The AIA 2030 Commitment: Leadership


“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say ‘thank you’. In between, the leader is a servant.”

. . . or so said Max De Pree, the CEO and President of Herman Miller from 1980 to 1987. His father, D. J. De Pree, founded the office furniture company in 1905 and we now know it as one of the most equitable, forward-thinking, and sustainably-focused businesses in our industry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership lately. This quote is my absolute favorite. Let’s unpack it, starting from the finish. The leader/servant thing is an ancient idea. Selfless, empowering, team-focused leadership is certainly effective in architecture and interior design firms. And everyone likes to hear “thank you” – an expression that exists in every human language yet could always be heard more frequently in the workplace. But the first part of that quote is kinda tricky.

“Define reality” sounds challenging. A task with existential implications. “What do I know about ‘defining reality?’ I’m no philosopher. I’m just trying to run a good design firm.” Well, someone has to do it. A group of people working together in an organization needs to understand their organization’s values, its future plans, its market and position, its reason-for-being. Defining – and sharing – that reality is job number one for leadership.

Herman Miller’s vision is to “design and build a better world”. Their mission: “Inspiring designs to help people do great things”. You can download their November 2015 “Better World Report” here. Shrug this off as corporate PR if you‘d like, but this is how they define reality. And it works for Herman Miller.

So how do I define reality? I’m no philosopher either. But here’s what I believe:

I believe Ed Mazria and Architecture 2030. I believe that burning fossil fuels to generate power for our buildings is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. I believe designing our buildings and spaces to be radically more energy efficient is the most important thing we can do to help get us to a 21st century low-carbon economy.

And I believe the market for smart, capable architects and designers that can do this is not going away. In fact, I think new building codes like CALGreen, corporate social responsibility policies from the likes of Kaiser Permanente, Google, Xerox, and Target, and the globally persuasive power of organizations like are pointing us exactly in the other direction.

Add to this the exploding power our own design tools and a steady stream of young professionals who crave an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the world, and reality doesn’t look so hard to define anymore.

But the rigorous process of continually improving the designed energy use of all our firm’s projects is not easy. That’s why the AIA 2030 Commitment was created.

The 2030 Commitment is a free program of the American Institute of Architects. It’s one of the best member-service you’ll get from the AIA. When you sign it and join, you get access to a world-class interactive, shareable database and reporting tool called the Design Data Exchange or DDx. Once you start entering simple information about your projects (like use group, climate zone, and MEP systems) you can compare how your projects’ designed energy efficiency compares to other similar ones. And for firm leaders, your annual report is an overview of your firm’s entire body of work showing where you’re making progress and where you may need to focus more attention.

The AIA 2030 Commitment DDx is exactly the right tool for architects and designers who want to make a meaningful difference in the world. So sign up. It’s what good leaders do.


The AIA 2030 Commitment: Size Doesn’t Matter

Kipnis Architecture + Planning, Architects

Kipnis Architecture + Planning, Architects

Here’s a fun fact for you: According to the 2014 AIA Firm Survey report (sorry, no hyperlink, you have to buy it), 79% of AIA Member firms have less than 10 employees. Recognizing this, the AIA has a Small Firms Roundtable knowledge community and a whole online Small Firms Resource Center with practice tools, contract and insurance information, and links to sustainability resources to serve these members.

Oddly missing from the Small Firms Resource Center: a link to the AIA 2030 Commitment.

I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago at the offices of HKS (thanks, Rand!) for the first-ever strategic planning retreat for the AIA 2030 Commitment. More on that later. While in Chicago, I had the pleasure of meeting Nate Kipnis, FAIA, founder and principal of Kipnis Architecture + Planning (KAP), one of those aforementioned small firms.

Nate, not a reticent man, told me that the AIA 2030 Commitment is viewed by many practitioners as something for big firms only. His small firm, however, was an early adopter of the 2030 Commitment and – heck – here he was in this strategic planning meeting anyway, so I seized the opportunity to do an impromptu interview.

80% of KAP’s projects are single-family homes, either new, additions, or renovations. They have won numerous awards for design excellence and historic preservation, and have eight “Best of Houzz” awards for design and client satisfaction.

So I asked: “Why did you sign the AIA 2030 Commitment?”

Nate: “Because I’d burn in hell if I didn’t!”

