State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

“Green Bling” and Other Sustainable Architecture Insights

By Deborah Sachare

Take a moment to think about what a “green building” would look like, aesthetically. When people think of a building that is environmentally responsible, the first image that probably comes to mind is that of solar panels. “This is what we call, ‘green bling.’ The PV solar panels look really ‘green’ but in actuality, don’t have that great of an impact,” said Ilana Judah, Senior Associate and Director of Sustainability at FXFOWLE Architects. Ms. Judah was hosted by the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development as part of their Speaker Series and spoke to a room of graduate and undergraduate students, interested in architecture, urban planning and of course, sustainable development.

The Speaker Series allows students to explore professional opportunities available in the field of sustainable development. Always interested in architecture, Ms. Judah began her career in Canada, without any specific “sustainability training.” She did, however, grow up in a family that held green values to high standards, such as composting and minimizing car travel. When it came to learning the language of sustainable architecture, Ms. Judah picked it up along the way. Her current work as the Director of Sustainability at FXFOWLE encompasses three main components. First, she works internally with some capacity on every project in the office – whether it be in educating colleagues or the actual development of the plan. Secondly, Ms. Judah manages client relationships, encouraging clients to do more work on sustainably and educating them about the economic and practical rewards. Thirdly, Ms. Judah focuses on ensuring an integrated design. This means collaborating with mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, interior designers, elevator companies, etc., to take advantage of a building’s natural setting and optimize its intended use.

Ms. Judah’s biggest piece of advice to those concerned with the world of sustainable architecture? “Advance through legislation.” To a room full of enthusiastic nods, Ms. Judah expressed how important legislation and government code regulations are to the greening of the building process. She noted that while incentives to build in a more environmentally-conscious manner are a step in the right direction, they often times do not outweigh the potential costs to the builder. The builder, however, must meet any government regulations in order to proceed with construction. Therefore, Ms. Judah advises pushing more environmentally-conscious legislation, as this is critical for achieving more sustainable architecture.

The seminar was part of the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development’s regularly scheduled Speaker Series for the 2013 fall semester. To see a list of upcoming speakers, please visit the events section of our website. While the Speaker Series is hosted by the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, all undergraduate and graduate students at Columbia and affiliated schools are invited to attend.

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through the Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the Sustainable Development Major and Concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.

To learn more about the Major and Special Concentration in Sustainable Development, please visit our website or contact Jessica Sotomayor, Program Manager, at


Deborah Sachare is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. She is a student at Barnard College and will graduate in 2014 with a degree in Environmental Policy.

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