Casey Dunn Designed by Lake|Flato, the Dixon Water Foundation Josey Pavilion, in Decatur, Texas, is a net-zero energy project.

In 2015, the AIA 2030 Commitment upped its targeted predicted energy use intensity (pEUI) reduction to 70 percent of the building-performance baselines set in the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey. According to the “AIA 2030 Commitment 2015 Progress Report,” released today, the design industry is not on pace to meeting the ambitious goal of having every project designed by a signatory firm achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

The commitment is a global initiative to help architecture and engineering firms track their progress toward the 2030 Challenge established by Architecture 2030. This challenge set incremental benchmarks for pEUI reduction starting with 50 percent in 2005, and increasing by 10 percent for every five years thereafter, until reaching 100 percent by 2030.

Last year, the 5,982 whole-building projects and 4,461 interiors projects reported on the AIA’s 2030 Design Data Exchange (DDx), an online platform for signatories to record and track their projects, fell significantly short of the 70 percent goal, with an average pEUI reduction of 38.1 percent. This is a slight improvement from the 2014 average pEUI reduction of 36.9 percent. In 2010, the first reporting year for signatories, the average pEUI reduction was 35 percent.

But all is not glum.

The bold 70 percent pEUI reduction goal was attained by 3.9 percent of the 2.6 billion gross square footage of reported projects, the highest ever reported. An additional 3.3 percent of gross square footage achieved a 60 percent pEUI reduction, the 2010–2014 goal of the 2030 Commitment. (However, this latter value is actually 4 percent less than that in 2014.)

All told, 614 projects of the 10,443 whole-building and interiors reported projects met the 60 percent reduction target, a 42 percent increase from 2014.

Predicted EUI reduction bins comparing gross square footage of modeled and non-modeled projects.
AIA 2030 Commitment 2015 Progress Report Predicted EUI reduction bins comparing gross square footage of modeled and non-modeled projects.

Forty-two percent of the commitment’s signatories, or 152 out of 366 firms, reported data last year, an 8.9 percent increase in the proportion of firms reporting in 2014.

The results in the report "are disappointing, frankly," says Greg Mella, FAIA, SmithGroupJJR's director of sustainable design and co-chair of the AIA 2030 Commitment Working Group. "I was hoping to see more progress, but we’re not going to get there overnight. The idea of the 2030 Challenge still makes sense. We need to get there incrementally. If we were already at 70 percent [pEUI reduction], we would need to increase [our savings] at 2 percent a year. Now we need to focus on achieving 5 percent a year to play catch-up and hopefully we can catch up."

Energy Modeling
The report emphasizes the value of energy modeling in meeting the increasingly stringent benchmarks: “If energy models are defined early in the process, targets and strategies can be refined to meet programmatic goals while hitting predicted energy reduction goals.” It also includes a case study on Lake|Flato in which the firm’s sustainability manager, Heather Holdridge, Assoc. AIA, refutes an antiquated approach to assessing a project’s energy usage. “Before models we had been relying on our intuition—and we’ve learned that intuition isn’t always right,” she says.

In 2015, 59 percent of the gross square footage in whole building projects was designed using energy modeling, about 15 percent higher than that reported in 2014. U.S. projects that were modeled achieved an average pEUI reduction of 41.1 percent, as compared to the projects that were not modeled, which had an average pEUI reduction of 36.9 percent.

Notably, 30 percent of projects that weren’t energy modeled still exceeded a 40 percent reduction in pEUI, thanks to the increasing stringency of energy regulations across the country. “Codes are driving improvement from the bottom,” the report’s authors write.

Through the DDx, the AIA also garnered data on which modeling tools are popular among the signatories, and which project team member conducts the energy model. Among architects, Sefaira was the most popular software among signatories, while engineers and energy modeling consultants preferred IES–Virtual Environment and the U.S. Department of Energy’s eQuest.

Modeling tool of choice by the responsible party among the project team
AIA 2030 Commitment 2015 Progress Report Modeling tool of choice by the responsible party among the project team

In 2015, 76 countries reported projects, up from 51 countries in 2014. Within the United States, California not only had the highest number of projects, at 870, but also the projects with the highest average pEUI reduction, at 52.5 percent. The Golden State is known for pushing the envelope in building performance, with help from its California Energy Code, also known as Title 24, Part 6 of the California Code of Regulations, which mandates efficiency in residential and commercial construction. Massachusetts projects were also notable in quantity and performance, with 316 reported projects achieving an average pEUI reduction of 43.2 percent.

Average pEUI Reduction and Number of Reported Projects, by State

Source: AIA 2030 Commitment 2015 Progress Report

Project Type
Again, the results are mixed when reviewing building types. Single-family resident projects and laboratories reduced their average pEUIs the most, by 46.4 percent and 46.3 percent, respectively. But among the reported interiors-only projects (likely project retrofits and renovations), the 63 K–12 projects reported an average pEUI reduction of only 2.3 percent.

Whole building projects reported by use type
AIA 2030 Commitment 2015 Progress Report Whole building projects reported by use type
Interiors only projects by use type
AIA 2030 Commitment 2015 Progress Report Interiors only projects by use type

All told, the energy predicted to be saved from the 2015 reported projects totals 21 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, this is the equivalent of powering 2.2 million houses in a year.

Mella believes the hiccup in meeting the AIA 2030 targets are less about designer capability but more about designer mindset. "The [energy reduction] targets are being implemented increasingly in codes and federal mandates with the understanding that [they're] not necessarily going to add cost or require some magic technology that doesn’t exist," he says. Rather architects need "to design with performance as something we care about—and we do very much care about it."

Note: This story was updated on Oct. 12, 2016, to add quotes from Greg Mella, FAIA.