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Chicago architects join up for climate change advocacy campaign

Architects Advocate Action on Climate Change will launch with 70-plus firms on September 1.

Aiming to "give voice to an important issue that affects healthy and livable communities and cities," Architects Advocate Action on Climate Change, a new, industry-focused public outreach campaign, will officially launch on September 1.

"There’s such broad support for doing something in the Chicago architectural community," says Thomas Jacobs, a principal at Krueck + Sexton Architects, the firm that first broached the idea of kickstarting the environmental awareness campaign.

Jacobs says the idea had floated around inside his firm for awhile, and at a partners meeting earlier this year, all four partners decided unanimously help launch an initiative to raise awareness against climate change, with the intent to reach out to other firms in the city, form a coalition, and present a more united front.

"I reached a level of amazement at the relative silence surrounding the issue," he says. "I’m extremely worried at the potential effects of climate change, but I’m more afraid about not trying to change anything. I can’t imagine my grandchildren asking me, ‘why didn’t you do something about it when you could?’ It’s made me believe that we have to try. It’s as simple as that."

After starting to reach out and approach other firms five weeks ago, the campaign has grown to include 68 Chicago-based architecture firms as well as 6 design and engineering firms, including Studio Gang, John Ronan Architects, JGMA, JAHN, and Brininstool + Lynch. Chicago’s architecture community has shown leadership on the issue of climate change, helping Illinois earn the title of top-ranked state for LEED-certified space for the third year in a row.

The goal of the organization is to push for meaningful legislation on climate change, and protect the human right to a healthy environment. Architects are uniquely positioned to make a difference, says Jacobs, due to their impact and design of the built environment. In the United States, buildings (114 million households and more than 4.7 million commercial buildings) account for almost 40 percent of total U.S. energy use and associated CO2 emissions, as well as 72 percent of U.S. electricity use, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The deliberate choice of "advocate" in the group’s title invites others professionals in related fields, such as construction and engineering, to get involved.

Other industry organizations, such as Architecture 2030, which was founded by Edward Mazria, already advocate for more sustainable building practices, and in the case of Mazria’s organization, a total elimination of carbon emissions from the built environment. At its outset, Architects Advocate is about raising awareness.

At launch Thursday morning, members will add a red banner to their website with a message of support for the group. They’re also expected to speak out about the issue, and use social media for outreach that advocates for action against climate change.

"We want to start making this a topic that’s more broadly debated," he says. "It’s not covered enough given the importance."

Banners aren’t going to change environmental practices, a point Jacobs readily admits, and the group hasn’t made any pledges about building practices or standards focused on sustainability and emissions. They eventually may promote legislation, discuss reforming building codes, and even support candidates, but right now, they’re trying to expand and raise awareness.

"At this point, we're asking one thing; don't remain silent," he says. "We believe we can build on that, raise momentum, and create a drumbeat of people working on this issue."