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The Committee on the Environment (COTE®) is an AIA Knowledge Community working for architects, allied professionals, and the public to achieve climate action and climate justice through design. We believe that design excellence is the foundation of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable future. Our work promotes design strategies that empower all AIA members to realize the best social and environmental outcomes with the clients and the communities they serve.

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Message from Architecture 2030, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

  • 1.  Message from Architecture 2030, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

    Posted 03-30-2020 09:36 AM


    George Price, a physician at the turn of the last century, famously called the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic a "destroyer and teacher."  So, what about the COVID-19 pandemic?

    What the COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us is that planning, preparation and preventive action are crucial, and complacency and indifference are dangerous and foolhardy. We were warned in consecutive Worldwide Threat Assessments by the U.S. Intelligence Community that such a pandemic was likely, that it was just a question of time before

    "massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support."

     – 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment 

    In the February 2018 Assessment we were advised that pathogens such as the MERS Coronavirus have pandemic potential, and the World Bank estimated that a severe global pandemic could cost more than $3 trillion-and cause more than 100 million deaths worldwide. Yet, we did not prepare ourselves.

    Likewise, in these Assessments the threats of climate change were addressed in detail:

    "Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security."

     – The Center for Climate and Security

    Climate change has been a visible feature of the U.S. intelligence community's concerns since at least 2008. Yet many politicians and special interests, seeking to minimize or slow down the systemic change needed to address this threat, have labeled climate science as "alarmist."

    Today we have unprecedented scientific knowledge to predict impending disasters as well as the technology and capacity to effectively address them, yet we've grown complacent about the future impacts of our current actions. We rush to prioritize and mobilize our resources once a crisis strikes, then scale back and return to complacency when it subsides, all at a terrible cost to human life and suffering, and economic and environmental wellbeing.

    With the consequences of inaction on the COVID-19 pandemic becoming evident, it is clear that we must now accelerate our actions to tackle the serious challenge of climate change.

    Make no mistake: the actions needed to successfully address climate change fall squarely on us – the architecture, planning and building community – as we are responsible for the majority of global CO2 emissions. Countries will not act unless they see a credible way forward, and we provide that way. While we have only days to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, we still have time, albeit limited, to flatten and dramatically bend down the curve of CO2 emissions.


    The targets, roadmap and vision for the systemic change needed to address climate change are clear. They were recently discussed at CarbonPositive'20, which took place weeks ago in Los Angeles. At this milestone event, current actions and opportunities were presented, the latest tools, technologies and advanced materials were exhibited, experiences and expertise were shared, and the future was imagined.

    CarbonPositive'20 focused on the actions necessary to avert dangerous climate change and limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. These actions included (to name a few):

    2030 IS THE NEW 2050!

    To maintain a high probability of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, humanity must limit its total emissions to a "carbon budget" of about 340 gigatons of CO2 beginning in 2020. The numbers may be abstract, but the implications are firm: we must reduce global CO2 emissions 50% to 65% by 2030, and reach full decarbonization by 2040.

    Edward Mazria's keynote presentation explained the new targets, the roadmap, and the embodied carbon strategies in the built environment needed to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius carbon budget. Many of the sessions at CarbonPositive'20, including Ed's keynote, were recorded and will be made available soon at no cost via Hanley Wood University.  Ed's keynote can be downloaded here.

    Farhana Yamin educated us about the UNFCCC negotiations and her deeply personal journey from environmental lawyer and lead author of three IPCC assessment reports to climate activist and protester. Farhana's presentation can be downloaded here, and a recording will be available soon on Hanley Wood University.

              Image adapted from: Ban Natural Gas San Francisco 2019

    There's nothing natural about "natural" gas, and it's clear that it is irresponsible to burn it onsite. The widespread electrification of new and existing buildings in tandem with grid decarbonization will remove gas in buildings and create healthier and safer spaces, as well as a steady and predictable market for renewable energy and further advancements in energy storage technologies.

    Panama Bartholomy's fact-filled (everything you did not know about gas) and enlightening presentation "It's Electrifying!" will amaze you. His presentation slides can be downloaded here, and the recorded session with Panama and Cole Roberts will be available soon on Hanley Wood University.

