The AIA 2030 Commitment: Car Talk

CarTalk.shutterstock_238528774I own a small car. It’s a 4-cyilynder with a 6-speed standard transmission and front-wheel drive. And a roof rack for my skis.

I know how to turn it on, make it go and stop. And that’s about it. There may as well be a nuclear reactor under the hood. When the dashboard “check engine” light goes on, I take it to someone who knows what they’re doing.

The AIA 2030 Commitment is like a dashboard indicator light for your architectural firm. (Hopefully, we all know a lot more about our firms than I know about my car!) My firm, Bergmeyer, has been reporting the energy use intensity and lighting power density of all our projects since 2011. We now have three years of reporting data to show for it. The collective EUI of our whole-building projects has been steadily improving against a baseline comparison: 15.0% better in 2011, 25.1% better in 2012, 29.6% better in 2013. This is surely good.

But – here’s the important part – we are not gaining ground on the AIA 2030 Commitment reduction target. In order to get us to carbon-neutral by 2030, our work needs to be 60% better than baseline now. That’s a 30-percentage-point delta between where we are and where we need to be.

So our AIA 2030 “check engine” light is on. What do we do next? We get help.

We called Barbra Batshalom at the Sustainable Performance Institute. SPI’s goal is to help your firm deliver on its sustainable design promises. It’s like having dealer warranty service for your firm. But Barbra makes house calls. And without greasy overalls.

We brought SPI in for a practice assessment. They did staff and client surveys about our firm’s sustainable design expertise. Barbra then joined us for a two-hour deep-dive work session to simulate a typical project delivery process. This step felt a whole lot like having the hood up. We met again later to review her diagnostics.

As expected, it was good news and bad news. The best good news was that Bergmeyer’s leadership is very commitment to sustainable design. In Barbra’s experience, that’s not always the case. But the bad news: not all of our project teams are connected to the mission. Again, not unusual for a firm of our size, but to accelerate the energy efficiency of all our design work we need to be firing on all cylinders.

We learned that we need to pay more attention to how sustainable design goals inform our project delivery methodology. I know that sounds a bit like MBA-style doubletalk, but when we discussed it together we began to see strategies. Like these:

  • Promote LPD (Lighting Power Density) fluency on project teams. LPD sounds like an easy concept (watts divided by square feet, right?) but it gets complicated when retail projects have extra wattage allowances for display and fixture lighting that vary depending on what code is being used. And our MEP engineers do the calcs for us. We need to own that process and build it into our design work.
  • Focus on project initiation: That’s traditionally when the rules of the road are made clear. But we have a lot of small, high-speed projects. The sports metaphor of a “kick-off” meeting doesn’t always apply. Many of our projects are more like “get your motor runnin’!” then we’re zero to sixty in three-point-five. We’ll have to find a way to get alignment around sustainability goals within these dynamic schedules.
  • Get better at making the business case of sustainable design: Heard this one before, right? Not easy. But our project teams are already very adept at managing the cost implications of design decisions. We’re good with budgets. So maybe we can merge that budget-consciousness with energy consciousness and “sell” it as one package. Hmm . . .

So thanks to the AIA 2030 Commitment and the Sustainable Performance Institute, the road ahead of us is clear. We’re back on track. Ready to put the pedal to the metal. (Enough already!) Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted on our progress. Just don’t drive like my brother.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: One Small Step


A Neil Armstrong moment: That’s when you realize that some unremarkable event is actually the result of a long, arduous, and purposeful process.

We at Bergmeyer recently had one of those Neil Armstrong moments. We finally got a look at how one of our project’s post-occupancy energy use compared with its designed energy use. There it was: actual performance versus design intent. If your firm has signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, you’ll understand why this felt a bit like walking on the moon.

Each year, we record the energy use intensity and lighting power density for every project we design and compare our whole-firm numbers to a declining scale that will get us to zero by 2030. But those numbers are not for actual energy use. They’re theoretical. And as we dutifully and optimistically send those numbers to the AIA every year we wonder: how do our projects actually perform?

Getting actual energy performance data wasn’t as easy as it sounded. After many false starts and frustrating meetings, we have succeeded – with lessons learned. So if you’re thinking about doing your first post-occupancy energy use analysis, consider this advice:

1. Pick the right project: For our first venture into POEs, simpler was definitely better. We used a small, owner-occupied built-to-suit office building as our beta project. Something where the energy use sectors looked familiar (think ASHRAE Advanced Energy Design Guide) and where the building users were the same people who paid the utility bills. That disqualified a lot of our retail and restaurant projects (as tenants in their spaces) and our university projects (too many different parties involved in building finance and operations).

