In the early 2000s, it was common knowledge that the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the U.S. causing climate change were the ever-nebulous “industry” sector and personal cars. For the most part, we all continue to consume, drive our cars, trucks, SUVs, semi-trucks, with no definitively effective organization towards changing our habits.
The national and global response to the growing realization that what we buy and do can drastically change our ecosystem has been sluggish, neutered by the slow wheels of government organizations and committees and abrasive activists on both sides of the science.
“Climate change has been made a political issue,” Edward Mazria told a crowd of more than 200 architects, business and community leaders, city officials, and sustainability advocates gathered for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects‘ third annual Sustainable Urban Development Luncheon.
Mazria’s professional, groundbreaking research inspired him to close his award-winning architecture firm in New Mexico in 2002 to form Architecture 2030, a nonprofit research and sustainability advocacy group that organizes the design community, private land owners, developers, city planners into sustainable districts.
He spoke in the new, Lake/Flato Architects-designed pavilion addition to the opening-soon Briscoe Western Art Museum about pushing aside politics and identifying solutions to global climate change. The built environment players, architects especially, he said, are the centerpiece of a solution embodied by Architecture 2030.
“It’s coal (and the carbon it releases into the atmosphere) that the scientific community is worried about,” he said. “So just like I bought fire insurance for my home and I do not expect it to burn down … it might. So it’s time we mitigate the risks. We need to step it up a notch.”
Mazria flipped the national climate change dialogue around in 2003 when Metropolis, a widely-read architectural design and culture magazine based in New York City, published an industry-shaking cover story, “Architects Pollute.”
The story profiles his research that found that while transportation and other industries shoulder a lot of the GHG guilt, the bigger villain is buildings: 70% of electricity in the U.S. is used to operate buildings and the building sector consumes nearly half of all energy produced, Mazria said. “We (architects) are the ones with the tools to fix it.”
(You’ll have to subscribe to Metropolis, find the October 2003 edition via the library, or buy the story online/in print to read it, but they’ve also published: “Game Changers | Advocacy: Edward Mazria” which describes his work and story.)
“Architects Pollute” inspired books to be written, organizations to form, and policies to be adopted nationwide. The concepts of Architecture 2030 are starting to slowly spread globally.
Mazria described why this revelation hit architectural firms so hard – why they’ve emerged as leaders in the quest to mitigate climate change.
“In all of our training, we (architects) think every project we do is good for people,” helps people, and creates something meaningful for them to exist in or near, he said. “To tell them that they’re hurting people was like a dagger in the heart.”
But that dagger was also a wakeup call that sparked results.
Architecture 2030’s endgame is best described by the challenge targets posed to building sector players: Carbon-neutral status of new construction and renovation projects by the year 2030. That means using no fossil fuels or other GHG-emitting practices to operate buildings. It’s ambitious, but achievable, Mazria said.
Dozens of national and international organizations agree. The American Institute for Architects was the first adopter of the challenge. The AIA was joined by the U.S. Green Building Council, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, Ontario Association of Architects, and the list goes on. Thousands of individual firms have also committed (52% of total U.S. firms). Nine states have “2030 Challenge-inspired” legislation and even the federal government has taken pages from its guidelines.
Dealing with Demand
By addressing the demand side of the energy equation instead of the supply side, building designers, owners, and developers have a unique opportunity to actually make a difference. There simply isn’t enough capacity from renewable/non-fossil fuel energies to sustain continued energy growth.
“It all helps, but there is no conceivable way to address the supply needs by 2030 if business continues as usual,” Mazria said. Instead, focusing on energy conservation “presents us with a huge opportunity … it’s fascinating what’s going on this side of the equation.”
It’s estimated that about 900 billion square feet of new buildings will be built by 2030 – that’s basically “three and half times all the development in the United States,” he said, citing a McKinsey Global Institute report. And most of that will be in response to an increased population in cities – 1.6 million people are expected to move from rural to urban by 2030.
By implementing relatively simple energy efficient design strategies and appliance upgrades, we won’t have to keep chasing demand by building more and more coal or nuclear plants, he said.
So, is it working?
“The progress is staggering,” Mazria said. “You can’t see it locally but you can begin to see it if you aggregate it – so we did just that.”
Surprisingly, these districts weren’t started by Mazria or his staff. Rather, the first 2030 District was initiated by private property owners, architectural firms, and developers in Seattle. They had to “play catch-up” to organize information sharing platforms between the districts sprouting up in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas. Smaller cities are signing up, too.
As these districts grow – and they really do grow, the largest includes 30 million square feet of buildings – they gain financial leverage, political clout and often begin partnerships with city governments, utilities, and mass transportation providers.
How about San Antonio?
“Downtown property owners are your best bet to get it started,” Mazria said. We’ll also need a large network of architectural firms, developers, and businesses on board. “People trust architects with millions of dollars, so it’s often them that bring clients to the table.”
So far only five individuals and four architectural firms (Lake/Flato, OCO Architects, RVK Architects, and Marmon Mok Architecture) have accepted the challenge, according to the Architecture 2030 website.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about how to spread the word,” said Heather Holdridge, Lake/Flato’s sustainability coordinator.
Next up for Architecture 2030 is the release of the 2030 Palette, a sort of global language for current and prospective U.S. and international 2030 adopters. This free, online lexicon, will launch in November and will be home to the principles and actions behind Architecture 2030, “at the fingertips of architects, planners and designers worldwide.
“We’ve coaxed out design rules of thumb to create a common language across boundaries,” Mazria said of the platform. Anyone can request an invite to view the beta version by visiting www.2030palette.org.
For Architecture 2030 to truly achieve its goals however, it’s got to gain substantial footing internationally, especially in China, which is projected to account for more than half of global development by 2030.
Inefficient architecture and design practices are problems we can solve, Mazria said, and improving design achieves 80% of the 2030 challenge. Every building is different and can be uniquely constructed to minimize costs without sacrificing economics. “We’re constantly making trade-offs, but there’s no reason to conclude that these methods cost more … we just need knowledgable, inventive, creative architects.”
It seems many such persons were in the room.
“There is no one out there telling us to do this,” Mazria said in closing. “We’re just doing it.”