Home AEC Q&A: Miller Hull Launches New Sustainability Initiative, EMission Zero

Q&A: Miller Hull Launches New Sustainability Initiative, EMission Zero

Miller Hull Partnership, Emission Zero, Seattle, 333 Dexter, U.S. Embassy, Niamey, San Diego, Parco,Santa Monica City Yards Fleet Building, University of California Santa Cruz Environmental Health & Safety Facility, Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station, Matt’s Place

By Catherine Sweeney 

Miller Hull Partnership is continuing to expand its sustainability efforts, recently launching a new initiative to eliminate greenhouse gasses from its projects. The company, which was founded in 1977, has a long history in designing sustainable buildings. The architecture firm launched the program, EMission Zero, in 2021 and has so far offset 16,679 tons of carbon. The Registry spoke with Alex Ianchenko, research and design staff member, and Principal Architect Jim Hanford to learn more about this history and how the new program will help the company implement future sustainable design goals. 

Q: Generally speaking, what is EMission Zero, and what made Miller Hull decide to implement this initiative?

A: EMission Zero is Miller Hull’s initiative targeting the elimination of greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment. EMission Zero combines the firm’s actions to reduce climate impact through design and ongoing efforts to educate and advocate. A major component of the program is Miller Hull’s commitment to purchase third-party certified carbon offsets to balance the upfront carbon emissions caused by built projects Miller Hull designs.

Q: Miller Hull does a lot of work in West Coast markets. Why is sustainable design particularly important in these regions?

A: Sustainability is imperative everywhere and it can be done everywhere. Miller Hull is taking our responsibility and privilege as architects to help account for the work we do, inspire our clients and work with the experts in our industry to advance sustainability for everyone.

Q: Miller Hull has historically designed sustainable buildings. How does this initiative further these goals?

A: EMission Zero is an evolution of the sustainable design principles that have been foundational to Miller Hull since its inception. As our profession learns more and sustainable priorities come into greater focus, we tailor our work to achieve the best performance and health goals for our clients. Being accountable for our project’s emissions is in line with Miller Hull’s Sustainability Action Plan and our values — Do Good. Go Deep. Be Bold.

Q: In what ways will EMission Zero be implemented? What current or past projects are part of the program?

A: In 2021, Miller Hull purchased certified carbon offsets to balance at least a third of upfront embodied carbon emissions associated with seven built projects ranging in scale, location and typology, demonstrating that projects of all kinds can positively impact the future of the global environment. 

Substantially completed in 2021, these projects include Seattle’s 333 Dexter, the new U.S. Embassy in Niamey, Niger, San Diego’s Parco, the Santa Monica City Yards Fleet Building, the University of California Santa Cruz Environmental Health & Safety Facility, the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station, and Matt’s Place.

Q: In general, what ways does the firm implement sustainable practices into its designs?

A: Our holistic approach is covered in our Sustainability Action Plan. Some specific examples include:

  • Using energy modeling, daylight modeling, and life cycle assessment tools to inform design decisions as early as possible
  • Running dedicated sustainability-focused workshops tailored to every client team
  • Developing a materials plan to eliminate Red Listed chemicals from every project
  • Collaborating with our engineer project partners to design and install all-electric building systems that can be powered with renewable energy supplies

Q: What are the biggest challenges in sustainable design, and in what ways can architecture firms work to overcome them?

A: One challenge is the uptake of sustainable design tools. Less than a quarter of large (100+ employee) architecture firms are using embodied carbon calculators – the uptake is much slower for smaller firms. Two ways to overcome them:

  • Education/training for use of existing tools
  • Lowering costs for sustainable design tools / creating open-source alternatives

Another is overcoming the idea that sustainability is an add-on that can be implemented once project goals are established. We work to educate and advocate for regenerative goals as early as possible in the conceptualization of a project.

Q: What sustainability goals does the firm still have? What does Miller Hull hope to accomplish in the next five years?

A: The major one is 100 percent Regenerative Design by 2030, which encompasses energy, water, material, health, and site performance of each project. One goal for the next 5 years is to continue implementing EMission Zero – which means running LCA studies on every project in design, reducing their embodied carbon impact, and purchasing certified carbon offsets to balance the remaining carbon emissions.