Shaping the Future: Innovations in Sustainability | Atlanta Design Innovation Social

The Atlanta Design Innovation Social lived up to its reputation by offering an evening filled with engaging conversations, exquisite hors d'oeuvres, curated cocktails, and invaluable networking opportunities among industry professionals.

The highlight of the event was undoubtedly the fireside chat, expertly led by cove.tool’s CEO and co-founder, Sandeep Ahuja.

Joining her on the panel were esteemed professionals Marguerite Nessim Abd El-Shahid, Program Manager at Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia; Lesley Braxton, AIA, NCIDQ, LEED AP, Design Principal at Perkins & Will and Adjunct Faculty at Auburn University College of Architecture Design & Construction; and Matt Cale, National Program Manager at Farnsworth Group. Together, they dove deep into the pressing issues facing the AEC industry today, with a particular focus on climate change and the industry's role in mitigating its impact.

Combatting Climate Change Challenges

The fireside chat kicked off with a candid discussion about climate change, not just within the confines of the AEC industry but its overarching implications globally and the proactive measures and innovations needed to combat these challenges.

“The two (sustainable practices and building design) are just inseparable from design, you always have to start with not necessarily thinking about sustainability, but thinking about where you are in the universe - where you are, who you're building for, what are the climactic conditions, what are the soil types that you're working with, who lived there before you,” Braxton jumps in when asked about the relationship between sustainable practices and building design. “And I think that's the part that we as designers, and, what people tend to neglect is what happened before us and understanding that and how that can inform the way that we think the way that we design. And that's the thread that has to continue through every part of the project start to finish.”

Compromising Cost of Sustainability Goals

The panelists also tackled the often thorny issue of budget constraints when it comes to sustainability consulting services. They shared insights and strategies on how to navigate these financial hurdles without compromising on the sustainability goals of a project.

“What I learned to ask, and then it's my job to translate back is go to whoever pulls the purse strings on the owner side, and say, ‘How much can you afford to spend in utilities over the life of this building?’ If you put it in that kind of data set, everybody knows dollars - not everybody knows K BTUs per square foot; Not everybody knows LEED points; Not everybody knows ASHRAE. But, if you talk about dollars, all of a sudden, you have a democratized conversation going on at the front of the project," explains Cale. "And then you can present everything, you know, add a as it is, you know what that means. And everything then becomes, you know, not dependent on the budget, but becomes informative to the budget, right.”

 Sustainability through Collaboration

What resonated deeply was the unanimous call for collaboration across disciplines to surmount the challenges of integrating sustainability into the built environment.

“When collaboration is really successful, we're able to bring images and ideas and show that the potential of this building, then it is a really successful process and outcome. It takes, it takes effort, and the team has to be all on the same page,” explains Marguerite. “And there's so many potential for analysis and reports that would really inform the decision and brings up better projects that are more sustainable. We know that 40% of energy used in the US is from buildings, all types. So, it's huge. And energy is at the basis at the center of our life and everything. So, if we all come to the table with an analysis that has some bearing on energy efficiency, that would be great.”


The Atlanta Design Innovation Social of 2024 not only facilitated a meaningful exchange of ideas but also highlighted the collective ambition of the AEC industry to embrace sustainability at its core. The event, marked by the wisdom of its speakers and the enthusiasm of its attendees, set a hopeful tone for the future of design and construction. As the industry continues to evolve, the insights shared during this fireside chat will undoubtedly serve as a beacon for professionals striving to make a difference in the world through their work.

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