C&H’s Sustainable Practice Measures Up

AIA2030 is an effort by the American Institute of Architects to demonstrate the sustainability of the full spectrum of projects designed by participating architecture firms.  The ultimate goal of the program is for all newly designed or renovated square footage to be carbon neutral by the year 2030.  At the start of the program in 2010, targets were set to reduce energy consumption to 50% of the national average.  Additional 10% reductions will be expected each year for the following five years.  In 2011 the goal was for 60% energy reduction from the national average.

The stakes are high.  The building industry accounts for just over half of the energy consumption in the U.S. (U.S. Energy Information Administration, ).  Much of that is wasted through poorly insulated walls, over-consuming appliances and under-performing systems.  We believe that it’s not a question of IF we will run out of fossil fuels or drive the price up beyond reach, but when.  And yet we continue to build because there continues to be demand for new and newly renovated buildings.  C&H is steadfastly committed to designing sustainable buildings and communities and readily agreed to sign on to this program that will track our firm’s performance relative to the national average and other adopters.

Firms participating in the AIA2030 Commitment agree to report back to the AIA in two key areas.  They are asked to provide annual reports on predicted performance of all projects currently in their design portfolio and to monitor their own office’s efforts to reduce energy consumption.

For the 2011 reporting cycle, 197 firms of all sizes across the United States have signed on and C&H is among 104 of them that reported their progress.  Firm sizes range from the sole practitioner to firms of 1000 or more employees.  There were only nine firms of similar size to C&H (with seven employees) and the greatest number of reporting firms fall into the 100 – 499 employees size category.

The AIA2030 Commitment 2011 Annual Report, “Measuring Industry Progress Towards 2030”, was released in May 2012.  According to the report, while the goal was a 60% reduction in energy use from the national average, the average Predicted Energy Use Intensity (PEUI, measured in kBtu/sf/yr) reduction reported was 34.6%.  Of the 656.2 million square feet designed by the reporting firms in 2011, 12.8% of it is meeting the current AIA2030 target.

While the performance of the overall square footage reported is lower than the 2011 goal, C&H is doing very well in meeting the AIA2030 targets.  As of 2011, 83.7% of the 11,745 total square feet designed by C&H has, or is predicted to meet the target.  In fact, we exceeded the target by reducing energy consumption by 75% of the national average for buildings of the same types.

Clearly the profession could do better.  However, the fact that firms continue to sign on (the number of reporting firms nearly doubled over the past year of the program) indicates that there is a growing awareness of our collective and individual firm performance that will inform future project designs.  The AIA feels that the 2030 Commitment is a reporting tool that will drive positive change within the practice.  “When one considers the impact that even small improvements could have if they are implemented across such a large swath of design work…, the power of the AIA 2030 Commitment to truly effect meaningful industrywide change is remarkable in its potential.” (Measuring Industry Progress Towards 2030)

Looking again at the average reduction for all of the firms reporting to AIA2030 in 2011, 12.8% (or 84 million sf) met the 60% goal.  84 million square feet of space that exceeds current code performance isn’t insignificant, but what about the 87.2% (572 million sf) that presumably made some progress towards the goal, but did not meet it?  And what about the rest of the built environment that is not included in the report?  As an example, we can see that a single project (in this case the deep energy retrofit of a 111 year old home) kept C&H from having 100% of our designed square footage meet the goal in 2011.  That project wasn’t far off (on it’s own, a 42% reduction from average residential energy consumption), but it didn’t meet the 60% reduction target.

Assuming that nationally, larger firms also have larger, more complex projects in their design portfolios, some with smaller budgets, complicated funding, and less flexibility to implement high performance standards and new technologies, it’s no wonder that the profession must continue to work towards meeting the targets.  “The AIA 2030 Commitment is about our collective power to strive for improvement on every project we touch… we all have a seat at the table in pursuing a more sustainable future.” (Robert Ivy FAIA, EVP/CEO, The AIA, Measuring Industry Progress Towards 2030)

In the coming year the AIA2030 program will continue to refine its reporting tools.  Currently, while the program does track how many projects plan to collect actual performance data, the reporting tools request energy modeling and predicted EUI.  With the wide array of variables, from window types, air sealing details and HVAC equipment to weather and eventual occupant participation, predictions are not as reliable or informative as actual data collected over a long period of time.  C&H opted to report actual energy performance data wherever possible.  In addition, the current reporting tools don’t have an option for reporting net zero (or better) projects.  At least one C&H project is producing more (solar) electricity than it uses, but there is currently no way to credit a surplus in the AIA2030 report.

In addition to reporting on projects in design, AIA2030 firms also agree to report on in-house efforts to reduce energy use in the office.  Our own in-house practice is comparable to our peers.  Like many firms, we look to reduce our energy consumption by turning out lights and turning off our computers at the end of the day.  We continue to reduce paper use by sending electronic documents and recycling what we do use.  Other strategies we employ include composting, using green cleaning supplies, and using a dual-flush toilet to reduce water use.  In our small town location, reducing the environmental impact of work-related travel is a challenge, but we continue to look for ways to cut back, including having virtual meetings, driving hybrid cars and we are considering incentives for ride share and bicycling to work.

In conclusion, both with our office practices and with the buildings we design for our clients, C&H walks the sustainability walk and we’re proud of our light footprint.  Like the rest of the architecture industry, we need to continue to improve in order to reach the AIA2030 Commitment goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.