2. Pick the right client: The first several clients we asked to share actual energy use data were reluctant. It was either “our electricity costs are not a problem” or “that information is private” or “we don’t want to be your guinea pig!” The right client for us turned out to be one that understood our mission. The willing client, Historic Boston Inc., is an organization committed to strengthening Boston’s neighborhoods through historic preservation. The building – the Eustis Street Fire House – was built in 1859 in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. It was gutted to the structure and historic exterior shell and adaptively-reused as HBI’s headquarters.

We simply asked HBI if we could use their energy use data to help us learn and become smarter. They kindly agreed.

3. Find a good data aggregator: We used WegoWise. They’re a web-based utility tracking and benchmarking company that is committed to using data and analytics to promote building energy efficiency and mitigating the effects of climate change. Good people to have on your side.

4. Don’t flub the math: The first data you get will not be in a useful form. Our first report from WegoWise was about 30 months’ worth of raw energy use numbers. To begin, pick a twelve-month baseline period. Then convert those kilowatt hours of electricity into BTUs, divide total BTUs by 1,000, and divide again by floor area to get kilo-BTUs per square foot per year. Gas use is recorded in “therms”, which also needs to be converted to KBTUs/SF/yr and added to the electricity use. Now you’re apples-to-apples with your energy modelling results.

5. Don’t fear the results: Our beta project performed pretty well in year 1. Our energy model described a designed intent Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 74.02 kBtu/sf/yr. The actual first-year performance data was 76.64 kBtu/sf/yr: only 3% higher than designed. Pretty remarkable given the number of variables involved the gut renovation of a historic property. And we were still 5% more energy efficient than benchmarked New England buildings. Not bad.

But at 42 kBtu/sf/yr., our AIA 2030 Commitment target was quite a bit lower than even our designed EUI. And our year 2 WegoWise data is showing a mysterious 10% increase in overall energy use . . . which of course gives us an opportunity to go back to our gracious, mission-driven clients to understand the reason for the increase. And to get even smarter.

That’s the story. OK, it’s not nearly as big a deal as that historic stroll from Apollo 11 at Tranquility Base on July 20, 1969. But still. It was one giant leap for Bergmeyer.


PS: Thanks for all the emails and tweets about my last blog post, #ClimateChangeClient. Keep up the public advocacy pressure. Because we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: A Climate Change Client?

Denial.shutterstock_156983825I am frequently reminded of the difference between skepticism and cynicism. A certain amount of skepticism is necessary to form an honest critical evaluation. Be skeptical when you must. But avoid cynicism. It erodes objectivity.

I recently attended a public forum on the likely effects of climate change on my home town, Boston, Massachusetts. The first panelist was a historian. She had archival maps showing how Boston’s waterfront had been modified over the centuries. Next up was the natural resource policy advocate. She had impact analyses showing how flood-stage storm surge augmented by sea level rise and high tide could reintroduce Boston to its mid-18th century coastline.

Wrapping up was an architect. She brought images from design competitions on how our built environment could be redesigned to allow us to live in a dynamic, new relationship with water. Barrier reefs. Aquaculture shellfish farms. Canals. Raised sidewalks. New ground planes. Infrastructure improvements.

Then – like fingernails on a chalkboard –  came the moderator’s inevitable question: Sure. But how are we gonna pay for all that stuff?

Was that question skeptical or cynical? Or just provocative? Whatever. It pissed me off enough to speak up. We can’t talk about know how to pay for something until we know what that thing is. What we need is a vision. An actual resilience plan. Then we can talk about how much it will cost. And for that, we need a real client.

Which, admitted our Boston panel, doesn’t exist yet.

Political leadership changes. Mayors change. Governors change. We have new folks in both offices in Boston and Massachusetts. Boston has a 2014 Climate Action Plan. We have greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2025 and 2050. Our new governor has not been shy about his top priorities, either: the budget, drug addiction, educational reform, health care costs. All very necessary.

But who will write the request for proposals for a comprehensive climate change adaptation and preparedness plan? Architects know that we can improve the energy efficiency of our buildings and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we work to meet the AIA 2030 Commitment. But we do this work for clients. We’ve all seen the climate change impact analyses by now. The design work that can prepare our coastal communities for those likely impacts needs a client, too.

