The AIA 2030 Commitment: To Change A Light Bulb?

How many architects does it take?  (C’mon. There must be a great punch line for that one!) 

We’re in the home stretch at Bergmeyer. We are in the final months of reporting on our first year of compliance with the AIA 2030 Commitment. We signed the Commitment last June. We reported our operational initiatives. We’re slogging through collecting PEUI for our projects. And now, we’re focusing on the last step: writing a Sustainability Action Plan.

Writing a Sustainability Action Plan is entirely within our own control. We could just “mail it in” and throw down a bunch of generic blather that would mean nothing to anyone. Or we could do something that would push ourselves to really make a difference.

But we’re architects. Never being inclined to do things the easy way, guess which option we chose?

To kick-off our Sustainability Action Plan, we had another one of those informal all-office meetings. We threw it open. People talked enthusiastically about specifying recycled-content materials, about education and training, and about reducing our travel impacts. All good, but we (the folks writing the plan) needed more. So we asked: what’s unique about Bergmeyer? What – in our design work, with our clients – could we contribute in a way that some other firm couldn’t?

Once the question was asked like that, the answer was obvious. Bergmeyer does a lot of design work for retailers. It’s our largest market segment. And it’s fun work, too. The projects get published. Our designers get very involved in thinking about space and the user experience. We work a lot with interior finishes, custom millwork and metals, colors and textures.

And lighting. A lot of lighting.

The key to the AIA 2030 Commitment is recording the (Predicted) Energy Use Intensity in Kbtu/SF/year of all your projects and comparing that aggregate EUI to 2030 Challenge energy use reductions, thus eventually getting us all down to net zero energy architecture. But when your projects don’t involve new HVAC systems or building envelopes, the metric that counts is LPD: Lighting Power Density. This metric will appply to more than half of Bergmeyer’s 2012 projects.

So the challenge was clear. For our work, the goal is radically improved lighting energy efficiency. And that makes LED (light-emitting diode) lighting the take-out strategy to get us to carbon-neutral. However, LEDs are still a hard sell for much of the building industry. But just think, we breathlessly imagined. If we could use LED lighting for all our retail and interior projects, we could reduce our aggregate LPD by 40 or 50 percent. Plus, we would help to “mainstream” LEDs and bring lighting designers and electrical engineers and utilities together in a big Kumbaya experience around this wonderful but still evolving technology.   

But before throwing down a very big gauntlet, we did some internal crowd-sourcing. The email went out: Has anyone actually succeeded in specifying LED lighting?

The word came back immediately. In 2009, our clients were not buying LEDs. Too much resistance to first-cost and pushback from building operations people. In 2010, one of our biggest clients got on board with LEDs and we rolled with it. A few of our favorite lighting designers came along, too, and we used LEDs in a major magazine-cover flagship store. Last year, we specified 175 LED downlights as part of a university residence hall renovation. The happy client collected rebates, is saving money, and is wildly looking for more places to swap even flourescents for LEDs. To quote one email response:

“The technological improvement cycle on LEDs is so fast that a new generation of LEDs come to market every year. What was “wrong” with LEDs a year ago now seems to be right.”

And there you have it. A big, hairy audacious goal for Bergmeyer’s Sustainability Plan was born. We will become the industry’s leading proponent of LED lighting. We will help “mainstream” the technology while reducing our projects’ lighting energy use by 50%.

So as you work on your AIA 2030 Sustainability Action Plan, my advice is this: Understand your firm. See its unique potential to do lasting good. Give yourselves one goal that – if you hit it – would help make the industry-wide transformation happen.

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