Sustainability Action Plan

AIA 2030 Commitment

Working Toward 2030

The built environment—the places where humans live, work, and play—represents one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in America and around the world. Fentress Architects has seen this for years and has vowed to work toward a future of carbon neutral buildings by signing the AIA 2030 Commitment.

Sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, this pact calls on signatories to meet rigorous guidelines for climate action through energy efficient design and construction. Culminating in a goal of zero net emissions by 2030, it has already posted promising results. For example, in 2018 more than 200 member firms accounted for energy savings equivalent to 3.7 million passenger cars’ emission for a full year, or 20.8 million acres of carbon captured in forests. Last year, 16 firms saved more than 70 percent across their entire portfolio.

We are especially proud to take part in the process for achieving these goals – a national framework for comprehensive metrics and a standardized reporting format for the attainment of energy efficiency. Engagement in the Commitment lets us pinpoint best practices and compare project performance for similar conditions and building types across the industry. All Fentress Architects clients will benefit from this research tool. 

Participation in the AIA 2030 Commitment is only one measure we have undertaken to fulfill our Touchstones of DesignTM. Our promise is to base our record-setting public architecture on the values of humanism, respect for the people who use these buildings, and our conviction that the built environment can usher in a better world.

We believe we must direct our practice toward this end and encourage our clients and the entire design and construction industry to join us in the quest for a healthy, sustainable, and resilient future.

Our Sustainability Action Plan for 2020 updates these efforts. Our approach to design and project delivery continues to evolve, reducing the use of natural resources and non-renewable energy. As an architecture firm and as a workplace, we have reduced waste production and promoted regenerative practices within our own studio.

Realizing carbon neutral buildings by 2030 will require a holistic, collaborative approach comprising not only our firm but the larger industry. We must extend our commitment to owners, contractors, and design consultant partners, collaborating in every phase of the design process and especially during the discovery of intentions and vision.

Firm Commitment

We find the Touchstones of Design can open a broader dialogue. Its eight principles address the look, feel, and function of a building. They also encourage an immersive process that helps all of us become a team, from owners and partners to the communities that utilize the buildings we design. The Touchstones are deeply imbedded in our culture. We rely on them to orient new employees, guide internal design meetings, and reach out to clients and the public. They also help us measure the success of a project in meeting sustainability goals.

Design + Approach


As design principles, the Touchstones of Design work on multiple levels. For example, the injunction to ‘Discover the Natural Order’ can be used to guide people or materials through a building. It can also help designers discover a building’s deeper purpose so it can be adapted to change – one of the benefits of sustainable design.

Current Practices + Actions

Our approach comprises three major phases: research, analysis, and a resulting synthesis. Each one works through activities and workshops that guide the project to the next phase.

Phase One: Research

Our first step, gathering data, requires us to distinguish between two sets of project data: design strategies and evaluative criteria. Factors in a design strategy can include program goals and objectives, case studies of relevant building types, site and climate conditions, and financial incentives. Evaluation criteria may include goals and objectives, codes and standards, benchmarks, and external rating systems.

Phase Two: Analysis

The data we find falls into two cohorts: project-specific information and performance data that would apply to any project on that site. All of it helps generate the early design phase analyses and modeling needed to guide possible options and design strategies, while evaluative criteria establish the standards a team uses to determine success. 

Phase Three: Synthesis

Most of the design schedule is devoted to integrated design sessions that reconcile these classes of requirements, finding the optimal design for the project’s unique performance envelope.

This process recurs throughout the development of the design and construction document, as it determines sustainable choices in product material, sourcing, procurement, construction practices, documentation, and tracking.

Energy Modeling

Reducing energy use is at the forefront of our design process, as it must be for a portfolio that includes large, complex buildings. Fentress performs early energy modeling during the synthesis phase and works with consultants to evaluate the project intensity of energy use. These models emulate different scenarios of energy use and identify areas for improvement.

Green Certifications

Fentress Architects strives to understand and acknowledge green certification requirements such as LEED, SITE, WELL, and Fitwel, whether listed in RFP requirements or identified in discussions with stakeholders. We know rating systems include credits based on performance standards and metrics, which affect design decisions and construction practices from early concept design to project close-out.


Work remains for the entire AEC industry if we are to attain carbon neutrality by 2030. Sustainability goals require us to become more proactive through research and education to establish Fentress as an exemplary member of the movement.

Regulatory and market factors that affect any given project’s sustainability are often out of an architect’s direct control, but we can advance our collaboration with owners through discovering and identifying opportunities for improved energy performance.

This requires us to expand our in-house expertise to better integrate energy analysis into the early phases of design study and exploration. Expanding these capabilities will make energy performance play an increasingly central primary role in shaping our designs.



Fentress Architects recognizes the importance of energy use reporting and its part in advancing our community towards a more sustainable future. Responsibilities for evaluation and reporting currently fall on individual project teams, but we are undergoing a process to streamline, centralize, and standardize this critical component of sustainability so our organization can improve building performance.

Current Practices

Measures currently in place to evaluate energy use intensity and lighting power density require cross-functional collaboration across the entire design team. Fentress performs in-house analysis and engages third-party consultants to validate our designs. Our evaluation extends to the field with onsite observations and constructability reviews with contractors. Building owners, project managers, or team members collect the needed data during synthesis and after occupancy.


Fentress Architects will improve the energy use evaluation and reporting processes of our buildings. We are planning evaluation-stage improvements to design and construction management. We are expanding our energy modeling capability so our designers can get real-time, evidence-based tools to efficiently and effectively navigate design iterations. In construction administration, we intend to broaden procedures for site observations and contractor collaboration, to ensure building envelopes and other energy using components are installed as designed.