And look, seriously. The cost to create an actual, build-able, fund-able regional resilience plan is a drop in the proverbial leaky bucket compared to the eventual construction and implementation costs. Say nothing about the catastrophic costs of continuing to do nothing. As we say to our building clients: it’s short dollars.

So what’s happening in the meantime? More design competitions. It’s hard for me to admit this, but I’m growing skeptical of design competitions. The Big Dig and the Boston Harbor cleanup were not theoretical projects. They were real commissions with real consultant teams with budgets and schedules.

So who will be our #ClimateChangeClient?

The AIA 2030 Commitment: A New Year’s Revolution


Here it comes again. New Year’s Day. Time to press the reset button and set noble and ambitious goals for 2015.

What are yours? Lose weight. Get organized. Save money. Quit smoking. All good, but all self-oriented. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The desire to improve one’s self and bring a certain calendrically-enhanced discipline to the pursuit is great. But have you ever made a New Year’s resolution to try to improve something outside yourself? To put a little of your considerable personal effort into serving a greater human good?

I’d call a goal like that a New Year’s revolution.

Are you tired of hearing people say that we don’t care enough about climate change to do anything? Or that individual effort won’t amount to much? How about New Year’s revolution to help fight climate change? Websites like “10 ways you can stop climate change” are packed with tips. Drive less. Eat mostly plants. Recycle stuff. Turn lights off when you leave a room. Unplug your computer – but not until you’re finished reading this blog post, of course.

Although many people need a website to provide them with earth-saving ideas, you’re different. You’re a design professional. You’re working to create buildings and spaces that contribute to a healthy, regenerative ecosystem.

So here are five things that you can do in 2015 that are unique to your profession, uniquely suited to architects and designers:

1. Pick one useful, relevant energy-efficiency technology and pledge to learn everything you can about it. For example: By March 2015, you could be the office expert in solid state lighting, organic light–emitting diodes and light–emitting polymers. By June, you could write something post-able on the subject. Your goal could be to use organic LEDs in a project by the end of 2015.

2. Take an MEP engineer out to lunch. A good one that you can learn something from. Better yet, invite them for an in-house lunch-and-learn. Do this several times in 2015. Turn it into a guest-lecture series on topics of their choice. Direct digital control systems. Heat recovery systems. Absorption chillers. Cogeneration. By the end of the year, you’ll be thinking like an engineer and your projects will be better for it.

3. Join the movement to promote transparency in building materials content. Greenhouse gasses aren’t the only thing impacting our ecosystem. How about bioacculumative toxins and carcinogens linked to (among other things) building material manufacturing and disposal? Start here, with the AIA Materials Matter website and this organization: the Health Product Declaration (HPD) Collaborative. (Now how about the conductive polymers and phosphates in those LED lamps, hmm? Who’s researching that?)

4. Promote gender equity in architecture. And this is related to climate change how? In a larger, societal sense, gender equity is part of triple-bottom-line sustainability. Within the practice of architecture, women do not share access to the privileges and benefits of the profession equally with men. Don’t believe me? Check out the Missing 32% Project. I say: no sustainability without gender equity. Spread the word.

5. Get your firm to sign the AIA 2030 Commitment. This is the best choice, hands down, end of story. Join the 99 other AIA firms that reported on 1.6 billion gross square feet of space in 2,462 projects in 2013 at an average designed energy use intensity of 34% better than baseline energy code. Share your findings with your colleagues. Be part of shaping the entire practice.

Cheers. Here’s to a revolutionary year!

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Don’t Miss Out


Fear of missing out. FOMO. It’s a thing.

A form of social anxiety, it’s that compulsion to know what other folks are doing just in case they might be having more fun than you. Anyone with a smart phone and a Facebook page has experienced it. There are real psychological drivers behind it, too. Check out Henry Murray’s Explorations in Personality and his list of psychogenic needs. FOMO is right there in between cognizance and sentience.

And now, I will attempt to use FOMO as a motivator. Here goes.

Do you work in an architectural firm? Has your firm signed the AIA 2030 Commitment? Because if they haven’t you are definitely missing out.

Last year, 99 of the architectural firms that signed the Commitment submitted designed energy use data on 2,464 projects. Compared to 2012, that’s a 150% increase in the number of projects submitted. And 401 of those projects hit the 60%-better-than-code target for 2013, a 200% increase over last year. Projects of every building type and size are now hitting that rolling energy efficiency target.

