J. Carrier

This month marks 50 years since Earth Day was first observed in 1970. It’s a good opportunity to take stock of our efforts—as individuals and as a profession—to answer humanity’s collective call to climate action. As the global impact of COVID-19 crisis reminds us, we’re all in this together.

I’m pleased to report it’s been a productive year of action for The American Institute of Architects.

Since our members overwhelmingly approved a resolution last May making climate action our top priority, we’ve been working to turn policy into action—marshaling all our resources toward reducing carbon in the built environment and adapting buildings to the change already happening.

I’d like to highlight just a few of the actions we’re taking.

Most significantly, we’ve developed a new Climate Action Plan designed to set out actionable, measurable steps toward achieving net-zero emissions in the building sector by 2050. The three overarching goals are: mitigating the sources, adapting to the impacts, and catalyzing architects to act.

We have a number of long-standing programs to build on.

Through the Framework for Design Excellence—formerly known as the COTE Top Ten—we’re ensuring sustainability goals are fully actionable.

Another resource is the 2030 Commitment—a program that’s workable for firms of all sizes. Ten percent of the firms reporting employ fewer than 10 people, and they are achieving an average predicted energy use intensity (pEUI) reduction of 60%; 37% of the firms reporting have more than 100 people with the average pEUI reduction of 46%. Collectively, pEUI reductions recorded by the reported projects translate to estimated reductions equivalent to 17.7 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.

That progress goes to show that the 2030 Commitment is not for the 1%. It’s for everyone. In 2018, only 252 firms reported data to the Design Data Exchange. That is only 1% of architecture firms in the United States. My personal goal for 2020 is to double the number of firms participating and reporting their data.

We know that the cooperation of clients, community partners, and policymakers is essential to success. So we’re strategically stepping up our engagement with these critical allies. To help make the business case for green design to our clients, AIA is researching the return on investment on carbon reduction and sustainability features in buildings.

Through partnerships with organizations like the U.S. Conference of Mayors, we’re expanding outreach to civic leaders on the front lines of the climate fight in U.S. cities—coordinating on joint events and initiatives. At our annual Grassroots Conference in February, we hosted a panel of mayors to continue the dialogue. Our participation in ARCHITECT's CarbonPositive conference in March took our message not only to policymakers but to planners, engineers, builders, developers, and other potential allies.

Our new ad campaign underlines architecture’s climate leadership to an even wider audience. Set to run later this year on several major TV networks and social media channels, it’s designed not only to inform but to pledge action, and to assert the architecture profession’s ability and commitment to lead.

Looking ahead, we are developing a 2020 platform for architects that focuses on climate action. The platform will voice our priorities to national candidates at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions—highlighting some of the same solutions we’re advocating in Congress, local and state governments, and to global forums like the International Code Council.

That’s just a sampling of the progress we’ve achieved the past few months. More importantly, it’s an indication of progress yet to come. With our record 95,000 members and a renewed commitment to climate action, architects have never been better positioned to make a transformative global impact.