Committee on the Environment


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The Committee on the Environment (COTE®) is an AIA Knowledge Community working for architects, allied professionals, and the public to achieve climate action and climate justice through design. We believe that design excellence is the foundation of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future. Our work promotes design strategies that empower all AIA members to realize the best social and environmental outcomes with the clients and the communities they serve.

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To learn about the Framework for Design Excellence (formerly the COTE Top Ten Measures), click here.

If you missed the 2020 Top Ten Toast, download a recording here

A big thank you to our partners: 
Founding partner: Building Green
Sustaining partners: Lucifer Lighting Company, Kingspan
Green partners: AutodeskEPIC MetalsHKS,  ROCKWOOL, WRNSSkanska, Thornton Thomasseti
Allied partners: BNIM, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, LMN David Baker Architects, Integral

Supporting partners: Humanscale, Mahlum, BPKC, Opsis

GAF x COTE: Looking at the Future

This 2019 video was compiled by GAF, a COTE sponsor. 

Letter from the Chair- June 2020

By Julie Hiromoto AIA posted 06-11-2020 04:50 PM


Dear COTE members,

Every year, I’m amazed by the 
COTE Top Ten Award winning projects, this year is no different. But before we celebrate these winners, we should reflect on the social justice atrocities that have been tolerated for too long.  The COTE Advisory Group supports The National Organization of Minority Architects’ (NOMA) and the AIA Board’s statements on systemic racial injustice.  We must act, as individuals and within our firms and organizations, to mobilize broader change against inequity and racism.  COTE commits to refine our mission to articulate this position and be more explicit about justice and equity within the COTE Top Ten Awards criteria.  


And about those awards: for those firms that have been reluctant to submit projects for consideration to the COTE Top Ten Awards, I want to debunk any misconceptions you might have about them.   I’ve heard many myths over the years“It’s a net zero energy competition … the only projects that win are in California where they have a temperate climate and aggressive building codes ... only small boutique projects win … green design always costs more money ... only public or projects for non-profits win … or I cannot win because my Walkscore is low and it’s not an urban project. This month, we bust some of those myths. Here are 10 takeaways from the 2020 winners: 

  1. Climate zone is not a deal breakerCalifornia is again well represented, but two other states are equally represented: New York and Texas. NYC and Austin, with two projects each, have very cold and hot and humid climatesThree of our other winners are in Chicago, Boston and the Mississippi bayou. 
  2. New isn’t betterFive of the 2020 winners are renovations or expansions of existing buildings. If anyone thinks that adapting an existing building is easier than new construction, go talk to the Keller Center team. 
  3. Size doesn’t matter. The smallest winner had 18,900 sf of conditioned space, the largest 415,900 sf. The average area this year was 120,000 sf. 
  4. diversity of building program types can rise to the top. This year’s winners included one multi-family residentialtwo public institution/government, two owner-occupied, one speculative office, and four education projects. 
  5. It takes time to craft and backup submissions. Winners note substantial completion across the last four years: two in 2019, three in 2018, three in 2017, and two in 2016. The design phase for the Austin Central Library was completed in 2013. 
  6. It’s not all about density. The tallest winner (Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice) is 13 stories. 
  7. Biophilia and embodied carbon matter. Five of this year’s winners celebrate wood construction and finishes as signature components of the design, including the largest CLT academic building. 
  8. Good, green design doesn’t cost more (and might cost less). Seven of the winners included relevant construction costs industry benchmarks. All, except one, cited equivalent or less cost.  Dollars per SF averaged around $350/sf with the highest at $565/sf and the lowest at $84/sf (approximately half of the local benchmark to construct!). 
  9. Designing for human health and material transparency is possibleThree winners are redlist compliant or pursuing ILFI Material Petal certification. 
  10. It’s not the same firms every yearWe have seven first-time winners this year.  Congratulations to Shepley Bulfinch, Richter Architects, LPA Inc, Gensler (won three!)Leers Weinzapfel Associates, Woodhouse Tinucci, and unabridged Architecture 


Julie Hiromoto 

AIA 2020 COTE Chair 

Photo: Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice / Gensler / photographer: Garrette Rowland
Photo: Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice / Gensler / photographer: Garrette Rowland




06-18-2020 11:56 AM

why aren't we talking about climate change's impact on justice/ vulnerable communities and what else we can be doing directly to benefit those communities?  Resilience? More than well-funded Top Ten?

06-17-2020 06:10 PM

Clear, concise and data rich as ever!  Well presented.
Looking forward to COTE/AIA/NOMA's further work on social equity.

06-16-2020 10:41 AM

Thanks for this clear and thought-provoking letter, Julie.  Too many of us take the easy road by claiming one of the common myths as a reason why we are not doing better.  Instead we should be looking at these examples and taking inspiration for the way they have raised the bar, within the same markets, the same profession, the same AEC industry we all inhabit.  I'm hopeful that we can also evolve quickly to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion more in our work.