Sustainability and the Architect

Sustainability and the Architect Schemmer

“Harmony at Falls Park” illustrated by Liz Meyer

Sustainability and the Architect’s Role

For Schemmer, sustainability is more than a recent buzzword; it is a theoretical concept and an inevitable phenomenon. Now more than ever we (the world’s population) are aware of the environmental impact our decisions have on future generations. Designers are called to evaluate products, systems and programming elements to minimize the carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc.).

Energy and resources are limited, and efforts to conserve them have prompted a rethinking of building practices. This effort starts long before construction. Sustainable building strategies are considered early in the design process to limit a building’s impact on the environment. Regulations and recognitions control manufacturing methods and building design decisions. Ultimately, the responsibility of the Architect is to consider the long-term consequences and educate clients about their sustainable material and building design options.

The Three R’sSustainability and the Architect Schemmer

In the '90s, the “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle” rhetoric was reiterated regularly, but it wasn’t until recently that the significance of the words’ order has been recognized. It’s not because the words sound better that way, though they do have a nice ring to them. The first strategy should be to limit the resources we are using. Second, we should reuse or repurpose what we can because it takes less energy than recycling. Finally, recycling: it may be better than sending used items to the landfill; but when we count the energy and resources the process takes, it is a less desirable option.

Life Cycle

Thinking sustainably demands that one review the entire cycle of a material or item. Quantifying the life cycle of a product is necessary for comparison and selection. An Environmental Product Declaration, or EPD, is a standardized report that communicates environmental impact. Manufacturers recognize the value of transparency, and more are starting to include EPDs for their products. Architects can review products based on EPDs and guide the client in making selections accordingly.


We cannot talk about sustainability without acknowledging programs that promote sustainable practices. One of the better-known certifications is the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED certification recognizes buildings for the strategies and practices employed to achieve “Green” status.

Professionals can also seek accreditation through the USGBC, which is required for registering projects. Many projects do not get registered, but still use LEED as a standard of best practices. Movements to update the practice of architecture towards environmental consciousness, like the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 2030 Challenge, encourage designers to promote green strategies.

At Schemmer, we have 17 LEED-accredited professionals who are working at the leading edge of sustainable architectural and engineering design. Our sustainable design experience utilizing the LEED rating includes:

  • Omaha Public Power District Service Center, Omaha, NE
    • LEED Platinum - Certified
  • National Parks Service Visitors Center, Nebraska City, NE
    • LEED Silver - Certified
  • Davis Monthan Air Force Base POL Operations Facility, Tucson, AZ
    • LEED Silver - Certified
  • Iowa Air National Guard Security Police Facility, Sioux City, IA
    • LEED Silver - Certified
  • Iowa Veterans Home (Fox Pavilion and Ulery Nursing Home), Marshalltown, IA
    • LEED Gold - Certified and LEED Silver - Certified

OPPD Service Center LEED Platinum


Sustainability is a broad subject. Thinking green can be exhausting, but necessary. Climate change and sustainability are still controversial debates, but everyone can agree we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our limited resources.

Specifically, architects can intentionally minimize negative consequences of our built environment. It is an important conversation to have between designers and clients, and they should communicate their goals related to sustainability from the beginning of a project and throughout the process. The first step is being aware of the cause-effect relationship between our decisions and the environment and its resources. Once aware, we can make strategic, informed choices about the products and systems we use within our buildings for a sustainable future.

Design with Purpose. Build with Confidence.

Schemmer is a full-service architecture, engineering, and construction field services consultant, providing responsible solutions for complex design and construction-related challenges.

Founded in 1959, we are grounded in our past but remain fully committed to the future. Located in four states and seven offices throughout the Midwest, Schemmer is providing services to clients from coast-to-coast and border-to-border across the United States.

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