The AIA 2030 Commitment: Do What You Love

MeandEd2.IMG_8322It’s not every day you get to have dinner with one of your heroes.

Last month, I posted a newsy account of Ed Mazria’s visit to Boston and his evening presentation to the Boston Society of Architects. The summary: architects are driving building energy efficiency and making a difference. Although there is a lot of work ahead, US cities like Boston are leading the charge. Read about it here.

After his presentation, a bunch of us hosted him for dinner. My notes from that extended conversation are not great (kinda hard to write on black napkins) but it was certainly a memorable evening. The guy has many great stories and he tells them with panache and aplomb. But there is also a valuable life-lesson running like a clear line through much of what he has to say:

If you have to work for a living, you’ll be happier and more successful if you do something you are passionate about.

Easier said than done? Sure. But stay with me for a bit.

Ed is a Brooklyn guy who graduated from Pratt in 1963 and got his first professional job at Edward Larabee Barnes. Not an unusual career start for an architect. He got his Masters and did some teaching at the University of New Mexico in 1973. Opened Mazria Associates in 1978. Wrote a good book about passive solar design in 1979 and did another teaching gig at University of Oregon.

That could be the story for many of us. But that wasn’t enough for Ed. He was hot to change the profession.

The LEED Rating System was launched in the mid-1990s and the first Greenbuild Conference was 2002 in Austin. Now, certainly, everyone who cares about sustainable design thinks LEED is a good thing, right? But Ed is driven by data. He said to himself: this is alright, but it’s not going to drive building energy use reduction fast enough. Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions from (in a large part) building energy use, and radical energy efficiency wasn’t even required to meet baseline LEED Certification at the time. Ed thought architecture needed a bigger push.

So he created that bigger push. He threw down the gauntlet in 2002, issued the 2030 Challenge and formed Architecture 2030. In 2006, he persuaded the AIA to adopt the 2030 Challenge, the USGBC to incorporate it into the LEED Rating System, and the US Conference of Mayors to endorse it as public policy. In 2010, the AIA 2030 Commitment was created to help architects meet the goals of the 2030 Challenge and the story continues to unfold.

And Ed’s story is not just a professional story. It’s a personal one, too. When asked about how he got his start in sustainable design, he talks of coming up to speed very quickly in order to land a teaching job. The organization – Architecture 2030 – was initially part of his design firm. But as it began to gain momentum and take more of his time and energy, he realized it needed independent leadership and a different structure to be effective. Hence the 2030 think tank was born. His tale of tracking down Susan Szenasy (Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis Magazine) with an idea for a story about buildings and climate change is a favorite: He wouldn’t give them the story unless he got the cover! “Turning Down the Global Thermostat”, the October 2003 Metropolis Magazine cover story, was Ed’s first shot across the bow of the established insider architectural press.

Next thing you know, he’s giving keynotes at AIA Conventions, winning the 2015 AIA Kemper Award for significant contributions to the profession and being elected to the AIA College of Fellows. Plus he’s bringing the 2030 Challenge to China and Korea, and drafting language for COP21, the UN Paris Climate Talks. December 3 at COP21 was the first-ever UNFCCC Buildings Day, and there was Mister 2030 on the podium delivering the “Roadmap to Zero” and talking about how 52 international firms had signed building energy reduction accords in China. This is the work of a person with a passion.

I know this great quote from Thoreau. I heard it first from one of my oldest and best friends and mentors, Amy Bernhardt. It goes like this:

“Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”

It’s among the best bits of advice I have ever received. It has certainly worked for Ed Mazria.


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