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Want to help build a better world? Become a green architect

Driving a hybrid or recycling your newspapers are two ways to help conserve energy and resources. But if you really want to make a difference, take a look at the buildings in which you live and work. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (eia.gov, 2013), 41 percent of the country's energy consumption in 2011 was used by buildings.

While older buildings can be retrofitted with energy saving features, a group of specialty architects are working to ensure the next generation of buildings will be green from the ground up. These professionals are not only part of a growing profession but also members of the hot green economy.

Growth of the green economy

Green architects are just one facet of the green economy. And although it remains a relatively small portion of the overall economy, green jobs have grown at a substantially brisker rate than other segments in recent years.

According to a March 2013 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), employment associated with the production of green goods and services represented 2.6 percent of total U.S. employment in 2011. However, from 2010 to 2011, it grew at a rate four times faster than all jobs combined. Within the private sector, construction was the industry that saw the greatest increase in jobs.

Green building jobs may continue seeing growth in the coming years. A McGraw-Hill Construction report released last month revealed that building professionals worldwide are anticipating an increase in their green projects. Over half of the building owners and consultants, architects, and engineers surveyed in the "World Green Building Trends SmartMarket Report," say at least 60 percent of their work will be green by 2015.

Consumer demand behind sustainable design

The demand for green construction seems rooted in consumer awareness of the benefits of sustainable building designs.

"I think it begins with increased public awareness and acceptance of climate change," says Thomas Mazich, a project designer with Baskervill, an international architectural, engineering and interior design firm.

Mazich sees demand fueled not only by environmental concerns but also by a number of studies that indicate green buildings have benefits ranging from cost savings to improved employee retention. In addition, he sees the government playing a role in encouraging green design.

"The building codes are going to more and more pull in the various parts of green architecture," says Mazich.

Meanwhile, architect Ryan Thewes also sees dropping prices as a catalyst for more green buildings. "With advancements in technology, it's more accessible," he says. "People have always wanted to do it, but now it's more affordable."

Many shades of green

There is no strict standard for who can call themselves a green architect but there are plenty of ways to measure whether a builder's or designer's work is green.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is probably the best-known third-party verification program for green buildings. Offered by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED rates projects by awarding points for certain features such as the use of sustainable building materials or the smart use of water.

Although LEED certification may be the most commonly used credential to signify a green building, architects and construction firms have other options as well. Thewes is one that appreciates LEED program's goals but prefers using other measures to certify his work.

"I like the concept of [LEED]," he says, "but it doesn't reward you for building performance."

Instead, one of Thewes recent projects is being certified as a Passive House by the Passive House Institute while others are being built with the goal of having virtually zero net energy.

Mazich notes other certification programs for green buildings include Green Globes, the Living Buildings Challenge and the government's Energy Star program.

Job and salary outlook for green architects

The BLS expects architects who are knowledgeable in sustainable design should be in demand from 2010 to 2020. It also anticipates faster than average growth for architects in general. During that 10-year span, jobs for architects are projected to grow 24 percent nationally (bls.gov, 2012).

As for pay, the BLS places the national annual mean wage for architects (excluding landscape and naval) working in all-green organizations at $83,390 as of November 2011 (bls.gov, 2012).

Breaking into the field

As with other aspiring architects, those interested in green design typically start with an education that includes a bachelor's degree in architecture from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). These degrees are generally five-year programs. There are master's and doctoral degrees in architecture as well.

After graduation, states typically require several years of professional training before an individual can take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE), which is required for licensure (bls.gov, 2012). More information on the exam and its specific state requirements can be found through the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

Within these degree programs, there may be opportunities to study green design. "There are graduate programs available for sustainable design," says Mazich. "That's one option, one path."

In addition, LEED offers credentials for green professionals in several areas, including building design and construction as well as homes. A complete list of available credentials can be found on the official LEED website.

However, both Mazich and Thewes say a formal education isn't necessary for an architect to turn green. Instead, enthusiasm and a willingness keep up on the latest trends may be all that is required. For those interested in working as a green architect, Mazich recommends free resources such as the magazines Eco-Structure (part of EcoBuilding Pulse) and Environmental Design Construction as well as the Whole Building Design Guide.

Green architects may be a niche within the field of architecture, but that could change one day according to Thewes. As sustainable design becomes more accepted and affordable, he says we may no longer have to distinguish between green architects and regular architects because, in the future, all architects and architecture will hopefully be green.

Sources:

"How much energy is used in buildings?" U.S Energy Information Administration, January 2, 2013
Architects, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics
"Green Job Growth Outpaced All Other Industries, 2010-2011," The Huffington Post, March 19, 2013, Ryan Grenoble
"Green Jobs grow four times faster than others," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2013, Don Lee