The American Institute of Architects (AIA) is challenging designers to evaluate the impact their design decisions have on a project’s energy performance with the goal of producing carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. While this ambitious program may seem intimidating, particularly for smaller-scale firms, I’ve outlined how to participate in what AIA has called their 2030 Commitment initiative.
The Four Parts of the Commitment
Designers must meet four requirements to sign on to the Commitment. First, download and sign AIA’s official commitment letter, which outlines your plan for meeting the goal by 2030 and identifies your firm’s team leader. Second, draw up an Immediate Operational Actions plan, focusing on actions your office can take to make a difference today. This includes items such as reducing energy use by shutting down monitors at night, switching to LED lighting, and purchasing climate offsets to help your firm become more environmentally friendly. Third, submit a comprehensive Sustainability Action Plan that addresses your firm’s approach to operations, management, and design, and reflects your aspirational goals. Examples include having at least one project a year attain LEED Gold or higher certification or be a true Net Zero design. The fourth step is to report the results of your project designs each year.
Firms are expected to report their projects’ annual Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which is compared against baseline averages for various building types. Many of these baseline EUI numbers have regional averages. You can determine EUI using energy modeling software programs ranging from free and simple programs such as HEED, to more complex programs such as Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) and Sefaira. All of these programs allow you to input the project’s site information, the building’s geometry, and its component characteristics such as R-Values, glazing specifications, and mechanical systems.
These programs output a series of results that can aid in the early design process. The goal is to model early and often, doing iterative analyses to figure out what’s positively impacting the building’s performance and seeing what’s doing that cost-effectively. Be sure to avoid only checking the energy modeling results after the design is complete.
Each firm then anonymously submits their results to the AIA’s 2030 Commitment website. The goal is that designs will be 70 percent better than the baseline EUIs, starting with the 2015 reporting period. Keep in mind that there are no “green police” who will fault you for not meeting the EUI goals. Rather, the intent is to have firms model their projects and to gain an understanding of which design strategies reduce a specific project type’s EUI and continue to share knowledge that helps to increase building efficiency.
By following these four steps, designers can gain a working knowledge of what it takes to create carbon-neutral projects by 2030. This is good for people, the planet, and profits!