Net zero is not necessarily too expensive to do. And it’s going to give you a more resilient project. And eventually your energy costs are going to be lower.”

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