Small Firms Can Change the World, Too

By: Chyanne Husar


Buildings account for 44.6% of US Co2 emissions per the US Energy Information Administration (2012). As the ones who design those buildings, how can we as architects continue to protect the world we care about and what can our architecture firms do to help?

Thomas Jacobs has been working on just that question.  As the Past-Chair of the AIA Chicago Chapter Advocacy Committee, founder of the Riverside Sustainability Council, and Principal at Krueck & Sexton Architects in Chicago, he has been an avid participant in the 2030 challenge and still asks ‘What can we do better?’

Tom’s answer: Link-up with fellow architects and leverage impact through collective action.  As a case in point, he and a small in-house team established Architects Advocate for Action on Climate Change, a nonpartisan grassroots network that voices concerns over climate change, advocates for action, and shares collective knowledge on ways to mitigate climate change and the roles buildings play. You can join the network, which is open to firms and individuals, here:  In the seven months since its founding, the network has grown to over 1,000 members.

While the AIA’s institutional efforts access government leaders at local, state, and national levels and give voice to architectural concerns, Architects Advocate believes that grassroots government advocacy is just as important.  Tom also recognizes that his 30-person, mid-size firm enjoys resources offering workload flexibility and shared networks.  However, small firms can incorporate advocacy into their practice as well, starting with a few simple steps:

  1. Identify the issue:  What issues matter most to you?  In a small firm, we wear many hats and there are limited resources.  Prioritize the issues we care about. 
  2. Determine the scale: How much can you or your firm commit?  Identify what you can offer and stick to that.  Every bit contributed to something that matters is a step in the right direction
  3. Find a network:  Find others that share your goal. Others might be thinking what you’re thinking. Develop a network with shared resources, information and time to help bridge the gap.
  4. Become a beacon: Create a network if one doesn’t exist or isn’t readily available.  Develop a local branch of a meaningful organization.  Let your network know what you care about – like-minded people will find you.
  5. Have the conversation: Oftentimes, the simplest thing we can do is mention it.  A conversation with a client about their building’s influence may result in a more sustainable project.
  6. Don’t lose hope:  We can’t save the world in a day.  Oftentimes, the small amount we find to give doesn’t feel like it adds up very quickly.  Don’t be discouraged!
  7. Let the SFx know: The Small Firm Exchange can help – let us know what is important to you, what helped you make an impact, and what information you can share with other small firm owners.

We, as architects, design the built world and have the power to influence how buildings shape that world.  Working in a small firm does not mean small projects or small impact.  Small architecture firms can build a better tomorrow.  So how will you use that power?