It's Time for a Climate Change Intervention

Edward Mazria speaking at ULI New Mexico Luncheon

Posted by Aimee Smith

Edward Mazria's presentation for the Urban Land Institute had a strikingly different tone than is typical of the sensitive topics of climate change, energy, and sustainability. As the founder of Architecture 2030 and an internationally recognized architect, planner, author, and educator, Mazria has an insightful perspective on the many-faceted challenges of creating a sustainable built environment. He shared some new (at least to me) and surprisingly positive information about the front lines of the quest towards net zero buildings. Spoiler alert: The design community is leading the charge!

First, we took a look at where we are now. Just how much construction has occurred in the last 120 years? The images from 1891 and 2010 of Toronto's Flatiron building in the city context serves as an example of what has occurred in urban environments the world over, which has consequently contributed to 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Then, we looked at where we will be by 2030. In just 15 years, we will construct 900 billion square feet of new and rebuilt buildings worldwide. To put that into perspective, that means we are building New York City every 35 days. Let that sink in for a second. To disrupt the trend of unsustainable development, we as a global community are in need of an intervention.

Flatiron Building, Toronto in 1891 compared to surrounding cityscape in 2010.

Toronto's Flatiron Building in 1891 (left) and 2010 (right).

Mazria founded Architecture 2030, issuing the 2030 Challenge for Buildings which calls for all new buildings and major renovations to be carbon neutral by 2030. Then, expanding the campaign to existing buildings at a neighborhood scale and beyond, Architecture 2030 issued the 2030 Challenge for Planning, which asks neighborhoods, towns, and cities to commit to 50% reductions in water usage, carbon dioxide emissions from transportation, and fossil fuel energy consumption from existing buildings by 2030. It may sound like an unobtainable goal, but these planning goals are being followed by 2030 Districts set up across the country. Like a snowball rolling down a hill and getting bigger, more and more members of the design community are joining in. Some heavyweights include the Federal Government with the Energy Independence & Security Act Sec. 433, California with ZNE- 2030, AIA, USGBC, ASHRAE, ASID, and the list goes on and on.

Graphic of globe showing 2030 Districts.

When looking to reduce energy consumption, architects and designers take a performance based approach, focusing on desired performance of a building in order to make decisions and encourage innovation. To help make these decisions, new modeling programs provide the opportunity for real-time energy analysis. Thanks to these programs, designers and developers can see how window placement, shading devices, insulation, and other design considerations affect the total energy load of a building.

Another tool that is free to use is the 2030 Palette. Here you can look at sustainable design strategies and materials from every scale of the built environment to find what works for your project. And it encourages innovation as you can submit palettes to be added to the database for others to research and build upon. As a community, we can design even smarter buildings and help 2030 Districts achieve their goals. See the snowball getting bigger?

2030 Palette

2030 Districts bring all the players of community development (property owners and managers, local governments, and business and community stakeholders) to the table to work towards meeting the dramatic reductions in water and energy use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions outlined in the 2030 Challenge for Planning. Currently, eight cities have achieved the required criteria to become 2030 Districts and eight more are emerging districts; among those is our very own ABQ! Albuquerque's Innovation Corridor is an emerging district with the potential to become a net zero community.

Let's geek out over a few graphs that show just how far we've come and why net zero buildings, or carbon neutral, is within reach.

U.S. Building Operations 2005-2030

GRAPH 1: This first graph shows how much our Building Operations have reduced Btu (the British thermal unit used to measure power) consumption from initial projections since 2005, when the U.S. reached peak oil. Rather than reaching Btu projections based on trends before 2005, we have instead leveled our energy use, resulting in much lower estimated energy needs through 2030.

U.S. Building Operations 2005-2030

GRAPH 2: Not only have we saved energy, but we've also saved tax payer money: about $560 billion so far, and an estimated $4.61 trillion if we simply stay on track. The best available demand technology line shows that we can save even more energy simply by using our best tools and technology. Solar and other renewable energy sources are expected to help us continue to make progress to that almighty net zero!

Share of Global Capacity Power Additions

GRAPH 3: Renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, biomass, and hydro) are becoming more available, cheaper, and all around more feasible. And guess where the fastest growth is? Solar! You saw this coming right? After all Edward Mazria's Passive Solar Energy Book is required reading in architectural studios across the country and is considered the 'bible' of solar design. What used to be a tiny slice of the pie has grown to be 1/3 of the additional Global Power Capacity.

Cost of Energy in the U.S.

GRAPH 4: There is good reason to believe solar is the leader of renewable energies. The cost of solar energy has plummeted from $1,100/Gigajoule in 1980 to just around $50/Gigajoule today. It is on its way to becoming the most affordable energy source, surpassing crude oil and natural gas. In the graph above, the dollar amounts have been adjusted for inflation to illustrate the rapidly declining price of solar energy compared to other sources.

The building industry's efforts to fight climate change is gaining momentum. Check out the 2030 Challenge and join the intervention!