Imagine one day living in a community based on the precepts of sustainability. We would drive less, reducing gasoline consumption. We would walk more, improving our health. And all of our structures would be built of sustainable, energy-efficient materials.

On a larger scale, the process of building and operating commercial and residential buildings—which currently accounts for nearly half of the energy consumption in the United States—would drop dramatically.

A far-flung notion about the future? Not according to Michael Wolcott, who advocates a major shift in the way we think about designing the buildings and communities where we live and work.

An integrated approach encompassing all aspects of building and community design, civil and environmental engineering, materials and energy technologies, as well as public health and policy, must be formulated to address our historical reliance on non-renewable resources, Dr. Wolcott argues. New processes and designs that result in a reduced energy and water footprint, equity across economic levels, and greater trust and shared vision by communities are imperative to meet our current challenges.

Dr. Wolcott is spearheading efforts at Washington State University to create an Institute of Sustainable Design. The institute will merge ongoing work in architecture, construction management, and civil and environmental engineering with the research expertise of the Wood Materials and Engineering Laboratory (WMEL) and the Integrated Design Institute to address the holistic design of sustainable communities.

This interdisciplinary approach will increase opportunities for researchers to create novel materials needed for “green architecture” and make much needed contributions to challenges ranging from energy use to public health. The institute’s faculty and staff will explore alternative building styles, pioneer other building changes through strategic alliances with industry, and serve as a global technical and design resource.


Featuring: Michael Wolcott, Ph.D.

Michael Wolcott directs the new Institute for Sustainable Design at WSU and serves as the Lousiana-Pacific Distinguished Professor of Wood Materials and Engineering. He researches the design, production, and use of sustainable building materials from renewable resources and coordinates University initiatives for the design of sustainable-built environments. For more than a decade, he has led research teams developing novel building materials for the U.S. Navy, aiming to lower toxic chemical exposure from docks, piers, and other shoreline structures. He serves on teams planning integrated biorefineries that will produce fuels, chemicals, polymers, and nanomaterials using cellulosic feedstocks. Dr. Wolcott frequently keynotes at international conferences and is widely published. Both government and industrial sponsors fund his research and development activities.