RAIC Journal: The Road to a Climate Action Plan

Speakers in the RAIC’s Congress on Architecture and its accompanying podcast series included Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Wanda Dalla Costa, Cristina Gamboa, Dr. Harriet Harriss, Seth Klein, Louis Conway, Bianca Dahlman, Joanne Perdue, and Mona

The worsening global climate crisis impacts architecture and society to a magnitude that is nearly impossible to overstate. To provide proactive leadership to the architectural industry, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) will soon publish a new future-minded Climate Action Plan.

Working in partnership with the Committee on Regenerative Environments, the Congress on Architecture Steering Committee and the Board of Directors, the Climate Action Plan will serve as a guiding document as the RAIC navigates the environmental challenges ahead.

Consultations and feedback from the RAIC membership, concluding this February, are the latest stage in informing the development of a considered plan for the RAIC. The built environment has a substantial impact on climate—Architecture 2030 cites that nearly 40% of global GHG emissions come from the maintenance, operation, and construction of buildings. Reducing the profession’s environmental impact is a vital priority.

A watershed initiative for environmental advocacy by the RAIC was the presentation of the Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Action on Climate and Ecological Health, first at an October 2019 board meeting, and subsequently in a presentation to members at the Annual General Meeting. Approved in principle by the board, the resolution provided a framework for the RAIC to prioritize and support members in designing for holistic health, resilience, and regenerative built environments. The resolution acknowledges the facts “that the built environment is a major contributor to climate change, that the continued use of status quo practices has contributed to the climate emergency, and that architects through their central role in shaping the built environment have both the capability and moral duty to directly enable transformational climate solutions.”

The resolution itself, which is available to read on the RAIC website, charts the environmental advocacy of the organization back to 2002—with the formation of the Sustainable Buildings Canada Committee—while looking to the future for accelerated climate action by the organization.

One of the instrumental follow-up actions in environmental advocacy by the RAIC was establishing the RAIC Congress on Architecture. The kickoff event took place in October 2020. “Taking Action: A Conversation on Climate Action and Architecture in Canada” brought together four presenters and introduced the main subjects for the 2021 Congress on Architecture.

The 2020 event was an online single-day discussion, with topics including the facts of climate change, its challenges and opportunities, strategies for implementation and application, and looking towards future solutions. Following the presentations, a virtual roundtable discussion between the presenters was delivered as a precursor to Congress in 2021. In between the 2020 and 2021 Congress events, the RAIC kept the conversation going by launching the RAIC Podcast on Architecture. Its inaugural season featured interviews with activists, architects and design professionals who centre sustainability in their practices, including Seth Klein, Louis Conway, Harriet Harriss, Bianca Dalhman, Wanda Dalla Costa, Mona Lemoine, Cristina Gamboa, and Joanne Perdue. The four-episode first season is available on a range of popular podcast services like Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Podbean, and Google Podcasts. To promote accessibility, each episode was accompanied by a full transcript in both French and English. The season finale of the Podcast on Architecture concluded the activities leading up to the Congress on Architecture, which took place on World Architecture Day, October 4, 2021.

The 2021 Congress on Architecture brought podcast speakers together, live, for a deeper dive into the topic. Following an opening and welcome by Indigenous Elder Otsitsakenra, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier began the day with a session focusing on how the environment, the economy, foreign policy, global health, and sustainability should not be viewed as separate concerns but as a deeply interconnected whole.

A moderated panel with Klein, Harris, and Gamboa paved the way for small group discussions organized in a World Café format. Participants engaged in deep conversations about tools, resources, solutions and changes needed in areas of practice, education and advocacy.

To extend the World Café discussions beyond the single-day event, the RAIC created a toolkit and workbook so that architects and design professionals could host discussion groups and conversations in their own networks across Canada. The workbook was developed to ensure that interested groups and individuals have a voice in the development of the RAIC Climate Action Plan, and is designed to be completed by anyone interested in providing input, including architects, interns, students, allied professionals, clients, or members of the public. The final deadline for submitting feedback is February 28, 2022.

The RAIC aims to produce an initial draft of the Climate Action Plan to guide the institute’s environmental initiatives, benchmarks, and strategies by mid-2022. Ultimately, the creation and adoption of this plan will lead to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly profession for all practitioners—and all Canadians.