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Sustainability Now: As Green Grows into the Mainstream, a Multitude of Ways for Architects to Ensure a Sustainable Tomorrow Take Root

By Jessyca Henderson, AIA
Managing Director, Policy & Community Relations

When we look across the Institute, sustainability policy takes on many forms. In a recent inventory of AIA sustainability-related projects, we found that sustainability initiatives exist in every department of the AIA, most of which are deeply fostered by Design and Practice (which includes continuing education, contract documents, and knowledge communities like COTE and TDBP) and Government and Community Relations. Since 2007, the AIA has implemented a number of programs, created guides, developed education programming, worked to create a model green code, and has asked member firms to demonstrate their commitment to a sustainable future by the year 2030 by tracking progress in their firm operations and projects. With the recent sunsetting of the sustainable design learning unit requirement, it’s a good time to take stock in where we are with regard to our commitment to achieving a sustainable built environment.

Back in 2008 when the AIA Board of Directors decided to put an “expiration date” on the then-new Sustainable Design (SD) Continuing Education requirement, a high expectation was set for AIA members: that by 2013 sustainable design practices would be such an integral part of our design thinking that a mandatory sustainable design education requirement would become unnecessary.

Looking at anecdotal evidence, that has started to happen. Indeed, the popularity of SD courses demonstrates the extent to which sustainable design has become mainstream. Although the SD requirement accounted for just 20 percent of a member’s annual membership requirement (4 of 18 learning units LUs), in 2011 nearly 40 percent of all credits earned by members were in sustainable design. And educational demand for sustainable design is expected to grow. We know that the prevalence and impact of green building in the commercial marketplace is widespread.

Other evidence demonstrates the need for continued, deepened and advanced education in high performance design and building science: the emergence of whole building commissioning, the requirement vis-à-vis the newest energy code for design energy modeling, higher expectations from clients. All this amounts to what AIA members tell us is a “knowledge gap” between the theory and practice of high performance design. Green building products are making their way to big box shelves. Legislation has been enacted at every level of government enabling or requiring the tracking (and curbing) of energy consumption in buildings. The GSA and other large portfolio owners are solidly making the business case for green buildings. That’s just a small part of the big picture.

Amid all these vectors and movements in the industry, the AIA Board of Directors voted this past December to allow the sustainable design requirement to sunset at the end of 2012, meaning that AIA members will no longer need to complete the four hour requirement to fulfill their AIA continuing education. (For 2013, AIA members are required to satisfy a minimum of 18 LUs per year. Of this total, 12 must meet the Health, Safety, and Welfare criteria.)

The mainstreaming of SD education coincides with, as an industry, removing sustainability from the margin. As such, the AIA’s commitment to a sustainable built environment has never been stronger, as demonstrated by the following snapshots of AIA programs.

Continuing Education and Convention

Energy modeling is a topic in high demand, and starting with courses available online now, the AIA is continuing to develop resources to help you integrate energy modeling into your practice. We are also developing specialized tracks on the virtual convention site, and course offerings at the 2013 AIA Convention that will help take away the guesswork of where to start on this increasingly important topic.

The 2030 Commitment

The 2030 Commitment is a program aimed at reducing energy consumption in the built environment by the year 2030. Member firms sign on by sending a letter of commitment and following through with sustainability plans and reporting on projects. In the four years since launching the program, about 50 AIA member firms have joined on average per year. The intent is to grow the program while supporting the participating firms as they help facilitate the transformation of architectural practice.

Each year, the AIA publishes a report on the progress of participating firms. “Measuring Industry Progress Towards 2030” discusses the intent of the program, defines the program elements, outlines the methodology for reporting progress, and provides a snapshot of the compiled results.

The AIA recently released five case studies of participating firms that examine the challenges and successes of implementing the initiative through interviews with those overseeing the effort. Each firm has its own unique issues to address. For some it may be the need to change firm culture. For others, it may be developing a process for consistently tracking a portfolio of several hundred projects.  The purpose of the reporting process and the data it produces is to help firms define a clearer path toward improving the outcomes of all projects. It’s about fostering an environment of knowledge sharing and collaboration among firms to collectively strive for improvement as a profession.

Green Codes and Standards – A regulatory path to 2030

Once enacted as law, green codes are less about idealistic goals and more about a pragmatic approach to designing and constructing buildings around performance goals--and compliance is mandatory. In order to see widespread adoption of these new minimum standards, there are fundamental changes that need to occur in the industry to create a deep cultural shift among architects, code officials and owners. The development of energy and green codes has become divided along political lines, influenced by material and product interests, and have thus far not been focused on the basics of health, safety, and welfare to gain significant buy-in from jurisdictions. The AIA’s work in codes advocacy and development aims to make the IgCC and Energy Codes not only better over time, but a palatable option for local and state governments to demonstrate their commitment to reducing natural resource consumption and waste.

The AIA has created a Guide to the IgCC, an overview of the code with recommendations on how to integrate its use into practice. Companion to the IgCC Guide, the AIA’s Guide to Integrating Energy Modeling in Practice addresses the ins and outs, challenges and benefits of energy modeling, as it relates to not only the IgCC, but as an overall design approach.

Federal Advocacy

In recent years, the AIA has emerged as a national leader on advancing policies that promote sustainable design, working to enact legislation in 2007 that applies the 2030 goals to federal buildings. In 2013, the AIA is working to extend and enhance incentives for energy efficient design, including the 179D energy efficient commercial building tax deduction. The AIA is working to build support for proposals to provide enhanced depreciation for energy-efficient building components and valuation of energy-efficient property in mortgages. The AIA also is working with the White House to advance its Better Building Initiative, and with the DOE to promote research into sustainable design and energy modeling.

AIA Contract Documents

In 2012, AIA Contract Documents released five new documents for use on sustainable projects. Following up on its popular Guide for Sustainable Projects, these AIA sustainable project documents address the new roles, responsibilities, and risks inherent in sustainable design and construction projects to the party in the best position to address them. The documents provide a comprehensive approach to managing sustainable projects (from initial goal-setting through project completion and certification), and allocating responsibility among project participants.

What’s Ahead

In the years and decades ahead, the AIA and the architects that fill its ranks will be designing housing and communities for a rapidly retiring and aging population, 80 percent of which are expected to live in urban areas in the next 20 years, all of whom will be consuming ever-dwindling natural resources

It could be a crisis. But aging national infrastructure, increasing costs and frequency of natural disasters, and a demonstrated and immediate need for resilient design all present business opportunities for architects, opportunities for high-performance retrofits, building commissioning, energy modeling, and most importantly, sustainable design leadership. Making the business case for sustainable design has never been more relevant, and the AIA is developing resources so you can make the case to clients to enhance and strengthen your business.

There’s a lot of work going on in sustainability, and when we step back and take a look at just a few initiatives, they span across the practice of architecture. The laws that regulate design and construction, advances in building science and technologies, and a strong business case for high performance design form a holistic picture of sustainability policy that AIA members continue to develop though work in their practices, in the classroom, as contributors on guides and resources, and in conversations with owners, lawmakers, and neighbors. There is no time like the present to get involved and make change happen.



Visit the AIA’s Sustainability landing page.

Visit the Technical Design and Building Performance Knowledge Community web site on AIA KnowledgeNet.

Visit the AIA’s IgCC web site.

Read the AIA’s Energy Modeling Guide.

Visit the AIA Advocacy web site.


Back to AIArchitect January 25, 2012

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