Moira Moser

With 15 locations worldwide, Moser’s firm has certified more than 4.7 million square feet of space in the last eight years, spanning 20 international cities. That success has played a central role in expanding green design across Asia, and it is rooted in an unconventional approach to creating sustainable workplaces. Moser begins each project by addressing the needs of workers and business owners, customizing designs to foster healthy, green, productive workplaces.

In our conversation, Moser shares her thoughts on that process, on a changing industry and workplace, and on the immense challenge of global warming.

USGBC+: Your firm recently completed its 100th LEED-certified project in China. What does that accomplishment mean for M Moser Associates and for energy-efficient design around the world?

MM: It’s a really important milestone. It means a great deal to our staff that when we do this globally and collaboratively, we can achieve something remarkable.

In terms of global sustainability, I think what is happening is that [LEED certification] and sustainability have become a basis for good design. In other words, if you don’t have sustainability in the design, it’s not good design. And that’s where it should be.

Sustainability, of course, is our obligation to society. But in addition, companies are understanding that individuals in their workplaces are their only asset, and they need to be provided with an environment that supports their wellness. So in addition to LEED certification, [the] WELL Building Standard certification is another approach to sustainability within the workplace that we are supporting. The two together address inside and outside the envelope, so to speak.

USGBC+: Your 15 most recent LEED projects show 0%-3% additional construction costs over non-LEED projects. How did you achieve those cost efficiencies?

MM:The secret is that sustainable design needs to be integrated from the very beginning, from the conceptual start of the project, not added later. If it’s integrated into the design and engineering from the start and carries through construction, then it’s not going to be a huge additional cost. If it’s left up to value engineering at the end of the design phase, it’s way too late to do it cost-effectively.

USGBC+: When you first began designing sustainable workspaces, what was the pitch to folks who had not yet bought into green design?

MM:I think what we found was that the easiest way to approach people who were not really cognizant of green design was through the economic benefits. Rather than simply advocating the right thing to do, make it a practical thing as well.

USGBC+: How has the industry changed since you founded M Moser Associates, and how have you adapted?

MM:The type of work that is predominant has changed. It was previously manufacturing, and now manufacturing is being done robotically. The economy has developed into service industries, and in these industries it’s the people and the workplace that need to be considered first. So sustainability, a healthy environment, all of this becomes more important.

The industry term we use now is Activity Based Workplace (ABW). We start by asking the client, “What is the desirable activity you want to see in your workforce that will support the growth of your business, and how can we create an environment that will physically support [that]?”

And finally, the ways people work, and the workplace itself, are changing. The cubicle is long gone. People need to have flexibility to move around in their environment and find that the space is still supportive of the work they want to do.

USGBC+: How far have women come in the architecture industry, and how much work is still to be done?

MM:(laughs) It’s only Americans who ask me that. I’ve never considered myself a woman architect. I’m an architect, pure and simple. And I’ve found over the years that when you can develop something that contributes and answers a need, then that becomes far more important than your gender.

USGBC+: The news about climate change can seem overwhelming. What role can green design leaders practically play?

MM:I think what we have found is it’s gone beyond advocacy. Most people are aware of climate change and the need for sustainable design, so what we have found is that in developing sustainable workplaces, we are also helping the client meet that triple bottom line: reducing the economic costs of operations as well as achieving social responsibility and responsibility to the environment. So it isn’t simply advocacy—it’s a practical approach.

USGBC+: As you look forward to the next 35 years of sustainable design, what excites you the most?

MM:I think it’s the integration of all the disciplines into a single focus for every project. We’ve been doing this for a long time, but it’s still unusual in the industry. Rather than simply being architects or interior designers or engineers or construction managers, we pull all of those disciplines together within a single project team.

And we strongly support our designers and engineers becoming LEED APs. We have [37 in-house] LEED APs throughout the company, instead of just one division, so the sustainability aspect quite naturally becomes an integral part of the design and engineering that we provide. It encourages collaboration that leads to a better result. That is definitely the way forward.

Designed by workplace specialist firm M Moser Associates, GTB’s 17,760-sq-ft office in Shanghai is the first in APAC for WELL v1 certification. Photo courtesy M Moser Associates