Reducing Emissions in the Built Environment: AIA’s 2030 Commitment

Posted by Deltek Partner Guest Blog on April 22, 2020

AIA 2030 Commitment Blog _Earth Day

The following is a blog post authored by the staff at the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in support of Earth Day 2020. 

Like so many other industries, the architecture and design community is pulling together to confront the COVID-19 pandemic – contributing resources and 3-D printing technology to produce protective masks, advising local authorities on converting buildings to health facilities, and more.

While addressing the current health crisis is the focus, architects continue to pursue ongoing priorities toward our mission to support public health, safety and welfare – including advancing sustainability goals.

When it comes to climate progress, there’s no question the building and design industry have a major role to play:

  • 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from existing buildings
  • 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the urban built environment

Design and building product professionals are working together in numerous ways to make a difference. The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 2030 Commitment is one example.

AIA 2030 Commitment

The 2030 Commitment is a platform for architects, engineers and owners — whether in small practices or international organizations — to demonstrate climate action through energy-efficient design. Signatories of the 2030 Commitment work together to design entirely carbon-neutral new buildings by the year 2030. In addition to advocating for more stringent codes, like the ZERO Code, to make zero net carbon buildings the norm, AIA encourages signatories of the 2030 Commitment to embrace three overarching strategies:

#1 Increase Incorporation of Energy Modeling

During early design phases, setting reduction targets and focusing on incorporating passive design strategies is key. In 2018, modeled projects reported about 25% better predicted Energy Use Intensity (pEUI) reduction than non-modeled projects reported through the 2030 Commitment.

Seattle-based LMN Architects achieved stellar results when it applied energy modeling during the design of the University of Iowa’s Voxman School of Music building – a 2018 Education Facility Design Award winner. Working with associate architect Neumann Monson, mechanical and electrical engineers Design Engineers, and energy modeling consultants The Weidt Group, LMN incorporated daylight modeling, HVAC analysis, and energy massing analysis into the design process for the 184,000-square-foot building. The mechanical and design adjustments realized through modeling led to an impressive pEUI reduction of nearly 70% when compared to a code-compliant baseline. With a projected annual energy cost savings of about $425,000, the additional construction costs paid for themselves in just 1.3 years. >


With a projected annual energy cost savings of about $425,000, the additional construction costs paid for themselves in just 1.3 years.


#2 Embrace Both On and Off-Site Renewable Energy in Design

Innovative design and passive strategies alone cannot bring every project to zero net carbon emissions. A 2019 Committee on Environment (COTE) Top Ten award-winning project from U.S.-based firm BNIM, Asilong Christian High School demonstrates what’s possible when a project incorporates renewable technology to its full potential. The school’s remote location in Kenya, and its abundance of solar access, allows it to operate using renewable energy for all power needs. Solar orientation is less critical at the equator, but large roofs that provide ample space for solar panels, plus careful building massing and material selection employing passive strategies, maximize the benefits. Power is provided by 2 kW of solar panels distributed among the roofs of multiple buildings with battery backup. Since only about 75% of the capacity is used each day, the school is currently operating at net positive.


Since only about 75% of the capacity is used each day, the school is currently operating at net positive.


#3 Encourage More Participation in the 2030 Commitment

Reporting project data is the most visible way to show accountability and progress toward the 2030 goals. It also helps firm leaders better understand the performance and impact of their portfolios in the industry context and strengthens the case for zero net carbon solutions. Nothing succeeds like success, and signatories to the 2030 Commitment are its best advocates. Case in point: LPA Design Studios, which is dedicated to helping other firms achieve climate benchmarks through the program. One of the Commitment’s early participants, LPA shared its “Five tips for meeting the 2030 Commitment” earlier this year. The largest firm to achieve the 2030 Commitment target of a 70% reduction across its 2018 design portfolio — which totaled over five million square feet — the firm’s advice is relevant for firms of all sizes:

  1. Connect performance to design excellence
  2. Empower project teams
  3. Invest in people
  4. Support an integrated design process
  5. Promote transparency

2030 Commitment Progress by the Numbers

The 2030 Commitment approach is yielding encouraging results. While the 2019 numbers will be released soon, last year’s report generated thought-provoking findings. In 2018, 2030 Commitment projects accounted for an annual overall energy savings equivalent to eliminating 17.7 million metric tons carbon dioxide emissions. For context, that equates annually to:

  • 3.7 million passenger vehicles removed from the road – equal to the estimated number of registered vehicles in the state of Georgia
  • 20.8 million acres of forest equivalent carbon sequestration
  • 2.1 million homes powered by electricity and natural gas or three million homes powered by electricity for one year – the approximate equivalent to powering all housing units in Maryland for one year

Making the Business Case: Return on Investment

That’s inspiring, but the reality is that most clients aren’t motivated by climate altruism alone. Along with stunning design and exceptional performance, owners and clients demand return on investment. When it comes to making the business case for energy-efficient design, the 2030 Commitment delivers. In 2018, 2030 projects represented energy savings of more than $3.3 billion over the baseline equivalent. 

And both commercial and residential sectors enjoy significant savings. A typical 100,000-square-foot commercial office building in New York City designed to perform 70% better than the 2030 baseline would generate ~$199,600 in projected energy cost savings while reducing CO2 equivalent (CO2e) by ~520 metric tons. Meanwhile, a typical 2,500-square-foot single-family home in Mobile, Alabama, designed to the same standard would achieve ~$2,050 in projected energy cost savings while reducing CO2e by ~9 metric tons.

2030 Commitment: Getting Involved

So the 2030 Commitment makes a convincing case for clients. But what about architecture firms who may be on the fence about signing on? There’s persuasive evidence here, too.

For starters, firm size isn’t a barrier to success. While large firms contributed 90% of total gross square feet (GSF), firms of all sizes achieved progress in 2018. Specifically, 80% of the firms meeting the 70% pEUI target have fewer than 50 people, and firms with fewer than 10 people have an average 60% pEUI reduction.

Drilling down further, the data also show that performance standard achievement is possible in all climate zones – from hot and humid to cold and dry – and for all project types – from schools to health facilities to offices to homes.

Although AIA’s 2030 Commitment is geared toward architecture firms, winning the climate battle will require collaboration from stakeholders for not only all these building types but for all aspects of the design and construction process: building product manufacturers, contractors, customers, and civic leaders, to name a few.

The consequences of climate change are alarming, but they are by no means inevitable. By joining forces, design professionals can re-imagine a zero net carbon built environment.


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About the Author

Founded in 1857, AIA consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through more than 200 international, state and local chapters, AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public well-being. AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation, and world. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. To learn more about AIA sustainability initiatives and for additional resources, please visit: