Buildings and Climate Change: Good Design Can Help


We don’t want to belabor the often-depressing facts on climate change any more than necessary … but it does seem necessary to acknowledge the most recent report from the International Panel on Climate Change.   Whether or not you’ve read anything about their findings you should be able to pass this pop quiz. 

Look, we know no one actually likes this topic.  Dry, a little boring and really scary doesn’t get a lot of traction in battle for hearts and minds, as Al Gore found out, but we just can’t avoid the fact that allowing Climate Change to continue unchecked is too important to ignore.  The good news is that the findings of Earth’s “most rigorous and important scientific report”  say that we CAN still turn this car at least partway around.  The power of good design, applied to everything we do, can make a significant dent in the impact of Climate Change on our planet.



“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.”

In other words, We are emitting crazy amounts of greenhouse gasses and it IS changing the climate – think Hurricane Sandy and the Polar Vortex.  

We really need to change our tune as a society or face the (even worse than they already are) consequences.  But are we?  Nope.


OK, we understand that few people standing at a gas pump feels like like gas is too cheap or too plentiful but the latest IPCC report clearly state that if we have even a chance of keeping the global climate change under 2°C (and more on that here),


Did you hear that oil industry?  We have already found three times more oil than we can use without completely screwing up the planet.  STOP LOOKING!!!!!  

Incidentally that existing reserve of oil is worth $27 trillion.  That’s trillion with a T.  I guess its no mystery why Big Oil wants to keep looking for more and don’t really give two hoots about the consequences.

weather underground fuel reserves image


No single act that any of us at moss::: undertakes will save the planet (or keep it from overheating).  But by building energy-saving strategies, re-used materials and low impact living into all aspects of our designs, we can make a dent in our own contributions to global climate change.

Again to quote the IPCC:

“Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives.”

We already know so many ways to reduce the energy-hog nature of buildings.  There is NO EXCUSE for leaving these essential concepts out of any building design from here going forward.  Here are some of the ways moss always considers cutting greenhouse gasses when we design.

Re-use Existing Building and/or Materials

 Most of our design work is re-fitting existing buildings for new uses – whether that be a hip new restaurant or cafe, or a new family fitting their modern life into an out-dated home.  We like the constraints of working with existing buildings and we love that those construction projects don’t require the host of new material resources from-scratch construction project requires, not to mention keeping greenfield sites undisturbed and demolition waste out of our landfills.

Another One Bites the Dust: The Tiny Tragedy of Teardowns in Chicago Neighborhoods

We also love finding new uses for existing materials, both in our building designs and our furniture!

How We Operate: Finding Beauty in the (Honesty of) Reclaimed Building Materials

Implement Energy Saving Measures

There are so many ways that thoughtful design (which keeps footprints small and reuses existing space and materials), careful material sourcing (sustainable materials which operate with energy efficiency) and more energy and water efficient technology (low flow toilets, LED lighting, efficient heating and cooling systems etc.

The Invisible Sustainable Moves that Start on the Drawingboard

Six Guidelines for a Green Kitchen Update

Beat the Heat WITHOUT AC: Passive Cooling and You

Support a non-car lifestyle

Where we build new homes and offices, the way we configure our cities and the ease we build into car vs other transit system alternatives has a huge impact on how we need to use energy to get around in our lives.  Moss tries to reduce our own car use (bike commuting or walking from neighborhoods near and far) and encourage a more interconnected, transit friendly basis for all our design projects.

Five Reasons to Live in a Walkable Neighborhood

Work and How to Get There: Alternatives to the Car

So.  There you have it.  The Climate is Changing.  Human Behavior is Changing it.  But we can also slow down that change now by implementing design strategies that will be SO MUCH easier, cheaper and more pleasant than waiting to deal with the consequences later.  Lets all build a few more carbon emission reductions into our lives.