Guest Commentary

Bob Berkebile: Hope for common ground with the Trump administration

Bob Berkebile was the founding chairman of AIA’s Committee on the Environment.
Bob Berkebile was the founding chairman of AIA’s Committee on the Environment.

President Donald Trump, you did not receive my vote. My colleagues and I have worked with Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In a time of scarce common ground, many worry about whether your administration will collaborate like those in the past. But as you’ve taken the oath to preserve, protect and defend, I will be looking for opportunities to work with you.

Our work with previous administrations was focused on national demonstration projects to create new approaches and set standards for making buildings (including the White House) and communities more healthy, efficient and resilient. A team of national experts on building performance and environmental design developed measures for the White House, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the Pentagon.

My work over the last 40 years has been creating positive outcomes by design for Americans, their companies and communities, and my work with your predecessors has been as a citizen volunteer in partnership with the White House, other federal agencies and volunteers from the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Green Building Council and several national laboratories.

At the community scale, we have worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and previous administrations to help communities rethink their business plans, infrastructure and future as they rebuilt after natural disasters (hurricanes, tornadoes and floods). This work has been recognized by Presidents Bush and Obama, the Urban Land Institute and the Financial Times. More importantly, it has revealed huge opportunities to reimagine and rebuild American communities and the infrastructure that connects us to improve health, vitality and resilience while reducing costs.

Your comments during the campaign alongside your Environmental Protection Agency pick Scott Pruitt suggest that we disagree on climate change, but my friends who voted for you tell me not to take you so literally. I learned that climate change is a critical issue in 1991 when the National Science Foundation took me to Antarctica. An international team of scientists reminded me of something I learned from one of my professors, Buckminster Fuller, that everything is interconnected and interdependent. Since then, I have confirmed that our obsolete buildings, communities, energy and transportation systems are directly linked to climate change. Ironically, whether one believes in climate change or not, designing smart buildings and communities not only increases health, resilience and profits while reducing cost, it also reverses the destructive impacts of climate change.

As you proceed with your plan to make America great, consider the above strategies as low-hanging fruit to address the critical need to improve the health, vitality, security and resilience of all Americans and the natural systems (climate included) that sustain us and all life on the planet. It’s good business. Or, as Hank Paulson put it, it’s “risky business” if we don’t.

I wish you, your administration and our country every success. But no matter what course you and your administration choose, I will be reaching out to my neighbors in the heartland of America and listening to people whom I currently don’t know, or know but don’t understand. I’ll be looking for common ground and for opportunities to heal the stark divide that was revealed during your campaign, and I hope you will, too.

Bob Berkebile was the founding chairman of the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment and was instrumental in creating the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED rating system and the Living Building Challenge. He is writing as an individual.