Just Sustainability

Dec 12, 2022 | Community, News, Projects, Sustainable Spotlight

Zach Verhulst and Andrew Queenan of Pure Architects talk about why sustainability should be a core principle for architectural firms.

The spaces in which we live, learn, heal, and work should uplift communities, positively impact the planet, and inspire people to be healthier, connect deeper, and live more authentically. Architectural firms who seek opportunities and clients that prioritize the physical and mental well-being of their people can use these principles in a space they create knowing that healthy air and healthy materials lead to healthier people.

Human beings spend nearly 90% of their time inside and, proportionally, it hugely impacts their overall health and wellbeing. Through biophilic principles, healthy materials, and thoughtful HVAC system selection, crafted interior spaces aid people in being healthier,  more productive, and can increase their overall well-being and feeling of belonging.

For example, for Healthbar’s new headquarters in the North Monroe district, we’ve implemented biomorphic patterns, diffuse lighting, ideas of prospect and refuge, and embedded flora into wall panels and places where people may sit for extended periods of time. Through solar glare and daylight analysis, as well as collaborating with engineers on cooling loads and wall composition, we catered to each solar orientation and seasonal characteristic.

Design has the power to further the greater good of a place and uplift those who will experience it. Timeless architecture should be rooted in its particular place and respond in a meaningful way to its context. Therefore, sustainability should not be an afterthought for architectural firms, but a foundational principle.

By placing equal emphasis on the pragmatics of constructability and on the implementation of current industry-leading building technologies, firms can continue to thrive. One of the forefronts of sustainability is influencing and implementing best practices for Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

The JUST Framework, for us, is our way to balance the three components we track in our definition of success; People, Planet, and Profit, in that order. ILFI translates these into their three E’s, Equity, Environment, and Economics, aligning with our concerted effort to embed social and climate justice into our practice and our work.

Pure Architects pursued JUST status through the International Living Future Institute. JUST Organizations are measured in six categories: Diversity and Inclusion, Benefits, Equity, Stewardship, Employee Wellness, and Supply Chain.

The JUST Label positions the belief that “a true living future – a world of regenerative buildings and equitable communities – can only be achieved through equally powerful and transformative programs that make the world more equitable and socially just.

“We believe that it is not possible to create a true living building without paying attention to not only those who design and construct that building, but also those who operate, maintain, and work in these spaces,” Verhulst added.


Pure Architects, founded in Grand Rapids in 2020, is the only JUST 2,0 Labeled architectural practice in Michigan.

This article was originally featured in The Source. Thanks to Zach Verhulst and Andrew Queenan for contributing to this article!

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