But seriously, folks. Nate’s firm just gets it. For KAP, the Commitment is a point of differentiation. They put both design excellence and environmental responsibility right up front. Their tag line: “High Design/Low Carbon”, is something the firm takes very seriously. KAP gets great press for high-performance design, and this brings the kind of clients they want. And Nate does a killer seminar presentation called “Energy Modeling for All; 2030 Commitment for Small Firms”, which he has presented a number of times at the AIA National Convention, locally in Chicago, and occasionally elsewhere in the country. If you’re a small firm and have questions about the AIA 2030 Commitment, please look this guy up. He’s very persuasive.

And, I also asked, how does a small firm manage the annual AIA 2030 Commitment reporting?


Energy model graphics by Kipnis Architecture + Planning

Nate is definitive on this point. He knows it takes them 5 to 10 hours per project to do the energy models and enter project data into the DDX interface, and they build it into their work flow. That’s the entire deal. The modeling is done early in during schematic design to guide decision making and then updated at the end of design development. They use either Energos in Vectorworks 2016 (their CAD program of choice), HEED (a free program) or Sefaira to do their own in-house energy modeling.

An overhead staff member to drive sustainable design? Sure, that’s a great resource, but something that small firms can’t afford. Nate, however, doesn’t need one. At KAP, it’s just part of everyone’s job.

The takeaway? Size doesn’t matter. Small firms can be part of the AIA 2030 Commitment, too. They have to be. Because ultimately, to get to carbon-neutral by 2030, we need all firms, all projects. Including the small(er) ones.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Commitment Issues


Are you commitment-phobic? It’s not pretty.

If you have commitment issues, the thought of going “all in” with another person could give you the shakes. For some peripatetic people, the grass over there always looks greener. Some sorry folks have torched a few too many bridges in their lives.

But hey, not us! We’re architects and interior designers. Ours isn’t a field you dabble in. You commit to it. Every day.

So we shouldn’t have a problem making the AIA 2030 Commitment, right? But so far, only 350 firms have signed it. There are 21,000 architectural firms in the USA. That means 20,650 companies need help. So allow me:

Start here. Andrea Love, AIA, is Director of Building Science at Payette and chairs the AIA National 2030 Commitment Working Group. Her firm has committed. In this great article about her in AIA Architect, she’s described as a “commitment coach.” Andrea says thanks to the 2030 Commitment, there is now “energy intuition” at Payette. Even the firm’s Principals (gasp!) know what an EUI is, how to find the EUI for a project, and whether a specific EUI is good or not.

Andrea has also led the charge on developing and rolling out the AIA’s new Design Data Exchange (DDX) reporting tool and initiated the Working Group’s new peer-to-peer mentorship program that will (hopefully, soon) get you and your firm to overcome your fear of commitment and sign up.

Need more? Paula Melton at BuildingGreen Inc. says there are selfish reasons to commit, too. She quotes Greg Mella, FAIA, VP at SmithGroupJJR who says that signing the AIA 2030 Commitment gave his firm specific, measurable ways to track their progress towards greater energy efficiency goals.

Paula also quotes Heather Holdridge, Assoc. AIA and sustainability manager at Lake|Flato Architects. Heather says the AIA 2030 Commitment saves her firm time as reporting becomes a database of high-performance project strategies that keep them from re-inventing the wheel.

Perhaps you think that committing won’t make a difference? Another Environmental Building news article takes a more philosophical approach. In this one, “Progress on 2030 Goals” (also by Paula Melton) Melissa Wackerle, the AIA’s Senior Director for Sustainable Practice & Knowledge, reports that the AIA 2030 Commitment is growing. In 2010, year one of the Commitment, 56 firms reported. By the end of 2014, 140 firms were delivering data. And given recent news about the growing threats of climate change AND the new ease and benefits of 2030 reporting, she expects that more firms will be committing in the near future.

The take away? Change is happening. So c’mon, sign up. You have nothing to fear.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Connecting to the Mission


“It’s great that the firm’s senior leaders are so committed to sustainable design. But it’s hard to see how I connect to that mission in my day-to-day work.”

I’ve recently become president of Bergmeyer, my architecture and interior design firm. With this new position, I have set an ambitious goal: to have lunch with each and every member of our staff. It’s been great so far! But that first statement has come up a few times.

How can we address this? How can we be sure that everyone in our organization feels like they are connected to the sustainable design mission?

That’s where the AIA 2030 Commitment comes in. Allow me to elaborate.

