AIA Calls for More Action to Achieve Carbon Neutral Built Environment Goals

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) President Carl Elefante, FAIA, is calling on architects, industries and governments to do more to achieve a carbon neutral built environment by the 2050 deadline.

Elefante moderated a panel discussion at the Alliance to Save Energy’s EE Global Forum in Copenhagen, where architects and industry leaders examined how carbon-reduction goals can be better supported. The conversation focused on designing high-performance buildings, retrofitting the existing building stock, promoting renewable energy, reducing embodied carbon, and utilizing AIA’s 2030 Commitment program.

“The U.S. and Europe have made strides when it comes to designing high-performance buildings, but we face challenges in retrofitting the existing building stock,” says Elefante. “Overcoming this is critical to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. The time is now for our governments to implement effective programs, policies and incentives that will allow manufacturers, designers and specifiers to make progress towards a sustainable future.”

During the panel discussion, both architects and manufacturers cited public policy as a roadblock to achieving 2050 goals.

“We need to remove the regulatory impediments to renewable energy growth, specifically the lack of uniform interconnection standards in the U.S.,” says Bergmeyer President Mike Davis, FAIA. “Our renewable energy and distribution generation laws are different state-to-state. Sometimes they vary within the states. That’s an impediment to mainstream growth. Approaching this one state at a time won’t get us there. It becomes a matter of federal public policy.”

Building codes present other challenges.

“The code only takes us to approximately 40 percent,” says Building Codes Assistance Project President Maureen Guttman, AIA. “We have got to be building net-zero carbon, net-zero energy buildings right now. We can’t be building to basic building codes. If we don’t get new construction right today, we will never be able to get the resources necessary to address existing buildings and the carbon embodied in materials and manufacturing. It’s a driving problem and we’re not solving it fast enough.”

In order to meet 2050 energy targets, 75 percent of the existing building stock needs to be renovated, which amounts to 54 billion square feet of renovations. Overall, it would require every architect in the U.S. to renovate approximately 18,000 square feet each year for the next 32 years. This is a substantial increase to the low rate of renovation occurring throughout the U.S.

In an effort to combat the lack of uniform public policies, AIA developed the 2030 Commitment. As part of the program, AIA architecture firms and engineers enter predicted energy-use data from all projects in an interface to aggregate design-energy use year to year. Overall, the tool allows firms to know how well their projects perform together as a portfolio and whether they are designing energy-efficient buildings.

“By no means is every architect on every project doing what needs to be done,” says Elefante. “In fact, we’re far from achieving those objectives. So while there’s been some progress made over the last 20 years, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

AIA’s panel discussion at the EE Global Forum can be watched on its Facebook page.

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