In 2006, Architecture 2030 issued The 2030 Challenge, asking the global architecture and building community to adopt aggressive targets such that all new buildings, developments, and major renovations would be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard below the regional (or country) average/median for that building type by a percent threshold that becomes more stringent every five years with the goal that by the year 2030, the percent threshold would be 100 percent below the baseline average/median.

Since then, the building design and construction industry has responded. 

ASHRAE and the ICC continue to regularly increase the stringency of Standard 90.1 and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) such that these documents set a minimum performance standard of zero net (site) energy within a few years of 2030. However, building codes are a state and local issue and many jurisdictions are slow to update building regulation.

Over 1,100 firms have joined the AIA 2030 Commitment to date. According to AIA's latest annual report AIA, 417 firms submitted data on 20,652 projects, accounting for a 50 percent decrease in predicted energy use intensity (pEUI). Yet, these signatory firms represent less than 6 percent of all architectural firms in the country according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Moreover, a 50 percent reduction is nowhere near the 80 percent reduction currently called for by the 2030 Challenge and the 3.1 billion gross square feet of building space reported accounts for less than 1 percent of all building stock in the U.S.

What about the other 99 percent? The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) tracks energy-related carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions by end-use on an annual basis. Leading up through 2005, the emissions from the commercial and residential sectors were trending upward. Starting the following year, with the launch of the 2030 Challenge, we have seen significant reductions in both sectors: 26.5 percent in commercial and 26.9 percent in residential through 2021 across all U.S. jurisdictions. 


Figure 1: U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emission by End-Use Sector (2000-2021). Figure by Daniel Overbey.


What is the bottom line? Progress is often slow, but the tide is shifting. The building design and construction industry is succeeding in reducing carbon emissions. Our projects will continue to be limited in the resource capitals of time and money. We will continue to struggle to change that which we can affect within our professional purview. And yet, we owe it to ourselves to step back and acknowledge that we are making progress toward decarbonizing the built environment. We need more change, more quickly. We have the know-how, we see the vision, and we have the passion.

It is a new year. Let us move forward with a renewed resolve to keep doing everything we can to educate, advocate, and facilitate amongst each other knowing that every decision matters. It all makes a difference.