Q&A with Trivers’ Director of Sustainability, James Roseberry

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Associate James Roseberry, AIA, LEED AP BD+C was recently appointed as Trivers’ director of sustainability in recognition of his longstanding dedication to advancing environmental stewardship both at Trivers and within the field of architecture. Over the course of his 22-year career at Trivers, he has contributed to many of the firm’s sustainable projects, including the renovation of January Hall at Washington University in St. Louis, and is a charter member of the AIA St. Louis Committee on the Environment and board chair of the Missouri Gateway Green Building Council. James has also presented at multiple national and international conferences on the intersection of sustainability and preservation and how small- to medium-sized architecture firms can develop a sustainable-based practice.

Learn more about James and his new role in the Q&A below.

Q: What does your position as director of sustainability entail?

I lead Trivers’ Green Team and will guide and set the overall sustainable vision of the firm, oversee the implementation of Trivers’ comprehensive sustainable action plan, and champion adherence to the AIA Framework for Design Excellence and the AIA 2030 Commitment sustainability goals.

In addition to managing my own projects, I’ll also dedicate time to consulting with other Trivers project teams on their work, advising on project goals and sustainability efforts, and continuing to establish the firm as an industry leader in sustainable architecture.

Q: Sustainability has always been one of Trivers’ values. What led to the creation of the director of sustainability role?

There’s a common saying that the greenest building is the one that is already built. Trivers’ sustainability story goes back to the firm’s founding almost five decades ago and its early focus on historic renovation and adaptive reuse. Additionally, the firm has had a Green Team for many years, and we’ve had numerous projects achieve sustainability-based certifications like LEED and Enterprise Green Communities. Although sustainability has been a component of our work for a long time, we’ve recently become more intentional in incorporating and measuring sustainable design practices across all our projects.

Trivers’ focus on sustainability increased following a pivotal ownership transition in 2015. During this time, we became more exposed to national firms with a strong focus on sustainability, and the AIA was ratifying its Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Climate Action and updating its Code of Ethics to require discussions on sustainability with clients on all projects. The principals recognized the need to boost sustainability efforts within the firm, and that’s when we signed the AIA 2030 Commitment.

Currently, we are developing our Sustainable Action Plan as part of the AIA 2030 Commitment. During that process, the principals realized we needed a director of sustainability who could spearhead the firm’s sustainability initiatives and ensure we reach our sustainability goals, and I am quite proud to have been appointed to that position.

Q: What spurred your interest in sustainable architecture?

Due to the nature of our work, architecture as a profession is at the forefront of addressing climate change. I was exposed to sustainable design in college and thought it was interesting, but it didn’t have much prominence in my life or my career until after I had children, which made me consider it more critically. I remember reading an article in The New Yorker about the acidification of the oceans that inspired me to learn a lot more about the science of climate change.

Around the same time, Edward Mazria, who launched the 2030 Challenge, came to St. Louis for a talk that I attended. It was an eye-opening time for me, Trivers and the entire field of architecture. We were beginning to recognize that climate change is a significant issue, and with the built environment accounting for 40 percent of the world’s emissions, we were also starting to realize that as architects, we have the power to make a difference.

Q: How do clients benefit from working with a firm that is a signatory to the AIA 2030 Commitment?

Sustainable design is good design; therefore, it is always in the client’s best interest. At Trivers, we are dedicated to creating designs of lasting, positive consequence: environmentally friendly buildings that reduce waste and are more energy efficient. We design structures to be resilient and durable by considering the climate they are in today, what the climate might be like in the future, and how the structure’s use might change over the years. We talk frequently about balance of factors like design, context, budget, and program being a both/and proposition rather than a sacrifice. Our process is about reaching higher and results being more than just the sum of their parts, and sustainability is an important component of that.

Q: What advice do you have for firms looking to join the AIA 2030 Commitment or generally improve their sustainability efforts?

More than 1,300 firms in the United States have signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, and discussions of climate change and carbon emissions from buildings are much more prominent in the industry. However, it’s still only a minority of firms that are signatories and even fewer report their data to the AIA’s Design Data Exchange (DDx).

The AIA 2030 Commitment may seem daunting, but in practice, it is not. It is designed to help firms take one step at a time and make gradual improvements along the way. I advise firms to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Get in, start working and figure it out as you go.

Q: What is your favorite sustainable project that you’ve worked on over your career?

One of my favorite projects that I am proud of is The Laurel. Originally the Grand Leader department store, then Stix, Baer and Fuller, and then the Dillard’s store downtown, we renovated the historic building covering an entire city block into apartments and a hotel. It was the first LEED project that I worked on. It pushed several boundaries with energy-efficient mechanical systems, a significant amount of recycled content materials, a green roof system in the courtyard, and high-albedo roofing. The project achieved LEED Silver certification.

My most recent LEED project was the renovation of January Hall at Washington University in St. Louis. It was the university’s first renovation project to achieve LEED Platinum certification—the highest level of LEED certification possible. We did a lot of studies on how to attain better performance while maintaining the historic character of the building. For example, we implemented an interior storm window that was more energy efficient while simultaneously preserving the existing stained-glass windows. The project represented a good balance of sustainability and historic preservation and even managed to achieve the maximum number of points available for energy savings.

Trivers just finished the renovation of the Butler Brothers Building, which is a huge, historic warehouse that has been turned into a mixed-use development called The Victor. It would have taken all the trees in Forest Park more than 100 years to sequester the amount of embodied carbon we saved by reusing the building’s brick and concrete and keeping the original shell of the building.

Q: What is your favorite outdoor activity?

I am a big cyclist. It’s the most efficient machine that man has ever invented. What else would allow me to go a couple hundred miles on just water and granola bars? I mostly road cycle, but I also enjoy the Great Rivers Greenway system, especially the River des Peres Greenway near Carondelet Park and Grant’s Trail.