Anthony Brower, Director of Sustainable Design at Gensler, discusses sustainable building practices in the design industry.
by Laura Lemire
Published originally on
Crown | September 21, 2021
What is your role at Gensler?
I currently manage sustainability for Gensler in the Southwest region. I’m part of the leadership team that helps shape and formulate where we are going and what we need to be doing from a sustainability perspective. I’ve also served as the firmwide Sustainability Leader for all of Gensler, which is a responsibility that we rotate to ensure a diversity of voices across the firm.
How did you first get involved with sustainability?
As a project architect, I realized there was a need for us to do more with the work that we were doing years ago. I started running sustainability projects out of the New York office and began to define what our good, better, and best practices were in terms of things like materials, energy efficiency, building envelope, and overall design efficiency. Within a year, that snowballed to more than 100 different projects. I created a distinct business unit and service that I was providing to a large portion of our clients, and I was filling a need that most of our office didn’t even know we had. That’s how I got into sustainability. From there, I became the regional leader for sustainability for Gensler in the Northeast. I oversaw the New York office, the Boston office, Jersey, and the other offices in that region before making the move to Los Angeles.
What does sustainability look like at your company?
We have issued a challenge to the entire design industry called the Gensler Cities Climate Challenge (GC3) and the target is to eliminate all the carbon impacts associated with our work by 2030. It’s taking this big picture look at carbon. Carbon has two stories in the design industry: material and operational. Material impacts involve the carbon associated with the manufacturing, transportation, delivery, and installation of products. Operational carbon involves the energy spent operating buildings. We’re working to design better envelopes, systems, and buildings to be more efficient and reduce our carbon impact.
How are you measuring progress?
We submit our entire portfolio of work to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Commitment, that’s how we track the operational energy reduction of the projects we design. We’ve been doing this for 10 years. If you look at the latest 2030 Commitment by the numbers report, I think it is tracking about 3.3 billion square feet of active construction work. Gensler represents around 1.3 billion square feet of that total. Over our last 10 years of AIA 2030 submissions, we’ve been trending between 6% and 10% improvement year over year.
When it comes to renovating or designing a building, what are some of the important considerations surrounding sustainability?
The big sustainable move is to increase energy efficiency and mitigate external heat loads—especially here in Southern California. We need to think about carbon emissions. We also need to prioritize locally sourcing products, which is something that I think a lot of designers underestimate the carbon impact of. Specifying local materials helps mitigate transportation emissions.
What’s the biggest shift toward sustainability that you’d like to see in the design industry?
Sustainability needs to be our first choice. I would love to see students using sustainability as a driver for project design. I’m in the AIA chapter in Los Angeles, and they organize multiple awards programs for projects. They’ve been talking about including awards that give students an opportunity to showcase their work. I’d love to see a shift towards celebrating projects that have deeply ingrained sustainable missions. I think that would influence and change the way that architects and designers are tackling their projects.
How does technology play a part of sustainability?
Technology is playing a role, but I think the challenge that we run into with high-tech solutions is that we’re getting to the point that things that didn’t need energy before need energy now. We need to ask ourselves if the energy we are saving is worth the energy that’s required to run these products. Can I find exterior shading that doesn’t need to plug in and reduces energy use? If you’re using more energy then you’re saving, that’s counterproductive.