We humans have become an invasive species, gobbling up the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate. And the planet has clearly had enough, as showcased by the ever-increasing frequency of droughts, floods, superstorms, and wildfires—all strong signs that our relationship with our global home is out of whack. Scientists are now 95 percent certain that we humans are the main cause of our current global warming through our production of greenhouse gasses. Our temperatures and sea levels continue to rise in step with the amount of carbon in our atmosphere, which passed 400 parts per million (ppm) this year, making our current CO2 levels the highest found on Earth in millions of years and surpassing the previously identified safe threshold of 350 ppm. It is increasingly clear that this unbalanced relationship cannot continue. We can—and must—change.
The built environment plays a key role in this change. Fortunately, there are visionary practitioners across the building industry who are taking charge with gusto, embracing the challenges ahead not as insurmountable obstacles, but as opportunities for innovation. Take, for instance, the team at Architecture 2030, who established the 2030 Challenge, one of the industry’s first performance-based set of environmental benchmarks from which to navigate a new path. The path they have set up is incremental, setting targets that increase in stringency at defined intervals.
Inspired by their direction and specificity, last year we launched Vision 2020 to be an ongoing project that seeks to set and track critical metrics and milestones by which housing must adjust its business-as-usual paradigm. Time is of the essence, however, and to ensure that we don’t find ourselves in 2029 with little changed and much to do, we enlisted renowned thought leaders from across the industry to help us create a roadmap with a focus on the year 2020. Where do we need to be by then in order to be on track for 2030 goals? We increased our scope beyond energy and carbon to include seven other critical areas of study, and we have come to find that, as with the systems within a high-performance home, each of these sectors is critically linked with the others. Adjustments in one of these sectors—good or bad—cause ripple effects across all of them. This year, our program is headed by 10 visionaries—with whom we have conversed all year—along with representatives from the building products sector who signed on as Vision 2020 sustainability partners. For this special Vision 2020 issue, our focus area chairs have each written an essay that highlights key progress and, more important, essential developments and opportunities in each of their sectors.
As you’ll see in our updated timeline, we have made progress in the last 12 months, and more concrete targets emerge as we continue the discussions. Energy consumption is falling, albeit not fast enough. Legislation that supports green-building initiatives and better mechanisms for financing high-performance structures continues to be put forth, and federal and local governments are increasingly creating and releasing ambitious plans to reduce their use of natural resources and provide healthier, safer, more durable, and more affordable buildings. The market is beginning to demand better structures—and consumers are starting to pay a premium for it. But we have a tremendous amount of work left to do.
There is no one solution to all of the challenges we face—and you should find joy in that. In fact, there are probably a number of solutions that we have not yet even dared to dream up. The path ahead is both essential and exciting. We hope you take inspiration from the ideas that follow, and from the full breadth of our research at ecobuildingpulse.com/Vision-2020. We look forward to continuing on the path to a more sustainable future with you.