Recognizing that green building techniques are becoming standard practice in residential and commercial construction, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has mandated that its members complete four hours of education in sustainable design as part of its existing 18-hour annual requirement.

Although sustainability has been a focus of architecture practice for more than 30 years, the board of directors of the Washington, D.C.-based membership organization for licensed architects and emerging professionals "recognized the need to again help prepare their colleagues and fellow practitioners to respond to the latest challenge and opportunity facing the profession," the group said in a statement announcing the change. "The issue of climate change and the impact of buildings on carbon emissions created a new expectation among clients and the public to look to the expertise of architects for solutions that can help them leave a greener footprint," it added.

Typically, AIA members are required to complete 18 learning unit hours each year as part of the association's continuing education policy, which "enables the architect to keep current, master new knowledge and skills, plan for the future, and responsibly meet the role society entrusts to a professional," AIA says. The total number of learning units remains unchanged, but now licensed architects must finish four hours of education on sustainable and green design topics as part of the total yearly requirement.

Scott Frank, AIA's director of media relations, says there is no way to quantify what the new change will mean to residential single- and multifamily housing, but he believes "it's likely to result in more residential architects who are qualified to design energy-efficient homes ... [and] employ sustainable design approaches to remodeling and renovation projects."

Having more architects educated in the ways and means of building green could also simply result in better buildings. According to Santa Monica, Calif.-based Global Green USA, buildings in the United States account for 36 percent of total energy use, 65 percent of electricity consumption, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent of raw materials use, 30 percent of waste output, and 12 percent of potable water consumption. Even with these numbers, the group says the industry isn't constructing enough sustainable and green, healthy buildings.

"By the year 2010, another 38 million buildings are expected to be constructed in the U.S., bringing our country's total to [more than] 100 million," Global Green says. "The challenge is to build those new buildings, and renovate the older ones, in ways that reverse these unhealthy trends.

"Fortunately," the group continues, "there are ways we—as consumers, designers, builders, and product manufacturers—can respond to this challenge. By building green, we can assist in preserving natural habitats, watersheds, and ecosystems; protect air and water quality; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste, all while conserving natural resources and creating healthier indoor and outdoor environments."

AIA's sustainable design requirement took effect in calendar year 2009 and extends through 2012.