Add to that, 73 projects reported in 2013 were designed for net zero energy use. Seventy three! That’s 500% more net zero projects than were reported last year. This means somewhere out there in the USA architects are designing projects today that have already met the goal of being functionally carbon-neutral by 2030.

And wow, 2014 is almost over. We’re getting ready to report our 2014 design data any day now. The pEUIs and LPDs are being counted.

So where are you? What is your firm doing? Are you missing out?

If you’re a firm Principal, you could just round up your partners and say “Hey, we should get on board with this AIA 2030 Commitment thing. If XYZ Architects can do this, we can, too. Now let’s talk year-end tax planning.”

But let’s say you’re a hard-working interior or architectural designer. You want to be an expert in sustainable design, but you need project experience to get there. Do this: Download the AIA 2030 Commitment 2013 Progress Report. Attach it to an email to your boss with subject: “Goal-Setting for My Upcoming Performance Evaluation.” Or you may have to print it out (gasp!) and leave it on his chair (yeah, chances are your boss is a man) with a yellow sticky note saying “please read” with a smiley-face. Boomers. I mean, really.

Or maybe you’re in the firm’s marketing department. This is where checking out the list of firms that reported in 2013 can be very enlightening. See a trend here? These are some of the (ahem) best firms in the business. Why aren’t you on this list?

If you’re an Associate or Project Architect you’re in a position of influence. Here’s how to make the AIA 2030 case. When your Principal-in-Charge says “We need to talk about your monthly invoices” say “No problem, right after we talk about the AIA 2030 Commitment.” Tell him if your firm signs the AIA 2030 Commitment, you’ll soon have an AIA 2030 reporting dashboard that lets you compare your projects’ designed energy efficiency with a national database of similar projects. The AIA is collaborating with the US Department of Energy and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab to make it happen. Call it your AIA dues at work.

Say you know this will be huge, and your competition will be all over it. Your firm definitely won’t want to miss out. Say it with . . . commitment! And hit ‘em up for a promotion after you’re done. He’ll thank you for it later.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Why Can’t We Be Friends?


“Sometimes I don’t speak right, but yet I know what I’m talkin’ about.”*

Architects and engineers. If one is from Venus, the others must be from Mars.

Why is it so hard for architects and engineers to communicate? One of my sustainability gurus, Barbra Batshalom, describes the typical architect/engineer relationship as pretty much dysfunctional. But as we have pledged to meet the energy efficiency goals of the AIA 2030 Commitment, never before has a good, productive relationship between architects and engineers been more important. And yet.

Some of my best friends are architects. We all talk about this. The conversation usually degrades into a gripe session about our consultants. Here’s what we say:

“Engineers don’t participate actively in the design process. They wait until design decisions have been made before they offer any ideas. And when they do offer ideas, they’re just versions of the same old conventional solutions. (You want variable frequency drive motors with that?) They’re always lagging behind the rest of the design team. They don’t communicate very well with us, our clients, or even their own staff.”

Sounds familiar? Sure. But no surprise, there’s another side.

I can’t divulge my source, but several Boston-area architectural engineering firms were recently surveyed about the challenges of working with . . . architects. Engineers have a lot to say, too. Like this:

“Architects can’t manage their clients and don’t really know how to lead a collaborative, results-oriented design process. They still prefer to make design decisions by themselves and then ‘sell’ their ideas. They love to use terms like ‘integrated design process’ but can’t explain what it means well enough to create a clear project schedule or actionable meeting agendas.

Sure, we engineers are conservative. We have to be. Chide us if you’d like about safety factors and tried-and-true methodologies, but you know what the most complex part of any construction project is, right? What most owner complaints and professional liability claims are related to, right? Yeah, the heating and cooling systems. So you want safe or you want sorry?

And another thing: ‘Think outside the box?’ Puh-leez. Who put us in the box in the first place? You call us with a new lead and say ‘Here’s the job and here’s what I can get you for a fee. Can you do it for this?’ We both know engineers can’t sit in 8-hour schematic design meetings and do multiple iterations of energy models in DD for that kinda money.

Besides, most architects don’t know enough about building mechanical systems to understand our work anyway. Ask an architect to explain the difference between a chiller and a DX system without Googling it first. Quick: how does an energy recovery unit actually work? Yeah, we thought so.”