Bergmeyer has been doing this AIA 2030 Commitment thing for about five years now. We signed in 2011, created our first Sustainability Action Plan, and reported the aggregated design energy use of all our projects in 2012. With this first report, we could see that the sum floor area of our interiors-only work was twice that of our whole-buildings work. Our lighting power density (LPD) for these projects was pretty good in year one: 19.5% better than baseline.

Over the years, our annual LPD for interiors-only projects has improved to 29.4% better than baseline in 2013 and 32.9% better in 2014. We’ve been encouraged, but we suspected a lot of our energy efficiency gains came from the greater commercial acceptance of LED lighting and tougher energy codes. Plus, we were getting LPD calculations from our engineers after we were done designing, so we had little influence over them. And there has been a baffling spread of LPDs within these projects from 0.50 to almost 5.00 watts/SF, well over the 1.5 watt/SF baseline. Something was not right.

Last year we gave ourselves a challenge. With the AIA 2030 Commitment providing the framework for our sustainable design mission, we knew we needed to be smarter about lighting power density. We wanted our designers to have a tool that would let them make real-time LPD calculations and drive consistently better energy efficiency during the design process.

So we developed a plug-in for our design software. Then we identified a beta project and let the team run with it.

Two weeks ago, I was in a meeting as one of our designers demonstrated this tool. She was projecting a reflected ceiling plan on the conference room wall. Next to the ceiling plan was a schedule with a bunch of what she called “fields”. She was also using words like ”model space” and “parameters”. I was nodding as if I understood what she was talking about. But what I did understand was this: she had developed a lighting schedule, populated it with light fixtures that had wattages “built into the families”, and was able to generate lighting power density calculations instantly. Every time she made changes to the ceiling plan. Victory!

We plan to train people with this tool over the course of this year. Our SMART goal is to have someone on every design team who can calculate and understand how to improve a project’s lighting power density. These folks will also be trained to enter data into the new AIA 2030 Commitment DDX database and play a hands-on role in the further reduction of the designed energy use of all Bergmeyer’s projects.

Connecting people to the organizational mission is critical. The AIA 2030 Commitment is helping us make it happen.

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.

The AIA 2030 Commitment: Get SMART

get-smart-shoe-phoneI started writing this blog just over four years ago on a dare. I accepted a challenge, and my part of the bargain was to write regularly about my design firm, Bergmeyer, and our adoption of the AIA 2030 Commitment. Seventy-two posts later, I’m still volunteering for big, hairy, audacious challenges. Still haven’t learned.

The challenge I’m writing about today is a bigger but related one. I’m setting sustainable design performance goals for Bergmeyer, and using the AIA 2030 Commitment to help. Allow me to elaborate.

We believe we are walking the sustainable design walk. We have many LEED Certified projects in our firm’s portfolio. Since we signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, we have written and updated our Sustainability Action Plan and have completed our fourth year of project energy use reporting.

But yet, year to year, our energy use metrics have not significantly improved. So a little while ago, we had the Sustainable Performance Institute in to do an assessment of our approach. Executive Director Barbra Batshalom took a deep-dive into our design process. She left us – as expected – with good news and bad news. The good news was the unusual degree to which our firm’s leadership and staff are committed to sustainable design. What needed improvement, she said, was our “project delivery methodologies.”

We were unsure of how to tackle that one, so Barbra advised us to create SMART goals. I immediately grabbed my shoe phone to call the Chief back at CONTROL headquarters.

Just kidding.

You may know that SMART is an acronym for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused* and Time-bound. SMART goals are objective success measures that – if applied and observed rigorously – can show whether an organization is continually improving or not. And for Bergmeyer, participation in the AIA 2030 Commitment is what will make our SMART goals possible.

One example of a SMART goal: Improve our use of Lighting Power Density.

We do a ton of interior design projects. Many of them don’t involve base building MEP systems, so the energy use metric we use is lighting power density or LPD. A goal for us would be to promote greater understanding and use of LPD by our design teams. We need to be able to calculate this ourselves and make design choices while in schematic to improve it. So a SMART goal would be: Have 50% of our interiors project teams using LPD in schematic design so our aggregated LPD in 2016 is 20% better than our 2015 number.

Specific? Improved use of LPD. Measurable? It’s against 50% of however many interiors projects we do in a year. Achievable? We don’t have a baseline yet, so we’re hoping it is. Results-focused? That aggregate annual AIA 2030 LPD number doesn’t lie. Time-bound? We report again in March of 2016.

