University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA


Penn Launches Online Design for Sustainability Certificate for Professionals

By Weitzman
Jul 27, '23 11:57 AM EST

With heat records shattered across Europe and North America this summer, the immediate risks of climate change to public health, private property, and infrastructure have never been more evident. Meanwhile, the Inflation Reduction Act represents the single largest investment in climate and energy in American history, creating massive new incentives for the public and private sectors to reduce carbon emissions from the built environment, which accounts for approximately 40% of annual CO2 emissions.

In an effort to make climate change adaptation tools more accessible and support the global transition to net-zero buildings, the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design is launching a new online Executive Program in Design for Sustainability (XDS) to empower architects and other design professionals to integrate climate action into their professional practice.

“Architects and designers have a major role to play in the response to climate change,” says architect Rob Fleming, director of online innovation at Weitzman and president of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “Many people in my field, including some very accomplished professionals, want to do more, but simply don’t know how to get started. This program was created for them. It’s also more cost-effective and less time-intensive than a degree program.”

Developed through interviews with architects at various stages of their career, seasoned educators, and design executives, XDS was designed with a maximum of flexibility to serve both emerging and established practitioners without the commitment of a residential degree program. Learners can choose to complete the program either in a traditional cohort—which provides regular live interaction with the instructors, colleagues, and experts, as well as an online summit—or as a self-paced experience. The cost ranges from $699 for a single course to as low as $3,030 for the traditional cohort program.

The 7-month program begins with a 6-week course in the Fundamentals of Bioclimatic Design followed by the core of the program which features a series of 3-week basic skills-based courses in Daylight Simulation, Energy Modeling, and Assessment of Embodied Carbon. The program culminates with a 3-week integrative, mini-design studio where the learners will apply their knowledge to a current project from their office. Electives include Biophilic Design and Facilitation of Co-Creative Design Processes.

“The courses are optimized for executive learners to provide the maximum amount of learning in the minimum amount of time,” says Fleming. “Regardless of what pacing a learner in the XDS program chooses, the objective is for the principles to be applied to actual projects in the real world.”

XDS learners who complete the program receive digital badges for each completed course, earn up to 23 AIA HSW Leaning Units, and receive an Executive Certificate in Design for Sustainability from Penn.

The teaching team is led by Professor of Architecture William Braham, FAIA. As founding director of the Master in Environmental Building Design (MEBD/MSD-EBD) program and the Center for Environmental Building and Design, he has 35 years of experience in research, education, and practice in environmental buildings. Braham is the author of Architecture and Systems Ecology: Thermodynamic Principles for Environmental Building Design (Routledge, 2016) and co-editor of Energy Accounts: Architectural Representations of Energy, Climate, and the Future (Routledge, 2016) and Architecture and Energy: Performance and Style (Routledge, 2013).

In addition to Fleming and Braham, the instruction team includes LEED-credentialed architect Janki Vyas, who teaches at Penn, and has taught at Thomas Jefferson University and Temple University; LEED-credentialed Rufei Wang, senior environmental designer at Atelier Ten; Kayleigh Houde, global computational projects lead at Buro Happold, who also teaches at Penn; and architect Helena van Vliet, an expert in Biophilic Design and well-being.

Penn has a unique position in environmental design education, having equipped generations of practitioners with the latest tools and ideas for maximizing the performance and social impact of the built environment. In 1969, Professor Ian McHarg published his landmark book, Design with Nature, which helped give birth to the American environmental movement. From 1981 - 1984, Penn faculty produced the 13-volume series Teaching Passive Design in Architecture with support from the Department of Energy. In 2010, Penn established the master’s programs in Environmental Building Design, and in 2014, the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy opened its doors as a hub for the clean energy transition. In 2017, The Ian L. McHarg Center for Urbanism and Ecology was founded to bring environmental and social scientists together with planners, designers, policy makers, and communities.

XDS is accepting applications and the early application deadline is September 21. Program details are available online at

XDS is the latest offering in a comprehensive suite of executive programs from Weitzman tailored to the needs of architects, planners, and other professionals interested in harnessing the power of design. The Executive Program in Design Leadership (XDL) focuses on transformational leadership, inclusion in the workplace, design thinking techniques, facilitating stakeholder engagement, and negotiation skills. The Executive Program in Social Innovation Design (XSD), offered in partnership with Penn’s Center for Social Impact Strategy at the School of Social Policy & Practice, focuses on the nuts and bolts of human-centered design, community needs assessment, performance measurement, and mobilization strategy.

Image: The Hydroculus is a prototype for building cooling in desert climates designed by Dorit Aviv, assistant professor of architecture and director of the Thermal Architecture Lab at Penn, with colleagues from Princeton University and the University of Arizona.