According to the "2009 DesignIntelligence Sustainable Design Survey" (Report #223, Vol. 15, No. 4), recently published by the journal DesignIntelligence, practitioners believe the architecture and design profession still has a lot of work to do to more closely align practice with principles of sustainability.

The survey, which records data submitted by the leaders of the most successful architecture and design firms around the United States, asked participants how well they believe their own firms are progressing in achieving higher levels of sustainable design, if they think their firms lead or trail their peers in that regard, and how design leaders are altering their habits to reduce their personal carbon footprint. Only 13 percent of architecture and design firms from among those surveyed reported they are "very satisfied" with their firms' progress in achieving sustainability in their projects, while 45 percent said they are "satisfied," 18 percent said they are "dissatisfied," and 1 percent said they are "very dissatisfied." (The remaining 23 percent reported they were "neutral" on their firms' progress.)

Meanwhile, 65 percent of respondents consider their organizations leaders in green and sustainable design; 25 percent report being behind their peers, and 9 percent didn't know where their firms stand. When asked what percentage of their organizations' work is considered environmentally responsible, 33 percent said 75 percent or more of their firm's work could be considered as such; 31 percent said 50 percent to 74 percent, 22 percent said 25 percent to 49 percent, and 14 percent said less than 25 percent.

Eighty-three percent of design leaders reported they have changed their personal habits in recent years or months to reduce their carbon footprints; 17 percent said they have not. The most popular changes design leaders have made are:

1 – driving less
2 – recycling more
3 – using domestic energy more effectively
4 – consuming more conscientiously, including buying locally, making fewer purchases, using sustainable products, and evaluating product life cycles before buying
5 – making more efficient lighting choices
6 – driving a hybrid vehicle
7 – reducing water usage
8 – composting
9 – buying carbon offsets
10 – using fewer plastic bags
11 – eating less red meat

At the same time, 64 percent of respondents reported that they most frequently get to work by driving a single-occupancy vehicle; 13 percent, meanwhile, take public transportation. Respondents also reported carpooling (7 percent), walking (7 percent), and biking (3 percent) as their method of transportation to and from the office; 6 percent work from home.

Many respondents are extending their personal commitment to sustainability to their firms. When it comes to advancing sustainability within their practices, 72 percent of design leaders say they have an in-house education program to teach employees about sustainable design, and 49 percent say they think it's unethical to use design practices that don't embrace principles of sustainability.

Survey participants also cited the top five practitioners they view as role models of green and sustainable design:

1 – William McDonough, FAIA
2 – Edward Mazria, AIA
3 – Bob Berkebile
4 – Amory B. Lovins
5 – President Barack Obama.

The top five firms cited as models of green and sustainable design practice were:

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2 – Perkins+Will
3 – BNIM Architects
4 – KieranTimberlake Associates
5 (tie) – Arup
5 (tie) – Mithun
5 (tie) – William McDonough + Partners

In addition to the findings of the survey, the report also includes an introduction written by DesignIntelligence's founding editor, James P. Cramer, Hon. AIA, Hon. IIDA, and several articles by executives at architecture/design firms Arup, Epstein Design, Design Workshop, and The Durrant Group; contracting firm Mortenson Construction; commercial real estate consortium Mindshift; and management consulting firm Triaxia Partners.

The "2009 DesignIntelligence Sustainable Design Survey" may be purchased online here. DesignIntelligence is the bimonthly membership journal of the Design Futures Council.