28 Jun 22 | Crain's Chicago Business
Crain's 2022 Notable Leaders in Sustainability: Christopher Drew, PhD. Director of Sustainability, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
Christopher Drew sets the sustainable design goals for AS+GG projects, working with the urban planning and architecture teams to develop targets and performance-monitoring approaches. He leads multiorganizational research projects to reduce the embodied carbon of concrete, a subject area he has lectured on globally. The challenge is to develop very low GWP, zero GWP and even carbon-negative (planet positive) concrete mixes. He has championed the firm’s environmental, social and governance approach by developing a comprehensive SDG-focused AS+GG 2025 plan; AS+GG is the only U.S. architecture firm that reports on performance to the U.N. Global Compact. Prior to joining AS+GG, Drew was department manager for sustainability at Masdar, a development near Abu Dhabi.
Notable Q&A: Why Sustainability Matters
Crains: How do you define sustainability?
Christopher Drew: In 1987, a United Nations commission defined sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But the definition has evolved. As a forward-thinking firm, AS+GG reports to the United Nations Global Compact, the world's largest corporate sustainability initiative. It expands the definition to include universal environmental principles, human rights, and other social measures.
Crains: Why is sustainability important?
Average temperatures now have a roughly fifty-fifty chance of rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius within five years, according to a recent report from the World Meteorological Organization. If this happens, climate change will impact the ability not only for future generations to survive but for us to survive. It's an important warning. We have a commitment to design buildings to the American Institute of Architects set of standards to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Crains: What is your role in the design process?
Drew: I work with the design group to establish a vision for the project and run the environmental simulation team to make sure the building will meet our sustainability performance standards. Taking a broader view, I also establish our company's sustainability goals to meet our measures on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.
Crains: What is your proudest accomplishment?
Drew: There've been many things I'm proud of. Most recently, on the research side, I led a multi-disciplinary team research project to improve the sustainability of concrete by reducing the carbon needed to produce concrete mixes. The concrete industry is responsible for 7% of global carbon emissions and tall buildings use a lot of it. Through a combination of different processes and technologies, we have produced a concrete mix that is carbon negative. It's currently being tested and it's a game changer.
On the design side, our Al Wasl Plaza Trellis and five buildings for the Dubai World Expo held in 2021/2022 was a tremendous accomplishment. The three offices achieved LEED platinum and the two hotels achieved LEED Gold status. The Trellis and Public Realm achieved the highest CEEQUAL score, an internationally recognized sustainability assessment, for any project outside of the UK.
Crains: What's the future of sustainability?
Drew: Part of my job is keeping an eye on where we are headed. We must make sure our buildings, which may last 100 years, are relevant to ever changing sustainability trends, consumer behavior, and new technologies. More issues are emerging around food and water security, and social equity. We have to start by making zero carbon buildings.
CRAIN'S: Any advice for business owners?
Drew: Include common sense sustainability thinking in your everyday business practices. Think about how you can reduce your carbon footprint. It's not rocket science. If you're building a new project, the design should produce less waste. Try to use fewer materials and space more efficiently. Find ways to reduce energy usage. We have the solutions. We just need to use them.
Solid scientific research underpins all successful sustainability efforts. As such, Christopher Drew, PhD, is unique in his position as director of sustainability at the Chicago-based firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (AS+GG). Drew is a respected international environmental scientist and thought leader on sustainability. He brings an understanding of the relationships between the built and natural environments, and urban ecosystems through almost 25 years of experience as an ecologist and sustainability manger.
A major contributor to each AS+GG project, Drew works closely with the architecture team. He helps to develop strategies for energy efficiency, energy generation, reduction of carbon emissions, waste management, water conservation, selection of sustainable materials and other key performance indicators. His research focuses on carbon emissions generated during all stages of a building's life. Drew's most important civic work is the ongoing development of ultra-low lifecycle carbon single-family homes for Habitat for Humanity.