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The AIA 2030 Commitment: The Experience of Some Pacific Northwest Firms

8 March 2012 | Posted By Jeff Cole 3,346 views No Comment

This is the first installment of a three-part series focusing on the work of Northwest firms as it relates to the 2030 Commitment.

The AIA (American Institute of Architects) 2030 Commitment program is a call to action for firms to voluntarily track and report on the performance of their designs and the commitments they have made toward the Architecture 2030 Challenge goal of carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030 and to sustainable operating practices. At the end of 2010, 135 firms, nationally, had made the commitment and the AIA expected 125 firms to report progress. As it turned out, only fifty-six firms actually submitted reports by the April 2011 deadline. Read on, to learn about how those firms performed, and some of the collective lessons learned during the first year of the Commitment.

To better understand how the Commitment is impacting local practitioners, NEEA’s BetterBricks contacted three Pacific Northwest firms who entered into the 2030 Commitment and submitted 2010 reports, to discuss their initial performance and some of the adjustments that their firms are making. Representatives of each of the firms graciously shared the results of their initial year and their thoughts as they begin to assess 2011 results and prepare the second round of reports. Discussion of Mithun’s results follow; NBBJ and ZGF experiences will be posted, over the next couple of weeks.

2030 Commitment Basics

Firms signing a commitment letter pledge that within

  • two months, they will establish leadership to facilitate development and implementation of the firm’s 2030 Commitment plan;
  • six months, they will begin reducing the environmental impact of firm operations;
  • one year of signing the commitment, the firm will develop a long range sustainability action plan that aligns with 2030 Challenge benchmarks to achieve carbon neutrality.

Committed firms also submit annual progress reports by the end of the first quarter of each subsequent year.

The AIA created the 2030 Commitment in April 2009 and the first full year for which data could be reported was 2010 (with the reporting tool first made available May 2010, so that firms would know the measures and metrics that they were expected to report). To date, over 200 firms, nationally, have made the commitment. The first annual progress report, released by the AIA early in May 2011, consists of two major components:

Operational Data Collection and Reporting

Within six months of making the commitment, firms report on a minimum of four operational action areas—office energy use, waste reduction and supplies, transportation, and meeting procedures—that assess the firm’s impact on the environment. Various measures are reported in each area, along with the percentage of firms that have implemented, are in the process of implementing, or have not yet implemented each measure.

Design Portfolio Data Collection and Reporting

Reporting firms used a tool developed by the AIA to assess the performance of their complete 2010 design portfolio. Rather than preparing report cards on individual firms, the AIA has committed to using only aggregated results, to create a collective industry portrait.

The performance measure applied to the design portfolio is an energy use index for site energy, reported as Predicted Energy Use Intensity (or PEUI). This predicted EUI, for each reported project, is compared to a similar building, using the Department of Energy’s 2003 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). The percent EUI reduction from average is multiplied by the project’s gross square footage (GSF). The sum of these products, for each firm, during the reporting year, is divided by the sum of the GSF of the same projects, to calculate a weighted average percent reduction from average. The change in this weighted average, over time, is considered the firm’s progress toward the 2030 goal.

For interiors only projects, the reporting tool collects data on Lighting Power Density (LPD) as a significant indicator of the design energy use.

2010 Results

Gross Square Footage reported for the 56 firms in 2010

384.9 Million GSF

Firm PEUI Percentage Reduction from Average EUI

35.1%

Largest PEUI reduction reported by a firm

70.6%

Smallest PEUI reduction reported

11.6%

Percentage of active projects that met the 2010 goal of 60% reduction

12.1%

Largest % of GSF of active projects reported by a firm to reach the goal

69.8%

Smallest % of GSF of active projects to meet the goal reported by a firm

0% (multiple firms)

Percentage of lighting power density (LPD) reduction

21%

Percentage of projects being modeled (GSF)

58%

Percentage of projects that intend to collect actual data

38%

 2030 Commitment – Mithun

Mithun is a firm of architects, interior designers, landscape architects, urban designers and planners, headquartered in Seattle, with a satellite office in San Francisco. Overall staff is around 100, with 80-85 professionals. Mithun has a long history of interest and focus on energy performance, green buildings, and /sustainability. We spoke with Lynn McBride, AIA, Associate Principal and Caroline Sneed, Architect, Special Projects Manager, about Mithun and the 2030 Commitment.

It was clear that it was a ‘no-brainer for Mithun to make the commitment. They explained:

“Sustainability has always been a core value of the firm and joining the AIA 2030 Commitment was the next step in supporting this mission. We wanted to lead this effort for our industry, along with other firms that were early adopters of the AIA 2030 Commitment.”

