The AIA 2030 Commitment: Does LEED Cut It?

Does a LEED Platinum building meet the AIA 2030 Commitment energy use reduction threshold? Does LEED “cut it”?

We got an e-mail from the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the folks that review LEED submittals on behalf of the United States Green Building Council. It’s like getting your test results in the mail. Good news: your project has earned a LEED Platinum rating. Woo hoo! Applause all around, kudos to the Bergmeyer team.

But then, that nagging question arose. Bergmeyer had recently signed the AIA’s 2030 Commitment, a program to help architecture firms meet the fossil fuel reduction targets of Ed Mazria’s 2030 Challenge. How would this project measure up?

First, I confess to have eagerly consumed a lot of USGBC Kool-Aid in my days. You could call me an early adopter, having passed my LEED exam many years ago. I don’t believe that the USGBC has become a “shadow government” (although that phrase, coined by Michael Liu, AIA, is a great title for a provocative article about the USGBC in the Summer 2011 issue of “Architecture Boston”), nor do I think the allegations of false advertizing in the suit filed against the USGBC (and recently dismissed) are merited. On balance, the USGBC has irrefutably been a force for positive change.

But I also agree that the LEED Rating System needs regular updating, promotes checklist-thinking if misused, and has become a panacea for governments, building owners, and practitioners who don’t want to do the intellectual heavy lifting of approaching sustainability in holistic systems-thinking terms. And I believe honest folks at the USGBC might agree with me on those points.

That said, back to our Platinum project. A small built-to-suit commercial building, Project X maxed-out the LEED Optimize Energy Performance credits, the On-Site Renewable Energy Credits and the Green Power credits. A poster-child for high-performance building, right?

I tossed the question to Dee, our in-house LEED guru. What was this project’s energy use intensity, and how does it compare to the 2030 Commitment baseline? She was psyched to have an assignment that didn’t involve slogging through the LEED Online website, so she jumped on it.

The answer was surprising. The project’s modeled energy use intensity was 110 kBtu/sf/yr. Compared to the target energy use intensity of 98 kBtu/sf/yr, we were 12% over target! And that was before we applied the “60% better” rule for the 2030 Commitment – meaning we should be shooting for an EUI of 39! 

We achieved LEED Platinum Certification but we fell short of AIA 2030 Commitment standards.

Could this be right? (To be continued . . . )

(Note: Congratulations to Coldham & Hartman Architects of Amherst, Massachusetts for signing the Commitment!)

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