Few doubt the sincerity of building industry professionals in pursuing the adoption of more sustainable methods, materials and solutions in the worlds of design, construction and commercial real estate. But according to architect Laurel Christensen, AIA, WELL AP, sustainable design leader with national architecture and interiors firm Dyer Brown, ambiguities around what makes a material or method sustainable produce fractures in an otherwise united effort among professionals.

“As awareness continues to grow around the impact of the built environment on climate change, human health, global labor practices and ecological degradation, our peers in design, construction and property management are increasingly motivated to improve their product choices,” said Christensen, who also serves as outreach director for a nonprofit devoted to scaling the adoption of holistically sustainable materials. “Everyone agrees on why they should prioritize materials that have reduced their impacts on people and planet. But potential changemakers are often misaligned on how.”

Christensen has spoken on this critical topic at Living Future 2023 and NeoCon 2023 and will speak on it at the upcoming Greenbuild 2023.

Dyer Brown has adopted three lenses as guiding principles for all of its practice activities and project work — design, DEI and sustainability — added Christensen, who coordinates the firm’s efforts related to the third lens. Exemplifying their commitment, the firm completely overhauled its materials library to ensure their product selections would meet and exceed the American Institute of Architects Materials Pledge across all projects.

Dyer Brown Sappi Redesign Picture 4Photo courtesy of Dyer Brown


With the goal of helping to clarify best practices and methods for colleagues and peers, Christensen has and will participate this year in several highly anticipated talks at key industry events, joined by like-minded leaders in the pursuit of multi-stakeholder strategies that impact not only climate but related issues of social justice as well.

  • On Thursday, May 4, Christensen and leaders from manufacturing, humanitarian philanthropy and the legal profession gave a talk on forced labor practices in the materials supply chain as part of Living Future 2023, the leading annual event focused on issues of climate, health and justice in the built environment. The talk, titled “The Hidden Injustice in Your Supply Chain and Tools to Reduce Your Risk,” highlighted areas of risk and offered ways for stakeholders to navigate the regulatory and legal landscape, shining a light on available resources and offering actionable strategies.
  • On Monday, June 12, Christensen joined an on-demand virtual session presented as part of NeoCon 2023 titled “Making Sustainability Accessible: Breaking Down Tools, Resources and Certifications in Sustainable Design.” Alongside sustainability experts from Perkins & Will and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, the group introduced attendees to essential tools and resources available to design more sustainably, “from the full building perspective down to specific material selections.”
  • This fall, Christensen travels to Washington, D.C. for the Greenbuild International Conference + Expo (Sept. 26-29), where she will join a panel discussion titled “Setting Product Performance Criteria: Architectural, Manufacturer and Industry Perspectives.” With mindfulMATERIALS partners and sustainability leaders from manufacturer Assa Abloy and others, Christensen will shed light on the need for elevating sustainability standards for ubiquitous products, materials and systems.

In these sessions — and also as director of outreach and engagement for mindfulMATERIALS, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing and ultimately reversing the impacts of the built environment through collective material choices — Christensen galvanizes leadership in decarbonization and healthy materials. Her work is among building owners, design firms, product manufacturers and others to create new tools and methods for achieving sustainable outcomes throughout the building industry.