The AIA 2030 Commitment: Continuous Improvement

One big unasked question is just below the surface of every conversation we have at Bergmeyer about the AIA 2030 Commitment: What happens if our architectural firm (or your firm for that matter) goes through the AIA 2030 Commitment reporting protocol and, after a year, our project data falls short of the 2030 Challenge goals for energy use reduction?

What if we fail?

We environmental activist architect types tend to be an impatient lot. We don’t want Boston’s weather to become like Atlanta’s. We can’t wait around until sea levels really start to rise.  We don’t think the LEED Rating System is rigorous enough but we’re sure that “the market” is too slow to produce truly sustainable buildings and we have to do something now to significantly improve our firms’ capabilities. Now. We can’t afford to wait for our clients to ask for higher-performing buildings or for the total transformation of the construction industry. 2030 is only 19 years away. We’re running out of time.

And it’s good to be this way, but not at the expense of recognizing progress.

The AIA’s report on the first year of 2030 Commitment submissions showed that only 12% of the combined firms’ design portfolio met the 60% better-than-code threshold for the 2030 Challenge. Once this report was released, the blogosphere was full of articles with titles like “Many AIA Firms Fail to Meet 2030 Commitment”. The responses in online posts and conversations were predictably either cynical (“It’s all just corporate marketing anyway!”) or self-defeating (“Architects can’t really do anything about climate change!”) or righteously exasperated (“We’re still only measuring design intent, not actual performance?”). Easy pot-shots were then re-posted and amplified in the echo-chamber of online journalism where cynics grab anything that looks like a club to attack the work of people who are committed to the greater good.

But a few respondents got it right. Without denying that we all have a lot of work to do, Jim Newman (Linnean Solutions) was the first to hit the mark. In response to one of these articles, he wrote: “It’s worth remembering that . . . this process and the data itself are meant to help firms get better. The point of collecting and publishing all of this [data] is . . . improvement.”

My sentiments exactly. Falling short of 2030 targets in the year 2011 is not failure. Failure is thinking “this isn’t my job” or “I can’t do this in my firm” or assuming that someone else will worry about it. I fully expect us at Bergmeyer to push hard on collecting our EUI data for a year and submitting a combined portfolio of projects that are, oh, maybe 35% better than code. Like most other architectural firms, we will be far short of 60%. But then we will look at this data and ask ourselves: how do we do this better? How do we improve?

Of course results are important. But if all of us (every firm, every project) focus on making continuous improvement toward this important goal, results will follow.


2 Comments on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: Continuous Improvement”

  1. ray porfilio says:

    Continuous improvement is one of the tenets of environmental management systems (EMS) like ISO14001 that layout processes for environmental stewardship. While initially thought of as compliance driven there is much to be learned from the EMS approach.

    • Mike Davis FAIA says:

      Excellent point, Ray. Thanks. There is much to be learned from ISO standards in general! Don’t know why ISO standards don’t have more traction in the US design/construction industry.

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