The AIA 2030 Commitment: Ideas in Context

Let’s not underestimate the value of giving an idea some context.

For those of us immersed in sustainable design advocacy, it can all seem like a very familiar tune. (“Free Bird” comes to my mind.) But for a lot of people working in our architectural firms today, the AIA 2030 Commitment needs a little introduction. As I prepared an all-office “lunch and learn” to describe the initiative to everyone at Bergmeyer, I felt a little background material was in order.

Some of you will scoff at this assertion, but the term “green building” has only been common in the design lexicon for maybe 12 to 15 years. According to The Economist, the phrase “triple bottom line” (ecology, economy, and social equity) as a benevolent business principal was coined by British economist John Elkington in 1994. As this notion gained traction, it became “sustainability” in our collective understanding in the early 2000s, and then morphed into “sustainable design” – eclipsing “green building” as the buzzword of choice in the mid-oughts.

I praise the old-school greenies (you know who you are!) who have been doing this forever, but my own personal awakening went something like this: First David Suzuki’s series, “The Sacred Balance” in about 1998. Then Lovins and Hawken’s Natural Capitalism and Janine Benyus’ Biomimicry around 1999 – 2000. The USGBC LEED Rating System was launched in 2000. I attended the first “Greenbuild” conference in Austin in 2002 and bought Cradle to Cradle. At that point – only about ten years ago – environmental activism became part of my calling as an architect. My ski boots are older than that. And I would speculate that this arc of understanding is pretty typical of how many mid-career professionals came to this topic.

Ed Mazria’s 2030 Challenge to architecture was thrown down in 2004. Thanks to the AIA National Committee on the Environment, the AIA Board adopted it in 2005 and sold it to the US Conference of Mayors in 2006. This gave rise to a great number of progressive civic initiatives including our own Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s Green Building Task Force and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s Net Zero Energy Building Task Force.

So in describing the AIA 2030 Commitment, a little perspective – and context – is in order. One could say we’re still getting our heads around this phenomenon of building energy use and climate change. That doesn’t excuse us from expecting our profession to do better, but it does help to frame the challenge: it’s still largely a matter of education.

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