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OPINION:
The 2030 Challenge

01/2008

By Jim Newman

Achieving the goals of the 2030 Challenge, set out by architect Ed Mazria’s Architecture 2030 organization, is critical to slowing and stopping our emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. The 2030 Challenge sets goals of a 50 percent reduction in energy use (and thus carbon emissions) of new buildings now, then escalates the reductions another 10 percent every five years so that all buildings produced in 2030 and beyond will be carbon neutral. The Fourth Assessment Report that was just released by the United Nations’ Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms not only that buildings are a major contributor to carbon emissions, but also that they represent the most cost-effective opportunity to reduce those emissions.

U.S. Building Sector CO2 emmissions
Image courtesy Architecture 2030
U.S. Building Sector CO2 emmissions
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While several key organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the U.S. Green Building Council, signed on to the 2030 Challenge last year, I am especially impressed with the private design firms that have publicly adopted it. These firms are making a clear, ambitious commitment to our planet and our future. I am impressed by the courage of these firms, partly because their reputations are now on the line through public reporting.

So how hard is it going to be? Based on conversations with principals at several firms that have adopted the challenge, it looks to be pretty difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most of the firms won’t meet the goals this year. I suppose that is why they call it a challenge.

Meeting the 2030 Challenge goals will require firms to make significant changes in how they work. Carbon emissions need to be a crucial part of the design process all the way along, from the drawings on a napkin through the post-occupancy evaluations. Achieving high-energy performance means embracing a truly integrated design process, not just talking about integrated design, because no one discipline knows enough to pull it off alone (as one architect said to me). What is more, all designers need to understand building energy performance, which means performance needs to be measured and communicated. Measuring energy performance is new territory for most design firms. Communicating building performance information among design team members is a whole new planet.

Even the scientists at the IPCC figured some of this out. They listed efficient lighting, improved insulation, and passive solar design as solutions that are available now, and considered “integrated design of commercial buildings” an “emerging technology” they expect will be available before 2030. It certainly isn’t commonplace now, but let’s hope it doesn’t take us until 2030 to get good at it.

The scientists might also help with defining how to measure our progress. One of the big stumbling blocks in achieving the 2030 Challenge goals is a lack of clear metrics for energy use and environmental impact. Many Challenge adopters are struggling with defining what they need to track.

Fortunately, clients seem to be on board. Using a combination of LEED, Energy Star, and the 2030 Challenge to provide a context and framework for building decisions, designers are finding most of their clients are happy to meet the Challenge goals. In fact, one architect recently told me that carbon emissions seem to be a bigger part of current client discussions than program.

The trick here is that the 2030 Challenge asks that every building produced by an adopting organization meet its goals. This leads directly back to the project-delivery process for building design. Meeting the 2030 Challenge goals cannot be left up to the clients; instead, it must be built into the process. Do the firms and organizations that have stepped up to the plate publicly really know what they have gotten themselves into? Let’s hope they do and that others join them, so we can all meet the challenge of climate change.

Jim Newman is director of online services at BuildingGreen, where he leads efforts to understand and serve the needs of designers and builders implementing sustainable practices.

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This article appeared in the January 2008 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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