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The AIA 2030 Commitment Series 3 of 3: An Interview with ZGF

12 April 2012 | Posted By Jeff Cole 10,718 views No Comment

The following review of ZGF’s experience with the 2030 Commitment is the third part of our consideration of 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. Part 2 discussed NBBJ’s experience.

A number of years ago, ZGF’s Managing Partner, Bob Packard, at a large firm roundtable, suggested that all the firms in attendance should sign on to the 2030 Commitment. ZGF senior management was enthusiastic from the start, but internal, self-education about the implications of committing to the goal was necessary: what would be potential impacts with a large portfolio of health care, institutional laboratory projects (that also have a high density of energy use), and other projects that have unique challenges.

ZGF characteristics

ZGF has roughly 450-500 professional staff across five offices, the Portland headquarters, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington DC and New York City. We spoke with Chris Chatto, associate partner, about the firm’s energy efficiency efforts and the 2030 Commitment. Chris explained that an internal Project Performance group (ZGF has taken to using “project performance” internally and “sustainability” externally), with four staff in Portland and Seattle, pretty much devoted to this work, become involved with multiple project teams. The Project Performance group deals with making the 2030 Challenge and various metrics quantifiable and also works with various aspects of the Integrated Design process. About twelve others, representing the various departments within the firm (architecture, interior design, and urban design) contribute their time and expertise to this group, in addition to their project responsibilities.

Interiors and LPD

ZGF did not did not have the infrastructure in place to track and report the LPD of interiors projects in 2010. A current initiative will facilitate improved LPD tracking.

Energy Modeling

Of the reported 2010 portfolio of projects, 60% of new construction projects had energy models. As Chris pointed out, this metric is somewhat dependent upon the design phase (ZGF’s in-house analysis is that by the end of construction documents, 80-90% of their projects are modeled). Some health care projects do not require energy modeling and some owners reject the opportunity to model, no matter how much the designers promote the value.

Projects that did not have models (yet) were able to report higher levels of predicted performance if a design goal had been established, but ZGF did not have a mechanism to track energy performance goals across all reported projects at the time the 2010 data was assembled. Looking forward, a plan is now in place to assume an explicit energy goal setting leadership role, working with owners and consulting engineers

ZGF does some early stage “shoe box” modeling in house, mostly using eQUEST, with occasional use of Ecotect and other tools. Detailed energy models are constructed by consulting engineers.



  • Six of 60 projects met or exceeded the 2030 Challenge (2010) 60% threshold. Each of these six projects was under 200 thousand gsf.
  • The largest project reported for 2010 was 1.4 million gsf.
  • As reported, gsf weighted average reduction in energy use, was 25% (on a project count basis, this might look more like 30%). This savings number was skewed low by projects that were not modeled, which had to use either a default code versus CBECs baseline calculation, or a concept and schematic energy performance goal, which was not credited as highly as modeled results.
  • ZGF’s highest performing project was a 10,000 sf net zero energy environmental education center
  • The lowest performing predicted energy use was for projects reporting 0% savings, which is what was required for projects with no model and no code, to establish a baseline (the case for some international projects that ZGF had on the boards).
  • On the other hand some large projects were in the range of 60-65%, with office projects predicted to perform extremely well.
  • Many projects are predicted to save 40-60% from the baseline. Chris observed that ZGF, like others, has noted that a number of ASHRAE 2007 compliant projects are being predicted to achieve 40-45% reductions relative to CBECS.

Some ZGF Lessons Learned

  • One very important result from participation in the 2030 Commitment is that it has raised the level of energy performance information within ZGF, increasing transparency and facilitating useful discussion, both inside and outside the firm. Having numbers, both for projects that look really good and those not as successful, prompts useful analysis and consideration of performance.
  • ZGF is building a relational database, moving beyond spreadsheets, to track multiple EUIs, for multiple strategies, and how these EUIs evolve over time. The database will track performance data and integrate with other project data that the firm tracks. 2010 results will serve as a firm baseline, for comparison with their 2011 portfolio and into the future.
  • Of the 2010 portfolio reported for 2030 Commitment purposes, Chris estimates that 25% were pursuing LEED (on a project basis), 25-40% on a gsf basis. His perception is that LEED has been most successful transforming markets related to sustainable materials. ZGF has internalized a good bit of this aspect of sustainability and delivers high levels of sustainable materials performance on pretty much all projects, but is not yet as successful with energy performance.
  • Some building types are tougher than others. The weighted average of ZGF projects is heavily influenced by large health care projects, which are typically large users of energy. Labs, for institutional clients, also have a high energy density.

Some clients are tougher than others. If energy modeling is not required, either because of the building type or the location, it is not always possible to convince owners of the benefits of energy modeling. And, without modeling as a tool, it is more difficult to optimize predicted savings.

Federal Center South, Seattle: Projected EUI less than 24 kBTU/sf-year, 38% below an ASHRAE 2007 benchmark – Image by ZGF


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