The AIA 2030 Commitment: Part of the Solution

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem!”

Charlie Rosner, an advertizing guy, wrote that slogan in 1967 to promote an organization called Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). Eldridge Cleaver made it famous in 1968.

I don’t think of myself as an absolute black-or-white wrong-or-right kind of guy. I live comfortably with ambiguity and shades of grey. But when you work passionately for a cause you truly believe in, you can start to see other people as either friends or foes. Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?  

Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC founder and CEO, took the gloves off in a blog post last week where he characterized the “enemies” of the US Green Building Council as “scoundrels”. Probably a fair assessment, too. But on the other hand, Paul Hawken, in his amazing book Blessed Unrest, describes the incredible number of people all around the world who are working – often alone – to restore the balance between human activity and natural systems. He famously describes this phenomenon as a movement without a name and without leaders, but the largest collective action in human history.

And as for us? The architects that work to improve the energy efficiency of our buildings in hopes of meeting the AIA 2030 Commitment goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from construction and operations? You may say we’re dreamers. But we’re not the only ones. We have many allies. Sometimes we just need to recognize them!

Case in point: I was attending a panel presentation at the Boston Society of Architects the other day. The speaker was Duane Desidero, VP and Counsel for a Washington DC advocacy group called the Real Estate Roundtable. Well-dressed, poised, a professional lobbyist. I thought I had him pegged.

Then he started talking about the RER’s work to influence the re-design of the Section 179D tax deduction for building energy efficiency improvements and for re-funding of the US Energy Information Agency’s CBECS database, the foundation of Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager program. Once the Q&A started, I may have been a little unfair to Mr. Desidero. It was hard for me to believe that a national trade association of private commercial real estate developers was actually selling sustainable design to the Federal government. These were exactly the same positions that we (AIA National Advocacy) were promoting. Pinch me.

Next example: A couple weeks ago I re-Tweeted (@MikeDavisFAIA) a post from NEEP (Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships) that said the City of Boston was developing a Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance. Headline news for us, an ordinance like this would make building energy use public information and drive everyone in the market towards greater energy efficiency. My Tweet caught the attention the Institute for Market Transformation, a DC-based non-profit. The IMT works with city governments on exactly this kind of policy. A few days later, I was meeting with Caroline Keicher, Program Manager of the IMT’s Building Energy Rating Program. To a greybeard like me, she looked a bit like a graduate student. Then we began to talk. At which point I decided to shut up and take notes.

They were developing “flagship” ordinances in six US cities and two states. She had just launched a new online database for building energy benchmarking. She had recently sat in with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and had stated that if building energy benchmarking could go national it had the potential to create 59,000 jobs and save building owners $18 billion through 2020.  And that was only page one. I was schooled.

Last story: I was at a friend’s birthday party in my Boston neighborhood. I walked up to a guy I didn’t know. Crew cut, built like a linebacker. Hi, I’m Mike. I’m George. His hand surrounded mine. He was in the middle of a discussion about Navy SEALS, forward military bases, and Humvees. Well, I thought, not a lot of conversational material for me here. Maybe we’ll switch to the Red Sox soon. But I listened. He was designing and selling tracking systems and non-penetrating support armatures for photovoltaic panels. His system would make PVs 30% more efficient and highly portable. The Department of Defense was his biggest client. Pick me up off the floor! We began to talk SRECs and utility-scaled distributed generation. He was all over it. And it wasn’t just about the money, he was committed to building a clean energy future. When I told him I was an architect and designed green buildings he almost hugged me. “Keep building ‘em green, pal!” Wow. What a great guy.

Y’know, it could be true. We really could be part of a global movement; players in the largest collective activity in human history. If nothing else it’s nice to know we have allies. Makes the AIA 2030 Commitment seem just a little bit more achievable, doesn’t it?

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