Fossil fuels encompass our entire world (especially in the U.S.); everything we touch, wear, to the home we live in used or uses some sort of non-renewable energy. Every time we burn fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is released into our atmosphere, thus speeding up the irreversible damage of climate change. Right now, the climate clock in NYC predicts that that damage will be irreversible in 7 years if we continue as we do today. 

So, basically there’s still hope! We can reduce our carbon emission if we continue to innovate our design and development strategies to be better for the planet and its people. One sector that requires radical changes within its industry is architecture and construction. Buildings and construction contribute to 39% of all carbon emissions in the world. That’s because buildings emit carbon on multiple levels — during construction, the materials used, how we use the building, and their location.

Sustainable architecture (a.k.a. green building) takes all those factors into account. Sustainable architecture is built on three pillars — people, planet, and profit. It understands that each pillar intertwines and thrives because of the others. That’s why architects consider everything from energy management, stormwater management, the direction and placement of a building, the decor, paint, landscape designs, to anything you can possibly imagine to make sure their project is anything but average.

We got the inside scoop about everything sustainable architecture: why we need to plan for climate change, what this sub-industry is doing to push for a more resilient and sustainable future, and much more. All answered by Jesse Rittenhouse, a Sustainable Building Consultant for Spinnaker Group. Jesse has worked on sustainable architecture projects including those for Versace, Balenciaga, Moxy and many more. His company has worked on major sustainability projects in Miami and around the world, from 1 Hotel South Beach to the Kuwait International Airport (under construction now), and from the Miami Design District to the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. Let’s see what he had to say.

Jesse Rittenhouse. Photo credit: A. Enningham / @Drainflix

How does green architecture help mitigate climate change and its damage-control costs?

Green architecture utilizes sustainable design principles to reduce a building’s environmental impacts, which helps to mitigate climate change. It can also use resilient design principles to prepare for climate change and its associated damage-control costs. A major way to reduce environmental impacts that contribute to climate change is to consider a building’s total energy demand and consumption. By analyzing the project’s size, massing, orientation, insulation, glazing, mechanical equipment, process energy needs, and renewable energy production, a team can find ways to optimize and reduce energy demands. Doing so will reduce the greenhouse gasses that cause climate change and, bonus, provide savings on the energy bill.

Climate change (or “Climate Chaos,” as Greg Hamra, Climate Hawk, and educator calls it) demonstrates that extreme weather events are happening more and more every year around the world. I live in Miami, where tropical storms and hurricanes are always news. During this year’s hurricane season, we’ve already tracked 27 named storms. To mitigate the effects of “Climate Chaos” and its associated damage-control costs, we have to think about what could be coming next.

From hurricanes to sea level rise in places like Florida and Louisiana, and from wildfires to droughts and heatwaves in places like California and the Southwestern United States, we must be prepared. The building designs in Florida and places alike are built to withstand the effects of tropical storms and hurricanes — by hardening the building so that it can face forceful winds and objects that are picked up and launched like a missile at the building’s walls, roof, doors, and windows. Since much of coastal Florida is or close to sea level, we also have to plan for flooding — by raising streets, building entrances, mechanical equipment locations, burying electrical lines, and having emergency water-tight barricades and pumps available. There are many more methods to keep us prepared; some even use nature. Planting mangroves to block wind and tidal surge impacts or creating retention ponds to redirect stormwater and mitigate flooding. The more we plan and prepare for climate change, the better we can manage extreme climate events and their damages.


Green architecture is clearly a better alternative for the planet but how can it improve people’s health and wellbeing?

Green architecture considers buildings’ future energy needs, the energy consumed before it opens, the indoor air quality, the toxicity of the materials going into a project, and much more. By lessening buildings’ dirty energy demands, such as coal or natural gas (which pollute our air, land, and water), we are protecting the health and wellbeing of all. Green architecture makes sure building occupants have clean oxygen indoors as most sustainable building certifications require this. That building materials have little to no volatile organic compounds (which are in many leading paint and furniture brands) off-gassing into the building spaces. Other projects may consider natural lighting, thermal controls, and views that help boost occupants’ moods and improve their mental wellbeing.

What are some certifications that people can look for? Are some certifications more meaningful?

LEED, Living Building Challenge, WELL, SITES, FGBC, ENERGY STAR, EcoDistricts, and BREEAM are all meaningful certifications in regards to the environment. Each certification’s rating system has a significance of its own. LEED is the most widely accepted and has the most options for certification. Living Building Challenge is the most regenerative to the environment. WELL focuses on the health and wellbeing of the occupants of a building. And, FGBC focuses on building in Florida’s specific climate and environment.

How can community members influence building owners and developers to build green?

Community members can support the development of sustainable architecture by being vocal about it, voting with their dollar, and only investing in green buildings. Another way is to participate in municipal meetings open to the public. Get involved by requesting that local standards align with sustainable rating systems (LEED, FGBC, WELL, etc.).

How do you see green building design shaping the future of hospitality and retail? Is it becoming the new normal?

More and more customers are evaluating the companies that they purchase from or visit during vacations or business trips. If their values don’t align, many times, customers will look to their competitors. I believe as retail and hospitality leaders recognize this shift, they will see how sustainable architecture can only help boost their growth.


Who were some of your favorite clients to work with?

A leader in the airport industry, Broward County Aviation at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. It is a public-good project that has adopted LEED sustainability standards for the entire airport. Paradise Plaza, a retail plaza made of two buildings that sets up a great environment for all current and future retail and restaurant tenants. And, it’s a part of a LEED Neighborhood Development, the Miami Design District, and my company’s 150th LEED-certified project. Orthodontics Only goes above and beyond to be as sustainable as possible. They’ve incorporated solar PV across the entire roof, a rainwater cistern to irrigate the landscape, and maximum energy efficiency, intending to achieve LEED Platinum (the highest level of certification possible by LEED) this year.

What elements did you incorporate to make them green?

I always like to see if we can incorporate solar PV, rainwater cisterns, and environmentally friendly materials. After taking into consideration the ecology of the land and water requirements, adding native landscaping for the occupants to enjoy and use is also something I suggest.

Sustainable buildings are redefining the industry standard. Every space, whether it is retail, hospitality, offices, or homes, has the potential to limit its impact. But that’s just it; green building doesn’t just work to be only limiting; it works to be beautiful and inviting. Spaces that make people and our planet feel happy and healthy with the clean and safe elements and designs involved. Simply, better buildings for a better future.