The value of regional collaboration: Lessons from Seattle's 2030 Roundtable
Working across competitive boundaries has yielded benefits for Seattle firms active in energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and the AIA 2030 Commitment.
In November 2009, a group of Seattle architects—passionate about sustainability in general and energy efficiency specifically—convened a gathering of like-minded experts over lunch. What brought these competitors together? The initial goal was to share resources and best practices as recent signatories of the newly released AIA 2030 Commitment, the national initiative to evaluate the impact of project design on energy performance. However, in the nearly nine years since then, we’ve learned just how much the crossing of our competitive boundaries can benefit our firms, our clients, and the built environment.
Start with the basics
At the outset, the 14 firms and organizations that gathered in Seattle focused on the logistics of filling out the 2030 spreadsheet of projects and getting teams to report energy data. To this day, we have kept our organizing structure straightforward. There are no officers, which helps create a level playing field and promotes a diversity of voices, interests, and expertise, as opposed to a small group of players with their own priorities driving the process. We also found that the common ground of the 2030 Commitment metrics meant that most of the challenges we faced were common ones, regardless of the size of our firm.
For many of us, although not as common as we’d like it to be, this spirit of collaboration was not unexpected. “We found that those in the sustainability movement and committed to working for positive environmental change, were more than willing to share their efforts to help the greater cause—especially as we were all grappling with similar challenges that would require cultural and market shifts,” said Amarpreet Sethi, who leads DLR Group’s Building Performance Design Group.
Build partnerships to expand focus and impact
We quickly discovered that, as important it was to understand the mechanics of project reporting and energy data, it would not be enough to make the kind of both immediate and enduring improvements in building efficiency that were—and are—needed to make a meaningful impact. Instead, we needed to leverage the opportunity and interest from our environmentally progressive and subject-matter-expert membership to focus on even bigger changes.
One of the most important factors that allowed us to take a broader focus were our stakeholder members, including the City of Seattle and Architecture 2030. While our group’s primary focus was on firms, we recognized the significance of participants who understood policy and could help connect designers and owners in meeting our goals.
"From the beginning, achieving the 2030 Challenge at scale has required the design community to learn and advance the practice of architecture together, including collectively identifying and removing barriers in public policies to achieving their goals,” explained Vincent Martinez, chief operating officer for Architecture 2030. “The Seattle 2030 Roundtable has not only fostered a collaborative learning environment among competitors, but it has contributed to the genesis of new local initiatives and actions creating sizable impact for the community."
Turning ideas into community action
With the support of stakeholder members, our work has included helping create Seattle city zoning incentives for energy efficient features in buildings, proposing language for both the Seattle and Washington State energy codes, and participating in the Seattle Living Building Challenge Pilot Program. We’ve advocated improvements to annual 2030 reporting methods and served as beta testers in the transition from spreadsheets to the 2030 Design Data Exchange (DDx).
The group has also hosted numerous community events—including town halls with local developers, architects, and engineers—to bring all project stakeholders to the table. In 2015, we worked with a financial expert from the building industry to better understand some of the unspoken hurdles to meeting the 2030 Commitment, such as encouraging developers to value energy efficiency measures in their buildings.
The value of collaboration, regardless of issue
Today, more than 100 monthly meetings later—and through job changes, the ebb and flow of regular meeting attendance, and the explosive growth of our city—we still gather to work together. While our group has grown to 18 member firms and our scope has expanded to encompass broader policy solutions, we still return to the basic building blocks of the 2030 Commitment. For instance, each year we’ve shared our reporting data anonymously among all our member firms, gaining insight from one another even as competitors. We’ve also continued to share best practices and lessons learned on changes in reporting and the mechanics of efficiently gathering data from project teams.
At every step, we have learned together as we pursue our mutual goals of advancing energy reduction and climate change mitigation. For many of us that have participated in the Seattle 2030 Roundtable over the years, the most significant value we have gained is the long-lasting collaboration between competing firms—value that transcends any specific policy interest or design expertise. In working together and sharing our experiences across competitive boundaries, we are renewed in our dedication to a broader mission, and the joy of what we do.
To find out more about firms that have made AIA's 2030 Commitment, visit the new 2030 Directory.
The following are all members of the Seattle 2030 Roundtable:
- Architecture 2030
- City of Seattle
- DLR Group
- Integrated Design Lab
- KMD Architects
- Miller Hull Partnership
- Seattle 2030 District
- University of Washington
- Weber Thompson
Chris Hellstern, AIA, is an architect, author, the Living Building Challenge Services Director with The Miller Hull Partnership in Seattle, and a founder of the Seattle 2030 Roundtable. His recent book, Living Building Education, chronicles the story behind the Bertschi School Living Science Building.