What if all newly designed buildings were Net Zero Energy by the year 2030?
Architects everywhere are accepting the challenge. More and more firms are dedicating time and energy to incorporating sustainable design into their work. We’re in the midst of an architectural sea change, where design and performance integrate seamlessly to produce energy-efficient, resilient spaces.
In 2009, the American Institute of Architects launched the 2030 Commitment to provide a framework to reach this goal. Signatory firms are encouraged to provide anonymized portfolio performance data, rethink internal office practices, and to create a ‘sustainability action plan.’ More than 300 firms have taken the pledge in the U.S. thus far, with each one committing to a series of incremental policy and procedural changes within their firms. Once a year, the AIA pulls a report to see how the signatories are progressing in their as-designed energy performance goals. At this point, we have enough data to analyze over two billion square feet.
The results? We’ve made progress and are improving, but more work can be done, faster.
The profession’s design portfolio in aggregate showed a 35% reduction in energy use vs the comparable buildings out there in the 2003 baseline. EDR’s portfolio showed a similar savings value. But there’s a large spread in performance from one project to the next. Those that were just “built to code” are assumed to achieve an average of 25% reduction in energy use. Additionally, only about 10% of participating firms’ design portfolio last year met the goal of 60% reduction in energy use. When we do a deep dive on the data, we see a correlation that projects that did energy modeling reported much higher energy savings. The data show 26% of modeled projects met the 2030 goal with an average of 43% savings. We don’t know yet whether it’s simply that projects in the past that demanded energy modeling were for clients with higher aspirations, or the simple act of modeling leads design teams to pay attention and achieve higher performance whether clients are asking for it or not. So firms across the country are working to lower the barrier to incorporating energy modeling earlier in the design process—then we can see which is true.
At EDR, we’ve organized the firm strategically to help us achieve these sustainability goals. We assign projects among five design teams, each with a dedicated sustainability champion who advocates for energy savings in every phase of every project. Part of making performance a priority for all projects often demands hiring a sustainability enabler – someone who trains these champions and consults them on things like sophisticated energy and daylight modeling. There are no Net Zero buildings. There are only Net Zero occupants.
While looking at predicted performance is important, it’s equally critical to think beyond simulation data and the 2030 Commitment to ensure our buildings perform as designed. If you look closely at buildings that are being inhabited regularly, you’ll probably find problems. Sometimes your equipment has valves that weren’t installed correctly, or the occupant wasn’t told to check for certain signs of disrepair. Nobody knows how buildings are supposed to operate. We hand over manuals, but we need to also explain the basic principles of the design - set up, controls and behaviors. Getting involved early can prevent these issues.
“Architects are the C3POs of the built environment. We’re in human-cyborg relations.”
- Z Smith, Director of Sustainability & Building Performance
In some ways, the 2030 Commitment is a lot like a pencil diet. We’re writing down our projects, looking at our progress and becoming more aware of our shortcomings. Measuring is the first step so that we know what it will take to hit our targets. It may be a messy process at times, but at least we’re all in it together.