The AIA 2030 Commitment: Creative Disruption

Since my architectural firm, Bergmeyer, signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, I have been presented with many opportunities to wreak creative disruption.

 Within six months of signing the Commitment, firms are asked to do a progress report on four operational categories: Office Energy Use, Waste Reduction, Travel, and Meeting Procedures. The intent is to reduce the environmental impact of running your business. You are probably working on this stuff already. Reporting on what your firm is doing now is easy. But if you take the Commitment seriously, you’ll drive your firm to do more. To change. To improve.  A certain amount of creative organizational disruption, therefore, becomes necessary.

We have these bi-weekly management meetings. All our senior technical staff meets with our accounting, marketing, IT and HR departments to talk about anything and everything. Between meeting notes and lead-generation reports and financial updates it’s a very paper-intensive hour. Or at least it used to be.

One of the Commitment’s strategies under Meeting Procedures suggests mandating paperless technology for agendas and handouts. I knew we could do this. Everyone at Bergmeyer has a handy un-dockable laptop and access to secure wi-fi. So when the last appointment for a management meeting came around, I seized the moment. “Let’s try an AIA 2030 experiment. Let’s se if we can do this meeting paperless.” I hit “reply all”.

The meeting time arrived. It was chaos.

As expected, Accounting was the first in with a stack of printed spreadsheets. “I didn’t see your e-mail!” (Funny, that excuse never works for me.) There was an undercurrent of discomfort. Do we really have to set up a laptop and projector for this meeting every time now? That’s a lot of extra work. IT supported the idea but had doubts. Our laptop batteries might not last an hour. We don’t have enough plugs for everyone. Why can’t we all just look at the projected version?  Someone was using a PDF of the marketing report that had been saved to their desktop, which meant it was already out of date. IT tried to help. If you can get online, you can access the live updated version of the report. But that person’s laptop had been re-imaged recently (whatever that meant) so they needed to re-enter the secure wi-fi password. Can you log in now? Did you log off or just un-dock? Try checking “workstation only”. Someone had smuggled in a stack of printed reports. We’ve been in here fifteen minutes already. Can’t we just get this meeting started?

Any of that sound familiar?

The point was an easy one to make, but the disruption was effective. (No gloating from me, though. Mea culpa. My own desk is currently buried under piles of paper.) Although the enabling technology is available and right at hand, old habits surely die hard.  And the old paper habit has got to go.

Lesson: Sustainability is not about technology. It’s about changing our behavior.



7 Comments on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: Creative Disruption”

  1. Peter Papesch, AIA, chair, BSA Sustainability Education says:

    Hey, Mike: you’re becoming the epitome of the sensitive male of the architecture profession … and teaching us by admitting your own struggles.

    More power to you!

  2. Stephen Moore says:

    Re: Last sentence – BINGO!

  3. Hi Mike,

    I couldn’t make this stuff up! It’s great to hear this story from someone who’s lived it!
    Laugh-out-loud funny, but sobering also. Change is hard. The “paper habit” is something-demic in our society. We all have a long way to go.


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