The AIA 2030 Commitment: Finding the Rudder

Sometimes this blog writes itself.  I just listen and take notes.

There I was, waiting for a meeting to start at the Boston Society of Architects’ brand new HQ: the BSA |Space|. I snagged a cookie. As I was looking over the agenda, another architect sat down next to me and said “I’ve been reading your blog . . .”

Joy! Bloggers LOVE to hear that someone is reading their posts, especially when we hear it in person. Plus, I had a clear sense that this conversation would be good material for my next post.

This architect worked for a truly exceptional local firm. Magazine-cover national award-winning work, and a firm of generous, socially-conscious practitioners. Looking around the conference room, I saw that the meeting hadn’t started. We were all still buzzing about the big opening-night bash for the first exhibit at BSA |Space|. I had a few minutes.

So, I asked, has your firm signed the AIA 2030 Commitment? (We both knew they hadn’t. A judge might whack me for “leading the witness”.)

But, she said, her firm was already doing all that stuff I was writing about! They formed a grassroots “green team” in 2008. They were aggressively greening their practice. A third-party office energy use audit led them to buying new lights and new computers. They reduced their CO2 emissions last year by 4.79 metric tons through recycling. They bought eco-friendly office supplies, banned bottled water, and 95% of the firm took the T. They had corporate Zipcar accounts and only rented fuel efficient cars.

She was on a roll. I looked around. The committee was happily chatting away about our awesome new green stair. I pressed on.

But do you know the Predicted Energy Use Intensity for all your projects? Do your design teams all understand KBTUs per square foot per year?

She didn’t miss a beat. Most of their projects were LEED Registered, so that data was easily available. But when she aggregated the EUI and compared it to the 2030 Challenge energy use reduction benchmarks they came up short. A lot of their projects were for public clients who didn’t have the flexibility to try new technologies or to independently adopt performance standards that exceeded code compliance.

Tell me about it, I said. We’re all in the same place. Very few of us are on track to carbon neutrality as of right now. What’s keeping your firm from jumping in and sharing your experience?

She looked at me squarely and paused. But it’s a “commitment”, she said. We won’t commit to doing something we can’t do. And in my firm, everyone needs to agree. If we can’t make it to carbon-neutral by 2030 we won’t sign.

I have a good friend who went to a Quaker Friends school. She described this as the Quakers’ approach to decision-making. Everyone had to agree that a decision was right before it could be accepted. Not exactly how things typically work in corporate America today, but there it was. I have heard a lot of reasons for not signing the AIA 2030 Commitment, but this was a new one. Her firm was too conscientious to make a promise they might not be able deliver on. 

I needed another minute. I checked in with the committee. Folks were now talking about Angelina Jolie’s leg. Seriously??  I figured we’d be on agenda soon.

So I went for the score. Leading change in corporate behavior requires patience, commitment, and persuasiveness, I began. You seem to have all this in spades. How influential are you at your firm? Can you persuade everyone about the value of signing the AIA 2030 Commitment even if you can’t guarantee success? After all, it’s not really about any one firm’s work. It’s about our entire profession. And our chances of succeeding are improved when firms like yours join.

She smiled. “Yes”, she said, “we have a term for leading change. We call it ‘finding the rudder that controls the rudder’. I do this all the time for my clients, and I can be very persuasive. I’ll make it happen.”

I bet she will, too.


2 Comments on “The AIA 2030 Commitment: Finding the Rudder”

  1. Dan says:

    The picture is the empannage NOT the rudder 🙂

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