Tag Archives: 2030 Challenge

Why Architects Must Lead on Sustainable Design

Not a single school of architecture requires every student to be fully trained in the principles of sustainable design. The report offered recommendations for transforming education that included the “Sustainable Environmental Design Education” model curriculum, but to my knowledge, no school has adopted these or similar guidelines.

Architecture is an essential arena for sustainable innovation. Buildings represent about half the annual energy and emissions in the U.S. and three-quarters of its electricity. With the built environment growing — the U.S. building stock increases by about 3 billion square feet every year — architects have a historic opportunity to transform its impact for the better.

In 2006, the American Institute of Architects wisely adopted Architecture 2030’s “2030 Challenge,” an initiative seeking carbon neutrality in the industry by 2030. “[W]e believe we must alter our profession’s actions,” the AIA 2030 Commitment says, “and encourage our clients and the entire design and construction industry to join with us to change the course of the planet’s future.”

The AIA, however, recently removed sustainable design from members’ annual continuing education requirements: “Recognizing that sustainable design practices have become a mainstream design intention in the architectural community, the board of directors has voted to allow the sustainable design education requirement to sunset at the end of calendar year 2012,” the institute reports. Other kinds of continuing education credits remain mandatory.

In the culture of design, innovation often means little more than aesthetic novelty. Google the phrase “innovative architecture” and you find a lot of provocative geometry, but few if any groundbreaking solutions to the most serious problems. Design can be a powerful agent for change, but design awards and media attention generally celebrate imagery over innovation.

Six steps to change:

  1. Immediately, every organization that gives design awards to architects can begin rewarding only structures that meet at least a minimum standard of sustainable performance.
  2. Within six months, every design magazine can begin featuring only buildings that meet at least a minimum standard of sustainable performance.
  3. Within one year, every public agency, including federal, state and local governments, can require every project beginning development in that year to meet current targets for the 2030 Commitment.
  4. Within two years, every American architecture firm can adopt the 2030 Commitment and meet current targets for all projects begun that year.
  5. Within three years, every American licensing agency can require that every architect demonstrate a minimum level of competency around sustainable design in order to maintain a license to practice.
  6. Within four years, every school of architecture can transform its curriculum to ensure that every graduating student is fully trained in the principles and practice of sustainable design.


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