    A huge wave of new construction is projected to accompany population growth and urbanization over the coming decades. Embodied carbon will represent the largest portion of emissions associated with this global new construction between now and 2030, highlighting the important role that repurposing existing neighborhoods and prioritizing the adaptive reuse and renovation of existing buildings will play in reducing embodied carbon.

    Carl Elefante and Julia Siple's presentation "The Key to Zero Carbon" will open your eyes to the beauty and massive carbon reduction potential that exist within your own community. Their presentation slides can be downloaded here, and the recorded presentation will be available soon on Hanley Wood University.


    Just two materials – steel and concrete – are responsible for about half of all industrial sector CO2 emissions, and 20% of all global CO2 emissions. With the global building stock projected to double between now and 2060, addressing steel and concrete emissions to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius carbon budget – 40% reduction today; 65% by 2030; and zero carbon by 2040 – is a huge design, planning, and construction opportunity!

    Dirk Kestner and Bruce King illustrated how the embodied carbon of concrete mixes can be reduced by 40% today using standard practices, and Margaret Hansbrough set out the technologies and industry initiatives leading the transition to low carbon steel. Their presentation slides can be downloaded here, and the recorded presentation will be available soon on Hanley Wood University.


              Photo by HDR, Inc. Carbon Balanced Buildings
    Mass timber construction has the potential to dramatically reduce building embodied carbon emissions. Advancing the following recommendations will ensure we get mass timber right:

    • Source wood locally

    • Source wood from climate-smart forests

    • Replace carbon and energy intensive building products with carbon sequestering biomass-based products

    • Increase carbon stocks in the forests and wood products

    • Keep working forests working

    • Bring non-forest land under forest cover

    • Produce wood products with longer working life

    Mark Wishnie, Francesca Pierobon, and Jennifer Cover outlined design strategies to maximize mass timber's emissions reduction potential. Robert Jackson, Thomas Knittel, and Robin Schiller explored material procurement, project delivery, construction, lessons learned and building typology considerations. Their presentation slides can be downloaded here and here.


    We have all the tools and resources needed to to plan, design, and construct the built environment to stay within a 1.5 degree Celsius carbon budget. Beginning with the ZERO Code2030 Palette, and Carbon Smart Materials Palette, a few of the many resources available today include:

    Planning and Building Design:

    • UrbanFootprint – software to streamline urban planning and mobility decisions with actionable data for all U.S. locations.

    • CoveTool – a plugin for Revit, Rhino and Sketch-up that allows designers to develop accurate daylight, energy, water, and cost simulations.

    Embodied Carbon:

    • Tally – an LCA app and plugin for Revit, that enables designers to calculate the environmental impacts of their building material selections.

    • EC3 – a free online tool that allows benchmarking, assessment and reductions in the embodied carbon emissions of construction materials.

    • OneClickLCA – integrated with Revit and other tools that allows designers to reduce the cost, embodied carbon emissions, and material use in their projects.

    • EDGE – a free, easy-to-use, online residential and commercial building design tool and certification program for operational and embodied energy reductions in 160 countries.

    • CarbonCLARITY – a suite of applications to reduce the embodied carbon of new construction projects and accelerate the rate of low carbon concrete innovation.

    • Transparency Catalog – a free, online database of all HPDs and EPDs in North America.

    • Beacon – an open-source Revit plug-in and embodied carbon feedback tool designed specifically for Structural Engineers.

    • Concrete Calculator – a calculator that can rapidly analyze the life cycle assessments (LCAs) or proposed concrete mixes compared to regional practices and estimates.

    So, as we face these challenging times, let's remember to focus on working together to create a bright future.
    Architecture 2030

    Edward Mazria FAIA
    Founder And Executive Director
    Architecture 2030
    Santa Fe NM
    AIA / ACSA Intersections Research Conference. Call for submissions exploring new housing paradigms. Due September 4, click here to learn more.

  • 2.  RE: Message from Architecture 2030, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

    Posted 04-02-2020 09:14 AM

    Thank you for the further information, I've incorporated these links into the existing blog post at

    When Hanley Wood produces the video content from the conference, I can link to that in this post as well, so there's a place for everybody to look for the signposts. I suggest that the full conference be uploaded as a formal COTE page at the AIA National site and given its own address.

    --  ________________________________________________________________________ :: design :: collaboration :: innovation  Laurie Barlow, AIA  

    AIA / ACSA Intersections Research Conference. Call for submissions exploring new housing paradigms. Due September 4, click here to learn more.