Where Architects Stand on Climate Change
In January, amid an outcry about the American Institute of Architects’ post-election declaration in support of the Trump administration, its Board of Directors issued “Where architects stand: A statement of our values.” Two of the statement’s seven planks concerned climate change: “We stand for a sustainable future”; “We stand for protecting communities from the impact of climate change.” Yet, criticism of the AIA has focused on the Institute speaking on behalf of its members, as the self-professed “voice of the architectural profession,” and since no recent survey of architects’ views on climate change has been published, those views have not been clear at all.
To fill this gap, in February and March RECORD polled architects and designers to gauge their interest and knowledge about climate change and energy-efficient design. The results were eye opening.
The 547 respondents, who took the survey online over two weeks this winter, represent a broad swath of the industry across 43 states, with no more than 12 percent residing in any single state. Three-quarters of polltakers range in age from 25 to 54, three-quarters have a professional degree in architecture or design, 83 percent are practicing architecture, design, or an affiliated profession, and half are licensed architects. Men account for 57 percent of respondents; women 43 percent.
The percentage of survey-takers who say they believe human activity is changing the climate is 94 percent. This result is staggeringly high in comparison to the general public. A year ago, a Gallup poll found that 65 percent of people believe in human-caused climate change—a 15-year high. Last fall, a Pew Research Center study showed a much lower number—48 percent.
The survey indicates that the beliefs of architects and designers are less aligned with the general public and more akin to those of climate scientists, 97 percent of whom agree on anthropogenic global warming, according to a widely cited study led by the University of Queensland.
While architects appear to be virtually united in their beliefs, their knowledge seems lacking. Nearly all respondents (98 percent) say they understand what climate change is, but only half correctly identify its causes. According to the U.S. EPA, three conditions contribute to climate change: variations in the sun's energy reaching Earth, changes in the reflectivity of Earth’s atmosphere and surface, and changes in the greenhouse effect, which affects the amount of heat retained by Earth’s atmosphere. In the survey, 48 percent chose all of the above, and 45 percent picked the greenhouse effect alone. Furthermore, only 43 percent correctly identify the building sector as the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (The U.S. Energy Information Administration calculates that 48 percent of U.S. emissions come from the built environment, while 28 percent come from transportation, and 24 percent from industry). As previously reported in RECORD, a variety of questions about energy-efficient design techniques reveal that architects generally are suffering from misperceptions.
Nearly three-quarters in the poll say architects are not doing enough to combat climate change. Yet, if the survey reveals anything, it’s that the profession’s passion and information are out of sync.