The annual AIA 2030 Commitment: By the Numbers Report dropped at the beginning of December, celebrating and summarizing participating firms’ design performance for the 2020 calendar year. 2020 marked a year of evolution in the program: the reporting & insights tool Design Data Exchange was re-launched, the program expanded to include optional metrics related to embodied carbon and fuel-source data, and the 378 reporting firms collectively stretched our performance goals to reach towards the ambitious 80% reduction from baseline targets (previously set at 70% from 2015-19).
The results indicate that firms are increasing their performance of their designs: in 2020, the program demonstrated a 51% predicted EUI (pEUI) reduction from baseline, above 49% from 2019. This tracks with a roughly 2-3% improvement across the program year to year since 2013. Fifteen firms impressively met the 80% reduction target in their portfolios, and 2020 saw an overall growth in whole-building gross square footage being reported.
However, this increased 80% pEUI reduction performance target has illuminated a real challenge of the program (Architecture 2030 didn’t call it the 2030 Challenge for nothing!). A theme the 2030 Working Group has been hearing from participating firms that they are seeing a “plateau” in terms of increasing their performance year to year (even though the program-wide performance is still creeping upward). My firm LMSa has experienced this plateau firsthand – for example, with our supportive housing projects in dense urban environments, we are approaching a limit with how much energy reduction can be accomplished with efficient envelopes and systems – the density of this mid-rise typology (in terms of number of stories and number of units within the building) alongside the limited rooftop area means that achieving net zero pEUI at the site boundary, much less 80% reduction, is unfeasible.
However, beginning in the 2020 reporting year, the 2030 program has responded to the call to consider off-site renewables as a contribution towards a project’s pEUI reduction, and this accounting of renewable sources is now included in the tool. This option has helped projects like ours, and other firms’ projects with high energy intensity such as labs and hospitals – and helps to paint a realistic picture of a building’s carbon impact, which happens beyond the site boundary. Moving towards all-electric designs and pursuing on- and off-site renewables means the 80% goal is within reach. PEUI and efficient design are still crucial components to meet the 2030 Commitment, and the reporting tool now tracks efficiency independently of renewables so we can all learn from how different firms are designing projects to respond to climate challenges, efficient technology advancements, and renewable energy sources to reach carbon neutral designs by 2030. By tracking fuel sources, my firm has highlighted a new metric: the percent of all-electric projects in our portfolio. In 2019, we were seeing about 25% - and in our 2020 reporting, we found an increase to almost 50%. The 2030 report shows a breakdown of projects that reported fuel sources – over 300 of which noted all-electric designs. This is the first year the program has been able to track pEUI as it is directly fuel sources, so I’m eager to see that number grow in the coming decade.
Finally, the inclusion of embodied carbon tracking also contributes to that more comprehensive “carbon story” of firms’ performance. With only 1% of firms reporting embodied carbon this year, it seems that we still have a long way to go to increase awareness and literacy to participating firms. A goal of ours will be to increase our effort to report embodied carbon reporting next year. What will your firm be working on? Join the AIA2030 Commitment, and share with the 2030 Peer Network.
2030 By the Numbers report: https://www.aia.org/resources/6676-aia-2030-commitment-by-the-numbers
Join the 2030 Commitment: https://2030ddx.aia.org/registerFirm
Find peer firms: https://www.aia.org/2030-directory
2030 DDx: https://2030ddx.aia.org/
Peer network: https://basecamp.com/2855955/projects/11762303
Gwen Fuertes, AIA, is a licensed architect and building scientist with a passion for low-carbon, human-centric design. She is an Associate at Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in San Francisco.