First, the good news: Architecture firms are continuing to sign on to the AIA’s 2030 Commitment, and the number of firms reporting progress and initiatives to the AIA on an annual basis rose six percent in 2012, according to the AIA’s latest report on the program, “Measuring Industry Progress Toward 2030.” The annual report synthesizes year-end assessments provided by firms who have pledged to work toward carbon neutrality by the year 2030.

And now the bad: Overall, less than half of the firms that have signed on to the commitment (46 percent) participated in the 2012 reporting process. This is a seven percent decrease in the overall reporting rate from 2011 and raises the question of whether signatory firms are tracking their progress toward carbon neutrality and how they are doing so. Also of interest is the report data that notes that of the firms participating in the program, just over half (57 percent) are using energy modeling to predict energy consumption—leaving large room for improvement. “Sustainability provides the prism through which architects and architecture firms are designing today,” said AIA Chief Executive Officer Robert Ivy, FAIA in a release. “But we still need to have energy modeling become standard for every design project if we are going to meet our ultimate goal of carbon neutral buildings.”

Established in 2009, the AIA 2030 Commitment is a voluntary initiative in which AIA member firms pledge to make multiyear action plans around the goal of producing carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030. It is not operated in conjunction with the 2030 Challenge from Architecture 2030, a common misconception. The AIA program was launched to bring a reporting framework and level of accountability to the 2030 goals and so, under their AIA commitment, firms agree to implement action items to reduce the environmental impact of firm operations and are asked to submit assessments of their design work each year via an Excel-based reporting tool. It is not, according to AIA, a report card or judging of individual firm efforts, nor is it a ranking system. Rather, the organization asserts in the report, the reporting is representative of a larger commitment across the industry to share knowledge and institute changes across the profession. “What firms should understand,” says Clark Brockman, AIA, principal at SERA Architects in Portland, Ore., in the report, “is that the struggle doesn’t indicate failure—simply tracking performance is beneficial by raising awareness, and modest improvements are valuable even if they fall short of the current 2030 target.”

It seems the industry has much room for improvement. Some key takeaways of the report include:

  • Energy modeling should increase—yet the total percentage of projects employing this remains constant. Since 2010 results were reported, the number of projects using energy modeling has remained constant at 57-58 percent. Yet the report data shows a 20 percent increase in energy-use reduction for those projects that use energy models and, the report notes, “For 43 percent of our work, we cannot tell our client what they might expect for energy use.” So what’s the hesitation to employ this tool more often?
  • A majority of firms still are not collecting actual energy use data. Just as in 2011, in 2012 45 percent of the gross square footage reported will also have actual energy use data collected. Again, the question arises: What is the hesitation to verify predictions? Without examining actual performance, how can a firm determine which strategies are successful and which are not?
  • Square footage being tracked is on the rise. While the number of participating firms reporting data to the AIA is less than half of the total pledge pool, the total amount of gross square feet being monitored rose dramatically in 2012 to 1.4 billion gross square feet from 656.2 million gross square feet in 2011, a 120 percent increase.
  • Small firms continue to hesitate to participate in the commitment. While the AIA estimates that roughly 80 percent of its members work in firms with less than 10 employees, the majority of the assessment data in 2012 came from much larger firms, with the largest amount of information coming from firms reporting 100–499 employees. Larger firms also showed a higher participation rate of the total number of signatory firms, with 55 percent of the signatory firms with 100–499 employees providing data. In comparison, of signatory firms with only 2–4 employees, only 18 percent reported data and of firms with 5–9 employees, 12 percent provided assessment data.

This year’s report also included project-level data for the first time, with more than 52 firms participating in a pilot program to analyze data at the project level for more than 1,600 design projects. Click here to read the full AIA report on the 2012 assessment data.

Is your firm participating in the AIA 2030 Commitment? If so, what lessons have you learned in doing so? If not, why not?