Another example: Improve our firm-wide PEUI reduction.

This might be a tougher one than LPD reduction. We only model about 50% of the whole building projects we do. But since some of our work is multi-site implementation of a building we design once (a prototype), if we model and improve a prototype that would affect more of our whole buildings. We just finished report on energy use payback analysis for big-box retail stores to help us make the business case for this approach. So a SMART goal for us would be: improve our 2016 firm-wide whole-building PEUI reduction to 40% below average.

Specific? PEUI reduction. Measurable? Target is 40% below average. Achievable? We were at 25% reduction last year (missed it by that much) so it’s also a stretch. Results-focused? We’ll all be looking at that 2016 AIA 2030 summary together. Time-bound: Same deadline as above.

Possible? Would you believe . . .? With the tools and support of the AIA 2030 Commitment, it is.

(* There are many different versions of the “R” goal. Besides Results-oriented, others are Relevant, Realistic [which changes the “A” from Achievable to Assignable], Resourced, and etc. And there are some counter-arguments here.)

The AIA 2030 Commitment: A New Perspective

FullSizeRenderGreetings from Herring Cove Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The only place in the Northeast USA where you can watch the sun set in the west over the ocean. Or something like that.

Vacation can be a great way to get a new perspective. But all the time you’re on the Cape, you can’t help but think about climate change and sea level rise. The Ocean, the ecosystem, the climate: it’s why we come here. But a one meter rise in sea level and most of the Cape Cod National Seashore is gone. Throw a 100-year storm at high tide on top of that and Provincetown becomes an island. Meanwhile, up in that bright azure sky, atmospheric CO2 is at 400 ppm and buildings continue to produce 44.6% of the US’s annual CO2 emissions.

Surely, there can be no more important issue for architects in Massachusetts (or in the world!) than driving radical reduction in building energy use as a way to mitigate climate change and sea level rise and protect our beloved natural environment.

Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Flashback to a few months ago. I had the honor of being asked to participate in the first daylong work session of the City of Boston with the 100 Resilient Cities initiative. If you don’t know about the “100RC”, you should. This program – formed and financed by the Rockefeller Foundation – works to “help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social, and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century”. Boston’s selection to be part of 100 RC was headline news. The award comes with grant funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer and access to a global networks of member cities, NGOs, and other strategic public and private resources.

I found myself in this daylong work session at Boston’s Fanieul Hall with a couple hundred people from the City’s many charitable, cultural, civic, advocacy, and educational organizations. I was one of only two architects there. And when we got to the first breakout group, I astutely observed that I was the only white guy over age 50 at my table.

Then came the assignment. The table facilitator had two stacks of cards, labelled STRESSES and SHOCKS, each describing about 20 different chronic problems or acute threats that could potentially jeopardize the survival of urban systems. We were asked to work together to rank these stresses and shocks on an X-Y scale of increasing likelihood and greater severity.

When the card for SEA LEVEL RISE turned up I was all over it. This was shock number one. Boston is a low lying coastal city. Flooding and storm surges will disrupt transportation, businesses, housing, public safety. Imagine one to two feet of sea level rise by 2050 and hurricane Sandy and nobody has a plan to get us ready for it.

Silence. Looks were being exchanged around the table. One brave soul offered: “But in the near term? How is this more important to us than addressing income inequality or lack of social cohesion?”

I was schooled. In the future, urban resilience will depend fundamentally on social cohesion. Climate change impacts are inequitable. No defensive or resilient infrastructure planning can happen unless all the city’s residents are working cooperatively to achieve shared well-being. Boston certainly needs some work here. While some residents see growth and opportunity, others see gentrification and disenfranchisement. Some people demand better public schools and transportation while some get bent out of shape about curb cuts that don’t look historic enough for their neighborhood. Sure, these debates aren’t unique to Boston or the 21st century, but the point was that basic human needs have to be addressed before we can talk about turning parking lots into storm water retention basins.

I had to agree. People come first. We do what we do to enable productive human uses and enhance lives. That is why the built environment exists.

We architects spend a lot of time talking to each other. We know the architecture and climate change script so well by now we can recite it in our sleep. So I left the 100RC workshop with another insight: It’s important for us to listen to the new voices and get a new perspective once in a while. I haven’t changed my mind about the AIA 2030 Commitment one iota, but I can see it as one part of a larger sustainability mission.

That’s it for now. Time for more sunscreen.