Clearly, what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

My view? It’s more than that. It’s a cultural divide. It’s a natural selection process phenomenon. People choose careers because they’re inclined in a certain way. Allow me to generalize even more: An architect’s thought process is iterative, cyclical. An engineer’s is linear, systemic. Architects communicate visually and verbally. Engineers use diagrams and tables.

But isn’t that why we work in teams? Doesn’t our work require both of those skill sets and more? This relationship needs to work better. So what’s the fix?

As an architect, I say the big steps are on us. We’re the communicators and “team leaders”, so we need to own this one. First, we need to get smarter about engineering. We don’t have to become engineers, but we need to understand building systems a whole lot better than we do now. Next, we need to be clearer about what we expect from our consultants and share that understanding with our clients. And then, we need to hold the line on fees. “Sharpen your pencil” shouldn’t automatically mean cut the MEP fees.

But . . . engineers? Step up. Find your voice in design meetings. And be honest with us. If you really don’t do energy modeling in-house, tell us. If your best people are too busy to do the project please say so. If you don’t understand what we architects need before starting work on a project it’s as much your fault as ours. Let’s work on those interpersonal communication skills together.

Any comments? Thank you.

*“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” song tile and lyrics 1975 ABC/United Artists records, by “War”: Papa Dee Allen, Harold Ray Brown, B. B. Dickerson, Lonnie Jordan, Charles Miller, Lee, Oskar, and Howard E. Scott, writers.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Research

research2.shutterstock_154561988If you’re an architect or designer working in the built environment, I’d guess science wasn’t your favorite subject in high school. Acute squeamishness was an impediment for me. Forget cutting frogs open, I still can’t even look at a needle. My career in the biological sciences was over before it began.

But I believe the scientific method of research – my one major take-away from high school science classes – can inform any creative process. Even the mysterious ways of design professionals.

What would scientific research look like in an architectural firm? Would we ask questions and formulate hypotheses to answer them? Would we conduct experiments, control variables, manage complexity, observe and analyze test results? And would we record our findings and apply what we have learned to refine the hypotheses?

Sure. Why not? Think of it this way: we create drawings and models that are analogs for things that must go through an extraordinarily complex process in order to become real. We’re dealing with a vast amount of uncertainty and we need to trust our time-tested methods in order to achieve the intended results. Plus, we have committed to incrementally reduce the energy use of those analogous creations.

Therefore, if we want the results of our time-tested methods to improve, we need to be more rigorous about our processes. I propose we do some actual research.

And in the spirit of this blog, I offer Bergmeyer’s experiments as a case study.

My hat is off to the design firms I know that employ building scientists or have trans-disciplinary research groups in house. We admire and respect what you do. But if you don’t mind, we’re going to borrow your methodology.

Here we go. Lab coats and goggles? On.

By itself, we find the question “how do we meet the AIA 2030 Commitment energy use reduction standards?” is too broad to be practicable. But as much of our work is interior architecture, most of our projects’ intended energy use can be estimated by using Lighting Power Density. So to make progress on AIA 2030 goals, we need to improve our cumulative design LPD.

Here’s where complexity and uncertainty factor in: for our retail work, energy codes give exceptions and allowances for display lighting and fixture lighting. The LPD numbers we get from engineers only count general illumination. So we’re having a hard time getting our arms around how an actual LPD is even calculated.

But creation is a patient search, right? And a good design process starts with a good question. Ergo, our restated (and researchable) question: How can we effectively improve LPD across all our design work?

And our hypothesis: If we can create our own approach to calculating LPD – either a software plug-in or a calculation methodology – and we provide this approach to our design teams, that should produce a reduction in firmwide LPD.

Our investigation will be in three stages: first, we will explore the feasibility of creating either a software plug-in or a calculation method for actual LPD versus code-compliant LPD. After we create the tool, we’ll pick several projects as a control group. Some teams will use the tool, some will not.

After project design phases are complete, we’ll record the LPDs and compare the results. We’ll also interview the designers who worked with our tool to see how useful it was. Finally, we’ll record the results and publish a report of our findings. On our website. In six months. We hereby promise.

It isn’t likely that we’ll make Scientific American or Engineering News Record. But if we can move the needle (ugh! Again with the needles!) on energy efficiency just a bit, I’d call it research well done. We’ll keep you posted.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,022 other followers