Connect America

America’s Architects Struggling to Build Carbon-Neutral Buildings

By Jessica Peralta

IRVINE, California —  Only 16 of 252 architecture met the 2030 Challenge from the American Institute of Architects to meet carbon-reduction targets to combat climate change.

“The findings of this new report underscore why it is imperative that the AIA make climate change a No. 1 priority,” said AIA EVP/Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy in a statement. “It’s critical that the architecture, engineering and construction industries come together to take action on this issue today.

There is some positive news. The impact on architecture to mitigate climate change is undeniable. According to the report, for 2018 alone, the 252 firms reported data on projects totaling nearly 3 billion square feet across 92 countries.

Their efforts accounted for an overall predicted energy use reduction equivalent to avoiding 17.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions — and operating savings of more than $3.3 billion.

But the year’s average was GHG reduction was 46 percent — less than the current 70 percent target.

“This year’s average  . . . is the best in 2030 history, but less than the current 70 percent target,” states the report. “To reach a zero net carbon future, we must vastly increase the number of 2030 signatories and the project’s performance data.”

CityAge spoke to one of the 16 firms that made the target, California-based LPA. The firm’s principal, Keith Hempel, expanded on how the target was made:

“It’s kind of in our DNA to think smartly about sustainability and energy efficiency. That’s something that we’ve developed into our processes. We do energy modeling on all our projects. We try to understand the energy use of a building very early in the design process so that we can optimize our design solutions and focus on energy efficiency.”

“We actually are an innovative design firm. So that means under one roof, we have architects, we have mechanical engineers, we have electrical engineers, plumbing engineers, structural, civil, landscape, interiors. So everything that you would need to do a building project, we’re able to provide that to our clients as one firm.

“That integrated approach helps us bring people who are knowledgeable and understand the importance of energy efficiency to the table right away. We are able to really think comprehensively about energy efficiency and try to work with our clients to bring those strategies into the project, meeting their budgets, meeting their schedules, but in a way that benefits the building, the life cycle energy use of that building and the environment as a whole.”

“First you have to understand what your target is. Before you can set a goal to exceed a target, you have to know what your baseline is. Whether it be a school project, or it be a fire or police station or a more conventional office building, I need to know what the target is.”

“I think a common misunderstanding is that energy efficiency has to cost money. But there are actually a lot of things that a design team can do before they even start drawing the project, before they even put pen to paper … they can think about how the building sits on the site. Where are prevailing breezes coming from? How are they going to protect the building from sunlight, which brings daylight into the building but also brings heat into the building? All those things can be done very cost-effectively just by making good design decisions very early into the design process.”

“Getting to 80 and 90 and 100 percent, to reach those (GHG reduction) thresholds, there is going to be a need for conversations between design teams and their clients about renewable energy because we really need to be talking about offsetting the building usage with renewable energy to hit those higher thresholds of the AIA 2030 Commitment.”

© CityAge 2019


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