“Yet, we didn’t want to sign up without carefully considering the implications. There was still a need for discussion: all consultants and team members would need to be prepared; clients would need to be committed. These challenges fostered additional discussion and lead to interest in educating clients about the value of the 2030 Challenge. Although not all clients will be able to fully commit to the Challenge, we strive to inform them about its importance and long-term value, and work toward achieving the highest energy savings possible for the project.”

Mithun’s 2010 Design Portfolio

Mithun’s 2010 portfolio was varied, with multi-family apartments, restaurants and hotels, office, retail, a spa, an outdoor education facility, a research lab center, and a major university project. Average project performance was about the same as the national average of reporting firms: 35% better than the CBECS average. The percentage of Mithun’s projects meeting the 2030 goal was also around the same as the national average of reporting firms (12%). The best performing projects were:

  • Outdoor adventure facility –environmental education “tree house” – 80% reduction
  • Chatham University, Eden Hall Campus, Pittsburgh, PA—a campus project with buildings targeting the Living Building Challenge, Passive House, LEED Platinum, and SITES; the classroom and support buildings are predicted to have an 83% reduction from average

Interiors and LPD

LPD was tracked and recorded for the handful of 2010 interiors projects. Mithun found the LPD metric useful for those projects not receiving envelope upgrades. According to Lynn and Caroline, the 2030 Commitment created more awareness of the use of LPD as a performance metric: while LPD had previously been incorporated into the electrical package, it now increased sensitivity to how effectively LPD and other metrics might serve as predictors of energy performance. It also lead to further firm consideration of measuring the energy use of plug loads, or other “tenant” related (non-shell and core) items.

Modeling

Around 30% of 2010 reported projects had energy models. Mithun’s Sustainability Action Plan currently calls for all projects to be modeled and the firm is developing strategies to achieve this within typical project budgetary constraints.

Lessons Learned

After the first year of reporting, Mithun has learned some useful lessons:

  • It is extremely difficult to reduce energy use across all buildings; just in reporting, different project types face different challenges.
  • A significant number of projects did not have energy models, so the firm needed to assume code performance for reporting, probably underreporting savings.
  • Mithun learned quite a bit about what it will take to meet the net zero energy performance requirement in 2030, not only how building design will need to change, but how much end users will need to change behavior. As a result, the Mithun Action Plan includes additional efforts related to education of end users and development of strategies to also secure end-user commitments to 2030 goals.
  • The need for energy modeling earlier in the design process and consideration(s) of how to further refine consultant modeling scope.
  • Ideas to expand the 2030 Challenge beyond building energy use, to include Mithun’s planning group and landscape architects, with initial discussion of metrics related to exterior lighting, exterior power usage, and water usage.
  • As much progress as has been made internally, efforts are still needed to ensure everyone is sufficiently engaged; more internal classes will be developed to focus upon the 2030 Commitment and the Living Building Challenge.
  • New project documentation protocols ask project managers to consider the target EUI early in the design process and to ensure EUI tracking throughout the design process, with benchmarking against the 2030 Commitment at the end of each design phase.

Internal Organization Related to Performance

Mithun’s Core 2030 Team has been formed to support the firm’s 2030 Commitment Action Plan and to help create a culture that broadly supports the project teams. The Core Team is currently working on implementation of the sustainability action plan, addressing tasks such as:

  • Creating an easy project-reporting interface on the firm’s intranet, with progress on critical metrics reported at each project milestone.
  • Updating contract language to include energy modeling as a basic service and working with the firm’s collaborating engineers to develop focused scopes of work for energy modeling of different project types and scales.
  • In-house classes and staff meetings to advance staff education.
  • Effectively incorporating EUI into all staff’s vocabulary
  • An energy audit of Mithun office space and future implementation of changes
  • Updating all office forms and checklists to consider the 2030 Commitment as an aspect of each project; for example, the internal QSP (Quality Support Process) is being expanded beyond original code check functions, to incorporate 2030 Commitment, with a 2030 checklist at each design phase.

Seattle 2030 Roundtable

Both Caroline Sneed and Lynn McBride represent Mithun as participants on a Roundtable of Seattle architecture firms who have signed the 2030 Commitment. They point out that even though competition among architecture firms is particularly high these days, the Roundtable has been a successful forum to share information among colleagues; representing a changed industry dialog surrounding sustainability and building performance, where it is safe to discuss common challenges, and where firms are able to collaborate rather than just compete.

Chatham University Eden Hal, Richland Township, PA

Chatham University Eden Hall Campus, Richalnd Township, PA
Classroom and support buildings predicted to use 83% less energy than average.

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