The AIA 2030 Commitment: What’s the Deal?

If you’ve read all you want about the Green New Deal or have already dismissed it as impossible, you won’t want to read this blog post.

Still with me? OK, then.

On February 11, 2019, the American Institute of Architects Tweeted: “The AIA supports the Green New Deal framework. We applaud the efforts of Congress and its committees to find new ways to support achieving a carbon neutral future by 2030.” In the full press release, 2019 AIA President Bill Bates added: “However, there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done. AIA encourages Congress to swiftly enact public policies today that will address the dire consequences we’re facing.”

As an AIA Member whose firm has signed the 2030 Commitment and is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, I applaud this measured and objective endorsement of the GND as a non-binding and aspirational goal statement. But heck, from the furor in the politisphere, you’d think the Resolution was copied from the Communist Manifesto.

Can we turn down the heat and just look at what it says?

On page 6 of my copy, after all the “Whereases” and the “Resolveds” comes the call for a “10-year national mobilization” to accomplish some specific “goals and projects”. To me, this part says “this is what the US federal government should be working on for the next ten years”. The goals include:

  • A. Building resiliency against climate-change related disasters. I’m good with that.
  • B. Repairing and upgrading the national infrastructure. OK by me.
  • C. Meeting 100% of the US power demands with renewable energy. Seems like a must-do.
  • D. Creating an energy-efficient, distributed, and “smart” power grid. I like it.
  • E. Upgrading all existing buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency. Sign me up.
  • H. Overhauling transportation systems to “eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible”. No objection here.
  • I. Mitigating the long-term health impacts of pollution and climate change. A no-brainer.

The Resolution has fourteen of these goals. The ones I have cited are the most meaningful to me as a citizen-architect. I don’t know very much about carbon storage or biodiversity or sustainable farming practices, so I’ll pass on commenting. And – honestly – I don’t know if all of this is even achievable, but this is what this AIA 2030 Commitment signer (and voter) WANTS the US federal government to be working on for the next ten years. Let’s get going on this, Congress.

And while I have the floor, every email I get from the AIA has a tag line. It says:

  • “Founded in 1857, AIA consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through more than 200 international, state and local chapters, AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing.”

The goals I listed above? They sure sound like public policies that promote economic vitality and public wellbeing to me.

And one more thing. My AIA also has a Code of Ethics. Among the many things it binds me as an AIA Member to are this:

  • Ethical Standard 2.4: “Members should . . . advise their clients and employers of their obligations to the environment, including: access to clean air, water, sunlight and energy for all; sustainable production, extraction, transportation and consumption practices; a built environment that equitably supports human health and well-being and is resistant to climate change; and restoring degraded or depleted natural resources.”

That’s my case. I yield the balance of my time.


The AIA 2030 Commitment: Architecture IS Infrastructure, II

I work in what is now called the “Seaport District” in South Boston. There’s a construction site outside my office window. It’s pretty cold in Boston in February, so I gotta hand it to the men and women who show up to work every day in the cold and snow.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are about 162 million people in the US workforce. Another BLS study estimates that outdoor occupations (like construction) account for maybe 28 million of those jobs. So let’s say 80% of the jobs in the USA are indoors.

And look, I’m not an economist by a long shot, but if the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP: a monetary value for the output of goods and services by an economy) is almost $20 trillion, I would guess that those of us who work indoors account for 80% of that GDP, or $16 trillion. Hold that thought.

Another thing I see out my office window: a lot of infrastructure.

“Infrastructure” is defined as “the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or other area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.” That includes roads, bridges, train tracks, airports, water and sewer pipes, and power generation and distribution systems.

But what do all those systems connect to? Buildings . . . where that $16 trillion worth of indoor-generated GDP is happening.

I know I’m just spit-balling the dollars, but this much is inarguable: Buildings mediate between an often unaccommodating outdoor environment and productive forms of human engagement like research and development, health care, education, banking and finance, shopping and eating, sleeping and getting dressed in the morning.

So I was very happy to see the American Institute of Architects take up this banner with a policy statement titled “Where we stand: Buildings are infrastructure”. Since building support 80% of our GDP, buildings rightfully should be considered part of our national infrastructure. And if we’re going to talk about investing in infrastructure, we should also talk about investing in building – especially improving the energy efficiency of the buildings that 80% of us work in.

We know that investing in energy efficiency boosts private market growth. We’ve done this before. Under the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Tax Deduction (Section 179D), $1 of federal tax deduction has leveraged $3.12 of private investment in high-performing HVAC, lighting, and building envelope improvements and reduced energy use by 8% since 2005.

And we know that federal government policy can certainly drive greater building energy efficiency, leading to a more competitive and productive economy. The Alliance to Save Energy points out that the minimum efficiency standards for appliances set by the US Department of Energy has already saved American households nearly $500 per year on utility bills, and since 1992, the EPA’s ENERGY STAR has helped US families and businesses save $430 billion and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7 billion metric tons.

Public investment in buildings will produce a public benefit. Cost-effective and revenue-neutral ways of making our (indoor) workforce more productive should be part of a national infrastructure investment plan. Let’s get Congress to work on this.