Architects Want to Increase Specifications of Sustainable Products, but Face Barriers, AIA Study Finds

The volume of sustainable products in architect-designed buildings could rise markedly if manufacturers could promote their goods in ways that resonate with architects, a new AIA study concludes.

Architects regard sustainability most strongly in terms of a product’s installation and installed life rather than how it’s made, shipped, or recycled, the report says. And before they specify a product, architectural firms typically go beyond whether the brand is trusted to look at product certifications (particularly from independent third parties) and product disclosures. Research on websites is the most common way specifiers find the confirmation they need, but continuing education courses are most impactful, the AIA said.

One example of a gap between need and solution lies in an extremely common source for product info.

“Product libraries (including digital libraries in Masterspec) should incorporate sustainability information,” the AIA said in its report, entitled The Architect’s Journey to Specification 2020. “Architects rarely use these sources to assess sustainability, even though such solutions are primarily used at the time architects most consider sustainability.”

How can manufacturers of sustainable products increase their sales? The AIA listed three needs: An easy-to-navigate website with specific product information; reps that are responsive and knowledgeable about their products; and continuing education that is applicable, engaging, and facilitated by knowledgeable reps.

What about cost? Three-fifths of the 330 architects surveyed said sustainable products are too expensive, but that might lie in part because they also said 70% of clients are too cost-focused to use sustainable products. And 59% of architects feel they lack support from colleagues and contractors to push for specifications of sustainable products.

Thirty-one percent of the architects surveyed said they believed they were partially or fully meeting their responsibility for promoting sustainability, and 30% of them said they believed building product manufacturers were doing the same. But they said only 17% of government agencies, 12% of contractors, and just 8% of clients were doing the same.

The AIA also spotted generational differences in attitudes on this subject. For instance, 80% of millennials surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they see a lack of buy-in or commitment from the project team or contractors. But just 68% of Gen Xers and only 46% of baby boomers felt the same.