Sustainable Futures

Opportunities, Challenges & Changing Expectations in the Built Environment

Spokane Convention Center - Room 402ABC

We would like to thank everyone who attended the Sustainable Futures event. We sincerely hope that you found it valuable.

Sustainability is at the forefront of all aspects of the design industry today and has gained substantial momentum in policy-making, societal expectations, and the tools used for design. But what does "sustainability" mean in AEC, and where are the many complex facets of this widely-used term going in the future? This speaker panel brings together experts from across the AEC industry to share their insights on the advances and horizons of many components of what it means to create sustainable futures in the built environment. 



David Buescher, AIA
COO of HDG Architecture, City of Spokane’s Climate Action Subcommittee, AIA WA Council

Dave Buescher, AIA, is the Chief Operating Officer at HDG Architecture in Spokane. He holds
degrees in both Architecture and Environmental Design from the University of Colorado. Dave is current president-elect for AIA Washington Council and is the chair of the AIA/WA climate committee. His broad base of architectural experience ranges between commercial, higher education, residential, and civic projects. He has demonstrated continued and significant volunteer experience in the architectural field, both locally and statewide. In Spokane, he has been heavily involved with the local AIA chapter and was President in 2018; he has also participated as a member of the Design Review Board and Arts Commission. Sustainable construction and environmental issues have long been a passion that have guided Dave’s involvement on the City of Spokane’s Climate Action Subcommittee. Consequently, Dave helped to formulate the City’s climate action plan.


Melissa Verwest P.E.
Regional Sustainability Engineer, Knife River Prestress, SEAW, SEFW,
Gonzaga, Senior Design Professor

Having the environment as a core value, Knife River named Melissa Verwest the Knife River Northwest Regional Sustainability Engineer in November 2021.  Melissa is working with other Architecture, Engineering, and Construction companies, educators, and organization champions of sustainability to facilitate solutions and support initiatives of sustainability as it pertains to the built environment.  Currently, Ms. Verwest sits as Chair on the Board of Directors for the Structural Engineers Foundation of Washington (SEFW) and is an Advisory Member on the Downtown Spokane Partnership (DSP) Board.  Melissa’s experience includes 14 years as a consulting structural engineer specializing in industrial projects and 3 years working with prestress concrete projects.  Melissa has been an Adjunct Professor for Senior Design (Structural Engineering) and Tai Chi at Gonzaga University for the past 13 years.  In May 2018 she received the Gonzaga CEDE Excellence Award.  She is a Certified Disaster Service Worker (CalOES) and in 2014 worked in Christchurch, NZ to help in the rebuild effort and building assessments.  She has a Master of Science degree from Washington State University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Michigan Technological University.  Melissa enjoys fencing, hockey, downhill biking and singing in a local band. 

Jeff Yirak, P.E.
Mechanical Engineering Manager, McKinstry

Jeff Yirak has over 20 years of experience in design, consulting, and engineering management in the built environment. Jeff launched his career in Seattle as a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility design engineer and validation specialist before transitioning to a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility’s engineering manager. After working on the owner’s side of the table, he used this experience to inform his consulting attitude during his 10+ years at Wood Harbinger, where he has worked his way up from commissioning engineer to commissioning team leader and ultimately a Principal of the firm. Looking for a change of scenery and new growth opportunities, Jeff joined McKinstry as the engineering manager in Spokane in 2018.

Patrick Donnelly AIA, LEED AP
Associate Principal, Director of Sustainable Design, Integrus Architecture

As a practicing architect for over 25 years, Patrick has worked on a broad range of project types, including residential, civic, higher-ed, and K-12 facilities. In recent years, his mission has been to develop and nurture Integrus’ design culture as a truly integrated practice emphasizing decarbonization, occupant and ecosystem health, and design that seeks to situate human habitation within the fold of the natural world.

Omar Al-Hissawi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Washington State University School of Design & Construction; Leading New Degree Program With Emphasis on High Performing, Energy-Efficient Residential Buildings

An Assistant Professor at Washington State University School of Design and Construction, Dr. Omar Al-Hissawi holds a Ph.D. degree from Arizona State University and a master’s degree from the University of Arizona. Dr. Al-Hassawi’s teaching has been internationally recognized by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) who awarded Omar with the 2021 AIAS/ACSA New Faculty Teaching Award. Students under Omar’s guidance have received outstanding international recognitions including the AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten for Students Design Competition. Dr. Al-Hassawi is leading an effort funded by the Department of Energy to develop curriculum with emphasis in high-performing energy-efficient residential buildings delivered online through two certificates and one master’s degree program. The certificates launched in Spring of 2023 with rollout of the master’s degree expected in Summer of 2024.


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