Climate Change and the Future of the A/E/C industry

by Emily Langner

In 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) both released landmark reports detailing the catastrophic effects climate change will continue to have on the world economy, with the NOAA report expanding on the threats to U.S. national security, essential services, and the health and well-being of its citizens.

These reports have made one thing clear: It is no longer an option for architecture, engineering, and construction (A/E/C) firms to opt out of incorporating sustainable solutions and green alternatives into their designs. Going forward, it is essential for those in the A/E/C industry to be active participants in creating solutions to the climate crisis with every new project.

Haril Pandya

Haril Pandya, FAIA, LEED AP, is a principal at CBT, a Boston-based architecture, interior, and urban design firm, and heads its Asset Strategy and Repositioning practice. CBT has operated with a focus on sustainability for decades and was listed among the top 50 Design Firms for Sustainability by ARCHITECT Magazine in 2017.

In 2011, CBT designed Atlantic Wharf, the first LEED Platinum office building in Boston, and is leading the way with an innovative approach to 21st-century design: repositioning. CBT’s practice of repurposing existing buildings came about after Boston’s building boom came to a halt following the 2008 financial crisis. Since no new structures were being built in the city, CBT provided building owners a way to update their antiquated buildings with contemporary amenities and spaces, and thus increase the value of their assets by modernizing existing spaces.

One Beacon St.

Over the years, CBT has remained focused on incorporating sustainable designs and energy-efficient solutions into every project it takes on. It does this by using local, recycled, or reclaimed products; efficient heating, cooling, and plumbing systems; and low-VOC paints and adhesives, to name a few.

The firm also adds biophilic design elements to its projects by increasing access to natural light, ventilation, and natural landscapes. Pandya says incorporating biophilia into the built world is one of the keys to combating climate change. “The biggest outcome of connecting building occupants with nature,” he says, “is that it inspires us to then be sustainable about design. Having biophilic indoor environments can raise awareness and foster a desire to extend a connection to the natural world to the other non-ground floor habitats we use and create.”

Schrafft’s City Center

Another way CBT is using biophilia to combat climate change is by adding roof decks and gardens to existing buildings. “These nature-derived components brought into the built environment not only capture rain water and reduce the heat island effect, but also create a respite for people while they work,” says Pandya.

One example of CBT’s work that reflects its commitment to sustainability and biophilic design is its restoration of Schrafft’s City Center, a historic candy factory turned Boston office landmark located at 529 Main St. in Charlestown. Pandya explains, “With Schrafft’s, we opened up the aperture to the plaza with a large glass curtainwall entry, therefore increasing access and visibility to natural light and nature. Using insulated glass, we helped reduce demand on cooling systems — all important parts of battling climate change.”

Post 200 Smith / photo by Rick Mandelkorn

One of CBT’s current projects is Post 200 Smith. CBT transformed what was an old United States Postal Service processing center into a vibrant work community filled with fresh, cohesive workspaces. CBT preserved wetlands and created a fitness path for joggers and walkers, and converted 60,000sf of the main building into a large courtyard with more glass and access to natural light. CBT also added a white roof to reduce the heat island effect and photovoltaics for energy reclamation.

Both Schrafft’s City Center and Post 200 Smith are repositioning projects. Instead of knocking down existing buildings to create new ones, repositioning continues to be the most impactful way to contribute to sustainable design.

399 Boylston St. / photo by Flagship Photography

Among its many projects, CBT recently repositioned the global headquarters for a client at One Beacon Street, as well as the main entrance at 399 Boylston St. The firm also successfully transformed Center Plaza in downtown Boston and 99 Summer St. in the financial district by adding natural materials, expanding the visible glass, and bringing in daylight.

Pandya is optimistic that building owners are beginning to recognize the importance of positively impacting their surroundings, the environment, and the people that live and work in the spaces they create. While the challenge will still be providing cost-effective solutions for both tenants and building owners, things like sustainability and making a positive environmental impact are higher on their priority list, and they’re having discussions with companies like CBT about ways to incorporate green alternatives.

99 Summer St. / photo by Anton Grassl

Pandya also believes that A/E/C industry professionals are moving in the right direction, but can always do more. “Every firm should be educating their clients, tenants, communities, and staff. If we all row together, we will move much faster. Design professionals can learn about new products and manufacturers that are innovating around sustainability, integrate more water and natural light into spaces, and connect the indoors back to nature.”

He adds, “The exciting part is how many cool design solutions are available, and that sustainable design and a focus on biophilia is really a win-win. Not only is it a crucial step in the direction of taking care of our world, but it creates environments where people can thrive, and in turn where businesses can thrive.“


Emily Langner is associate editor at High-Profile.

Below is a list of consultants for each project mentioned in this article.

99 Summer:

–          Lighting: HDLC

–          Code: RW Sullivan

–          Structural: McNamara Salvia

–          MEP/FP: WB

399 Boylston:

–          Structural: McNamara Salvia

–          MEP/FP: WB

–          Landscape: Copley Wolff Design Group

–          Spec: WilSpec

–          Lighting: HLB


One Beacon St.:

–          MEP/FP: AKF Group

–          Acoustics: Acentech

–          Lighting: HLB

–          A/V: DGI

–          Structural: McNamara Salvia


Post 200 Smith:

–          Structural: McNamara Salvia

–          MEP/FP: WB

–          Landscape: Paul Finger Associates

–          Civil: EBI Consulting

–          Code: C3

–          Lighting: HLB

–          Spec: WilSpec


–          MEP/FP: RDK Engineers,  an NV5 company

–          Structural: McNamara Salvia

–          Landscape: CRJA

–          Code: C3

–          Lighting: HLB



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