We equip our teams with analytical tools and resources to achieve energy targets, and are streamlining the way we get use data from owners. Our Sustainable Design Committee is working on a revised procedure to centralize this process and apply it to all of our projects. 



Fentress Architects strongly believes in contributing and advocating for sustainable design, both with clients and throughout the sustainable design community.

Current Practices

Our firm participates in a number of sustainable design community initiatives including:

  • AIA Colorado Climate and Sustainability Group
  • AIA Colorado Committee for Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness
  • American Alliance of Museums Environment and Climate Network
  • Building Enclosures Council
  • Carbon Leadership Forum
  • Ecochallenge
  • LEED for Airports Working Group
  • LEEDuser
  • Design Futures Council Sustainable Design Summit
  • CAL Project, a partnership with local K-12 schools to teach an architecture curriculum. We dedicate a portion of the curriculum to exploring sustainability issues.
  • U.S. Green Building Council


Fentress Architects specializes in the public realm, where we are well positioned to advance a sustainable future. We understand the operational and energy use nuances particular to the building types that are our specialty, and we can lead these market sectors toward carbon neutrality.

Our second goal is to encourage our designers to participate in outreach and advocacy. Widespread participation in this arena contributes valuable data to our collective knowledge base, while helping younger designers develop their careers. Increased advocacy and outreach from Fentress Architects will impel the industry toward a carbon neutral future.



Fentress Architects strongly believes in the value of career-long learning and the growth of our collective knowledge base. Knowledge empowers our design professionals, so they can become ambassadors of sustainability throughout the design and construction industry.

Current Practices

Our firm has a training and education program that supports the growth of our talent. Fentress University provides in-house, on-site, AIA-accredited, and GBCI-recognized continuing education opportunities for our design talent, with a seminar occurring nearly every week. 

Fentress Architects has LEED Accredited and WELL Accredited professionals on staff. Our firm fully supports and encourages our design professionals to pursue sustainability accreditation such as LEED, SITES, and WELL, and often reimburses their expenses for examination and study resources. 

Fentress Architects also trains staff on emerging software and technologies through our BIM and Technical Design committees. We support education outside the office through the sponsorship of industry seminars and conferences on sustainability.


Fentress Architects  will expand training on sustainability, primarily through in-house continuing education by our various committees. Our Sustainable Design Committee will continue to implement sustainable design dialogue and expand our energy modeling expertise. Sustainability will also be taught through other committees including Project Management, Design, Technical Design, and Outreach. Fentress Architects will continue to encourage design professionals to acquire multiple green accreditations.



Fentress Architects has served clients and communities across the United States and beyond. With offices spanning the country and field offices at several of our project sites, we are deeply cognizant of the carbon footprint of our presence.

Current Practices + Actions

Fentress Architects has an established practice of virtual, remote participation, and collaboration that has enabled us to successfully deliver projects across the country. We continue to develop and refine strategies to improve this capability, while reducing our operational footprint and increasing our social handprint. 

Air travel to project sites is easily the biggest contributor to our operational environmental footprint. We can reduce this impact by assigning the bulk of site-based needs to the nearest office location. Design-based tasks are shared among all our offices, but we accomplish day-to-day collaboration primarily through technology, which also contributes to a reduced need to travel.

Within our offices, we have also taken steps to reduce our footprint. Where possible, administrative processes, such as annual performance reviews, benefit elections, and expense reporting, have migrated to a paperless format. Adding technology within the office, such as smartboards and collaboration software, has also reduced our dependence on printing and paper. We have a sustainable purchasing policy for ongoing consumables such as paper, toner cartridges, batteries, lamps, and food and beverage.

We also encourage alternative transportation for commuting; several of our office locations are located along public transportation routes. We provide showers and in-building bike storage.

Waste management within the office has been a focus in recent years. We have implemented a new policy towards catering for events – buffet-style lunches and shared condiments have become the norm, in lieu of individually packed lunches – and they are served with washable dinnerware and silverware. Any disposable ware we might use is migrating to compostable versions. Employees are also educated about waste streams. 

At our Denver office, we have an in-house composting program. Fresh vegetables we grow on our rooftop garden are used by the office for internal events and shared with employees.

Our firm also embraces expanding our handprint internally and externally. Within the office, we have recently implemented several initiatives to enhance our employee health and wellbeing, including weekly fruit delivery and the after-hours use of our on-site fitness center for employee-organized yoga sessions.

Outside of the office, we have instilled a long-standing value of volunteerism through our REACH Committee. Events include participation in Habitat for Humanity builds and partnership with local K-12 schools to teach curricula on architecture – inspiring the next generation of architects and designers.


Fentress Architects has identified a number of goals to continue the reduction of our operational footprint.

Business-related air travel continues to require improvement. While travel requirements vary greatly and are largely project dependent, we have envisioned ways to reduce this as much as possible. We can consolidate trips between project sites within a region, thus saving on connecting flights to and from the office. We also intend to move more meetings online. While face-to-face meetings are the most effective, the recent COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent “Stay-at-Home” orders have provided an opportunity to test and refine teleworking. We also encourage carpooling and the use of public transit to and from the airport.

As a firm that designs large public projects with worldwide reach, it is important to recruit talent globally. We continually evaluate our recruitment processes to further reduce the need for search-related travel.

Employee commuting is also an area we seek to improve. Our offices in San Francisco and Washington, DC are highly accessible by public transit. At our Denver office, our employees live across a wide range of locations and settings. Those who are able to use alternative transportation to get to the office generally do, and we encourage it by providing showers and in-building bike storage. To serve those employees who cannot use public or alternative transportation, we are studying initiatives to reduce their commuting footprint. This includes expanding our work-from-home policies and on-site electric vehicle charging stations, as electric cars become more prevalent over the next few years.

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