ARC / Connect

Doing More Good

12.06.17 / Alisa Nagano

“Doing less bad ≠ doing good.” These were the words of Cradle to Cradle founder William McDonough in his closing talk at the recent Greenbuild Summit in Boston, and they followed an equally simple directive – Do more good. A simple but weighty statement, it is especially apt in our current socio-political climate and it resonates with me because of its significance, at once concise and open-ended.

Well, how can we be good? In the classic example of the double negative, it is not by doing less bad: spewing fewer toxins into our air still gives us smog; buying less fast fashion doesn’t keep children out of sweatshops; allowing less lead in our drinking water doesn’t make it safe to drink (think Flint, MI). So why is this approach so often taken in design, and particularly sustainable design? McDonough went on to give examples of doing more good, and in doing so, changed the mood from pessimistic to optimistic.

This flip of perspective excites me because with it comes a sense of possibility and change. The idea of doing less bad implies resignation to a less-than desirable status-quo, whereas optimism and hope are inherent in the idea of doing good. Less bad can be a burden to a design team or client, whereas doing good is inherently value added for all involved. That’s a key distinction. 

ARC conducted an extensive study of Framingham State University’s West Hall which allowed the design team to include the right sustainability strategies that worked within the project budget and made long-term financial sense. With an initial minimum goal of LEED Silver, the project ultimately achieved a near LEED Platinum rating.

As a signatory to the AIA 2030 commitment, ARC has pledged to bring the energy use of all our projects to net zero by the year 2030. We focus a lot on reducing our energy use, and it’s something we are getting better and better at doing. But as a profession we’re still far from our target. It can be particularly challenging when a project is not pursuing a certification program like LEED, or if there’s the perception that sustainable design costs more. At times, it can feel a lot like just doing less bad. But if we shift our perspective, what was once an onerous task becomes a positive challenge to add value to a project.

These simple statements also remind us that sustainability is a complex, interconnected issue which requires a multi-tack effort. The global ecosystem is ever more connected in our increasingly global economy, so much so that the term sustainable design doesn’t quite do it anymore. All that stuff about ecosystems we learned in 5th grade science is true! These three words, do more good, remind us that every little gesture towards doing good is meaningful and worthwhile. Yes, energy is important, but as architects and designers we must remember that we have the opportunity to look to all aspects of building design and construction to find the moments to do good – from the selection of materials and equipment, to the use of daylight and location on the site, to place-making.

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