The AIA 2030 Commitment: Signs of Progress

I’m one of those guys who can’t say “no”. There are a lot of us out there. We’re crazy. But sometimes when you say “yes”, good things happens.

I began this blog in June, 2011, after returning from the AIA Convention. I sat through the year-one report on the AIA 2030 Commitment. My architecture firm hadn’t signed the Commitment yet, and the persuasive people at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) challenged me to get my firm (Bergmeyer) to sign it and write this blog about our compliance adventures. We did, and I am.

The BSA staff knew I was going to the 2012 AIA Convention. They asked if I could sit in on a meeting for an educational program we had just adopted: the AIA+2030 Professional Series.  My response? “Sure, I’ll do that.”

So there I was, sitting in a big dingy windowless basement conference room in a ginormous hotel somewhere in Washington DC. I had just landed from Boston. I wasn’t sure where lunch was coming from and my iPhone couldn’t get service. Realizing that I wouldn’t even get CEUs for this gig I was getting sullen. But then I looked up to see Ed Mazria walk into the room.

Ed Mazria, live and in person. No kidding. And he had a message for us: We (architects) were getting it done. This 2030 Challenge thing was working.

I grabbed a pen and sat up. He began: forget waiting for governments to come to the climate change rescue. There will be no new global accords. And with the north polar ice cap disappearing, it’ll be an international land-grab for undersea oil reserves. NATO is rehearsing for war in the Arctic Sea. And despite the fact that the US has more assets exposed to sea level rise than any nation in the world (think major population centers!), our people right here in Dee Cee have made climate change into a political wedge issue. Yikes!

BUT (and here’s the big one): the building sector has risen to the challenge.

He had data. And really cool graphs.

In 2005, the US Energy Information Administration predicted that by 2011 the US building sector power use would increase from about 40 quadrillion BTUs per year (“Quads”) to maybe 44 or 45 Quads. In fact, since 2005, energy use projections year-to-year have decreased by almost 70% owing considerably to more efficient building design.

But sure, we all thought, we were also just crushed by a multi-year recession. Wasn’t that the cause?

Ed had more data. In 2005, the total US building stock was projected to increase 47% by 2011. The actual increase to the US building stock since 2005 has been only 35%. There’s your recession: 12% less actual new building than estimated.

But in 2005, total building energy use was projected to increase 44.4% by 2011. Actual building energy use has increased by only 13.7% since 2005. That’s 30.7% less increase in energy use than estimated.  Similarly, in 2005 total greenhouse gas emissions were predicted to increase 53.1% by 2011.  Since 2005, total greenhouse gas emissions from buildings have only increased by 4.6%. That’s a whopping 48.5% less increase in greenhouse gas emission than estimated.

His point: yes, the recession slowed the rate of growth of the building stock, but the rates of growth in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings have slowed substantially more. Conclusion: it’s working. Buildings are getting more energy efficient. End of story.

I was psyched. Maybe you believe that human activity causes climate change or maybe you believe in the tooth fairy. Whatever. But designing buildings that are less wasteful and more energy efficient is just a damn good thing. I floated out of the hotel basement and into the warm sunlight of a spring Washington afternoon.

Thanks, Ed.


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