photo: William Stewart

Recently, I attended a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Tampa, Fla., to connect with some business leaders and hear the guest speaker—a noted economist who promised to share his insights on the direction of our domestic markets. His credentials were impressive, so I pulled out a pad to take notes—thinking that this would be valuable information to mine later as my firm worked on our marketing plan.

He began by outlining the potential implications of the fiscal cliff, the threat of sequestration, and the looming debt ceiling. Interesting and troubling information, sure, but nothing I wasn’t already aware of. Then he turned from Washington to challenges right here in my home state of Florida, specifically the likelihood of an uptick in the rate of inflation once the economy regained its footing.

Now he had my full attention. How would this affect the cost of credit, the eagerness of clients to invest in new projects, liability and health insurance premiums, and business expenses? But when he specifically identified green design and sustainable practices as a major factor fueling increased inflation, I put down my pen and said to myself: “This is wrong. It’s creating a negative perception. We architects need to do something about this.”

He obviously had not done his research. If he had, he would have seen a future of new jobs created by new technologies. He would have seen a future in which lifecycle costs decreased in buildings designed to be less dependent on fossil fuel, and medical costs dramatically lowered because of better-designed, pedestrian-oriented, healthier communities—all rewards of a commitment to sustainable practices.

Back in my office, I sat down with our staff and shared my notes. Their reaction was like mine—exasperated that this perception could become an accepted marketplace reality. So what can we do about it?

It all boils down to taking the initiative to get involved. Our responsibility as design professionals is to be the visionaries who look beyond the present to create tomorrow’s solutions. That’s leadership. As citizen architects, we must advocate for responsible planning and the adoption of sustainable lifestyles that will benefit our communities long after we are gone. We cannot allow the business environment to confuse a snapshot in time for a larger, more nuanced picture of a deeper reality. Thoughtful design does not increase inflation; it’s a strategic investment that creates a better, healthier, and more prosperous quality of life.

The lesson I learned from the chamber presentation was not the one the speaker intended. Instead, I was reminded that, whenever we sit down to plan—whether it’s our firm’s marketing strategy or as visionary community leaders—we must be aware of getting stuck in the instantaneous gratification of the immediate.

Whatever the startup costs, investing now for a future good is the right thing to do.

A future that leads to a better quality of life for everyone will be shaped by a reenergized architecture profession, building leaders who advocate for a long-term commitment to sustainable design. Now that’s an investment worth making.

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Mickey Jacob, FAIA, 2013 President