AIA Materials Pledge Enables Architects, Designers to Create Spaces Where People and Natural Systems Thrive

The places where we work, play, eat, sleep, learn and heal can have an impact on our wellbeing. And everything from access to daylight and sound levels in a room to material selection and color schemes affects how we experience a space.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) developed
the Architecture & Design Materials
Pledge
to inspire a shift
in how architects and designers evaluate the products and finishes that they
specify. Leading up to organization’s annual
conference
,
Shaw VP of Sustainability – Commercial Tim Conway spoke with
Sustainability Strategist Melissa Wackerle about the Materials Pledge and
the impact it aims to have on people and the planet, as part of Shaw’s annual
sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program.

What was the motivation for the AIA community to develop the Architecture & Design Materials Pledge?

Melissa Wackerle: Architects and designers have the foremost ability to
influence and determine the products that go into buildings. Through the
building materials specifications they make daily, AIA members have tremendous
power to make a direct and significant impact to mitigate climate change and
create buildings and communities where all people and natural systems can
thrive.

To that end, AIA developed the A&D Materials
Pledge. Driven
by a desire to clarify architects’ and designers’ ask to building product
manufacturers and inspired by our 2030 Commitment
program
— which
drives accountability around ambitious imperatives for climate action — the A&D
Materials Pledge outlines five overarching statements that will lead to more
intentional product specification across their portfolios over time.

What are those five areas of focus?

MW: The pledge supports holistic selection of materials that enhance human
health, climate health, ecosystem health, social health and equity, and circular
economy. These outcomes truly manifest sustainability’s triple bottom line of
people, planet and prosperity.

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Participating firms pledge to support:

  • human health by prioritizing products that support and foster life
    throughout their life cycles and seek to eliminate the use of hazardous
    substances.

  • social health & equity by prioritizing products from manufacturers that
    secure human
    rights

    in their own operations and in their supply chains, positively impacting
    their workers and the communities where they operate

  • ecosystem health by prioritizing products that support and regenerate
    the natural air, water and biological cycles of life through thoughtful
    supply chain management and restorative company practices

  • climate health by prioritizing products that reduce carbon emissions and
    ultimately sequester more carbon than emitted.

  • a circular economy by reusing and improving
    buildings

    and by designing for
    resiliency
    ,
    adaptability, disassembly, and reuse; aspiring to a zero-waste goal for
    global construction activities.

Since publishing these five statements in an open letter to the profession and
industry in 2018, more than 160 architecture and design firms of all sizes have
signed on. They collectively represent more than 20,000 employees of A&D
companies committed to healthy and sustainable materials selection.


Image credit: AIA

How is the pledge being implemented by AIA members?

MW: Once firms join, they’re provided with a Materials Pledge Starter
Guide
. This
guide (available to all for download) expands on the pledge statements to
provide specific actions firms can take to make an impact across the five pledge
areas. It also includes five general actions any firm can take, including:

  1. Updating a firm’s sustainability or climate action plan to reflect the
    pledge.

  2. Creating or refreshing the firm’s materials library or policies.

  3. Making materials and product selections based on pledge criteria.

  4. Building literacy and training employees about materials.

  5. Encouraging conversations.

AIA has also developed a variety of additional online resources and education
including our five-part AIAU Materials Certificate
Series
.

What’s working well?

MW: Signing the A&D Materials Pledge — like setting any organizational goal
— opens the door for additional conversations for design teams about the
importance of materials in achieving sustainability goals.

In a study of pledge participants from November 2021, nearly 90 percent of
respondents report training staff on materials since signing the pledge, and 60
percent report pledge-specific conversations among project team members. Nearly
half of respondents have updated their materials library and policies to accept
only healthier, sustainable materials — laying the groundwork for lasting
change.

What’s the most common challenge you’ve heard?

MW: Our challenge has been a need for clear and consistent definitions and
benchmarks of healthy and sustainable materials.

In that November 2021 study, 70 percent of A&D Materials Pledge signatories
indicated that they seek more consistent goals and benchmarks to measure their
progress; and 87 percent of respondents wanted to see more manufacturer data.

While 40 percent of respondents reported that they are currently adopting
systems to organize their materials libraries and specify better products, an
additional 46 percent plan to do so in the future. This represents a tremendous
opportunity for market transformation toward heathy and sustainable materials
and products.

We also recognize the important of supporting building product manufactures,
like Shaw, to better recognize the return on investment
for research and development of materials that meet emerging industry standards.
We’re working with industry partners to connect market demand for sustainable
products to manufacturer investment in better materials.

So, what’s next?

MW: To meet this challenge and opportunity, AIA has been working with
mindful MATERIALS — a longtime collaborator
that emerged from AIA member-led architecture firms — to develop a Common
Materials Framework as a critical pathway to providing the clarity and consensus
around sustainable materials that can provide this consistent definition for
materials with benchmarks that span the five topics of the pledge statement
goals for the entire industry.

mindful MATERIALS is also leading a Manufacturer’s Materials
Commitment

around the A&D Materials Pledge. We applaud Shaw’s leadership as an early
signatory to that initiative.


This article is part of a series of articles recognizing the second slate of
organizations to be honored by Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership
Recognition Program
. Each of the 10 organizations selected for this year’s
recognition program
is a leader in its own right and offers something from
which we can all learn about putting people at the heart of sustainability. To
read more about the other organizations recognized by Shaw,
visit the landing page for this series.

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