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The AIA 2030 Commitment Series 2 of 3: An Interview with NBBJ

21 March 2012 | Posted By Jeff Cole 7,301 views No Comment

Our coverage of NBBJ’s experience with the 2030 Commitment is the second part of our mini-series about the 2030 Commitment and its impact upon Pacific Northwest architecture firms. Part 1, summarizing national results and the experience of Mithun Architects can be read here .

NBBJ is one of the largest firms in the United States, with 600-700 total staff. The firm headquarters is in Seattle, with large design studios in Beijing, Boston, Columbus, London, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, and Shanghai.

History of interest/focus on green buildings/performance/sustainability

We spoke with Margaret Montgomery, an NBBJ Principal and one of the firm’s architects, who has been working on sustainability issues for 20 years. She explained that “for a long time sustainability, green building, and energy performance have been ingrained in the NBBJ value system, without being fully integrated into actions, firm wide. For the past decade, there has been a consistently increasing focus upon (and more sophisticated understanding of) linkages among Impacts upon the natural environment, the human/built environment, and building performance.”

NBBJ management recognized that the AIA Commitment was needed to put teeth into the 2030 Challenge and to help make the Challenge executable. While the implications of the 2030 Challenge were immediately understood, with its large health care portfolio, it took NBBJ some time to consider how to deliver on the Commitment, and the firm spent a year or so working with NEEA’s BetterBricks initiative and the Puget Sound Integrated Design Lab to better understand what it would mean to make the 2030 Commitment. In the industry, there have been two schools of thought about the 2030 Commitment: one unwilling to commit unless sure it could deliver, the other choosing to commit, to drive progress. Ultimately, an internal convergence of these two perspectives lead NBBJ to make the commitment. According to Margaret, “the Commitment and the Challenge have affected goals, process, and performance — providing a structure and framework to support and strengthen what NBBJ was already doing.”

Organization to Manage Performance Challenges

NBBJ manages sustainability and performance initiatives, primarily, via a loose network of sustainability staff within the firm’s studios. In addition, there are a small number of people within the firm that are tasked with providing sustainability support across studios and projects. This support is typically delivered from within project teams that are formed by breaking out of the traditional studio silos. Margaret Montgomery explains, “there’s a focus on getting the right people on the right projects. We’ve worked hard over the past few years to break down barriers. Studios provide a home, but we also need to draw on resources across the firm.”

NBBJ’s 2010 portfolio

NBBJ’s 2010 design portfolio was diverse, but heavily weighted toward health care projects (along with laboratories, one of the most difficult building types to design to meet the 2030 Challenge).

  • 11.5 million gsf reported to AIA
  • 5 million gsf health care
  • 2.6 million gsf office (1 million gsf in eastern Europe)
  • 0.7 million gsf higher education
  • 0.5 million gsf of civic projects
  • projected energy reductions producing $5 million in cost savings

NBBJ tracked predicted energy use, by project, employing both code and CBECS baseline:

  • 38% met the 60% goal
  • The average predicted savings was 51%
  • Health care savings varied from 10% to nearly 60% reduction from CBECS, a few were between 50-60%. (The lower percentages were typically for projects started a number of years ago.) Health care projects frequently met a savings target of 30% savings below a targeted ASHRAE Code baseline.
  • There were office projects and a courthouse that exceeded 60% savings

During 2010, NBBJ did not track LPD for interiors projects, but intends to do so in 2011.


Twenty-three of twenty-six projects, equivalent to 64% of reported gross square footage, were modeled (the 36% weighted average square footage, without models, amounted to a couple of large projects, including a 3 million gsf project in Kuwait).

Use Data

NBBJ is currently collecting data on about 70% of reported projects, but aspires to collect more. With LEED projects, collection is often being done via the Building Performance Partnership, using Energy Star Portfolio Manager accounting capabilities. There is a general firm commitment to increased measurement and verification activity.

NBBJ Lessons Learned

  • It has become necessary to be very methodical about collecting data, across the firm.
  • A refined internal education strategy has been developed, to get people to deliver.
  • Assumptions about designing for high performance are getting better, greatly increasing awareness and the ability of teams to make the right initial assumptions and to ask necessary questions:
    • start project with a benchmark target:
    • form a team with the right consultants, with all essential skill sets; and
    • engage an energy modeler early in the project.
  • Revit software capabilities have helped to support 2030 goals; internal NBBJ teams can now perform weather analysis, assess solar impact and model certain design strategies.
  • The firm is currently working very hard to increase understanding of the impacts of daylight and views on people; helping the health care practice address the healing elements of design.
  • International projects are problematic when it comes to the 2030 Commitment. NBBJ has a significant number of international competition projects in very early design stages. Often, after schematic design, these projects are completed by local firms. So, there is a need to ensure good tracking at the end of schematic design, and NBBJ is discussing the benchmarking of international projects with the AIA national committee, considering an approach similar to the benchmarking of domestic projects, to support consistency and help ensure success.
  • In general, the firm is acquiring more and more data to support decisions that had previously been intuitive.

External Collaboration – Seattle 2030 Roundtable

NBBJ participates in the Seattle roundtable of firms who have signed on to the 2030 Commitment. Margaret provided a wonderful statement about the functioning of the Roundtable: “In the conventional realm we’re competitors, in the sustainability realm we’re more like teammates. We all need to get there. The sustainability community, within the industry, is open and willing to collaborate in a way that lifts the whole profession.”

NBBJ Project: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: 40% savings from baseline.


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