According to NASA, “If fossil-fuel burning continues at a business-as-usual rate, such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 will continue to rise to levels on order of 1500 ppm. The atmosphere would then not return to pre-industrial levels even tens of thousands of years into the future.” And it is well documented that the built environment contributes to 30-40% of carbon use worldwide.

It’s more important than ever that all commercial real estate projects must be designed sustainably in order to positively impact climate change. Architects are influenced to design green buildings thanks to market demand, building code, and the desire to design best-in-class projects that take advantage of current thinking and advanced technology. And as the building technologies change, architects need quality tools to build the best possible buildings for their clients and communities.

In 2006, Architecture 2030 issued the 2030 Challenge: a breakthrough vision that calls for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030. To support this challenge, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) created the AIA 2030 Commitment, which provides a reporting framework for architects taking on the 2030 Challenge. Architecture 2030, in concert with AIA 2030 adds technical rigor and quality analytics to the design industry’s arsenal, making the path towards carbon neutrality clearer for all involved – which is good, because the clock is ticking.

Architecture 2030 and AIA 2030 makes it simpler for participating firms to prioritize energy performance and carbon reductions in the design toward carbon-neutral buildings, developments, and major renovations.

As of today, there are more than a thousand design firms that have adopted or supported Architecture 2030, and AIA 2030 has achieved 400 signatories with 175 reporting firms as of 2016.

WDG Architecture accepted the AIA 2030 Challenge in 2017 and is ready to share lessons learned as the firm pursues the 2030 goal. Paladino has been by WDG’s side and remains committed to helping the firm achieve carbon neutrality.

I recently met with Esther Christian and Eric Schlegel to discuss their progress towards carbon-neutral design, and talk about the future of commercial architecture. Esther and Eric are Associate and Associate Principal respectfully at WDG.

Our conversation reached far and wide, so I have edited the key points about AIA 2030 and Architecture 2030 into this condensed format.

Arris at the Yards, Certified LEED NC Gold, Architect: WDG Architecture and Robert A.M. Stern Architects

WDG is a large and busy architecture practice. With more than 150 team members and projects around the globe, Why did you decide to accept the AIA 2030 Challenge in 2017?

Esther: Great question – it’s certainly not because we weren’t busy enough! WDG recognized that sustainable design is a growing segment of our practice, so whether we took the challenge or not, sustainability is increasingly relevant and influential with our design process and our outcomes. The Challenge helps us serve our clients because it motivates us to satisfy increasingly complex programmatic requirements both for code compliance, sustainable design certification/rating systems, and enhanced building performance by driving intelligent choices.

Eric: The trend we’ve experienced over the past 15 years towards highly sustainable and healthy designs has gained momentum and is altruistically irresistible as an architect in a position to influence.

Every cause needs champions. What can you tell us about your Sustainability Committee and what they’ve learned?

Eric: We have leveraged our AIA 2030 engagement by taking measures to align sustainability objectives as a best management practice in the firm. Our Sustainability Committee was re-envisioned in 2016, and its purpose is to achieve excellence through knowledge-based sustainable practice and to be stewards of our environment and resources.

The Sustainability Committee provides every team with multiple sustainability reviews at major milestones of the project. Key individuals also come together at the onset of a project to shape the sustainability vision that will drive the project. It’s important that the sustainability strategy is strong throughout the project, beginning to end.

Esther: And by taking what the Sustainability Committee learns on each project, we have been able to generate an updated set of specifications to complement higher energy efficiency and health products goals. The team is adding to our resource library and incorporating more education to upskill staff. The Sustainability Committee drives the effort, but the entire staff needs to stay abreast of the ever-changing sustainability landscape.

University of Maryland Oakland Hall, College Park MD, Certified LEED NC Gold, Architect: WDG Architecture

I’m sure you want to know if the commitment is impacting your outcomes. How do you gather your data?

Eric: Data is useless unless the information it reveals is valuable and used to inform our decisions and practice. One of our first priorities in 2017 was to record and analyze the data – to formalize the gathering of information on all projects for research, firm-wide use, and marketing purposes.

Esther: In our first year of participation in the 2030 Commitment, we incorporated several approaches for collecting the required information during the design process. For example, we’ve added spreadsheets to our QC reviews that track information about each project’s sustainable goals and projected energy performance. So now we can monitor the development of projects at different phases,and update the records of our projects included in the Design Data Exchange database. Then projects are ready to be submitted to the AIA at the end of the year and we have reliable dynamic data.

Can you share any insights that the data has revealed?

Esther: Of course! We have learned that just by incorporating data collection into QC reviews, everyone involved in the project becomes more conscious about sustainable design.

The data has revealed how important it is to set aggressive goals at the beginning of the design process – rather than trying to incorporate green solutions in the middle or near the end of the design process.

The data has also shown the importance of adopting energy modeling early in the design process. According to the AIA 2030 2015 Progress Report, “only projects using energy modeling are capable of achieving the energy reduction targets of the 2030 Commitment”. Energy modeling provides objective and quantifiable results with each design iteration, helping the client and the designer to make informed decisions and achieve the greatest savings in energy. Paladino has been a great partner on the energy modeling front!

Eric: One of the wonderful things about the AIA Commitment is that we have access to the data from other projects and participating firms. By comparing all the energy performance information, we have a clearer idea about our current performance in the market and the areas we’d like to improve next.

HHMI Janelia Farms Apartments, Certified LEED for Homes Platinum, Architect: WDG Architecture

How does WDG communicate its 2030 progress?

Esther: Communication is everything! Through community engagement and leadership within WDG, the Sustainability Committee shares progress with clients, employees and with our greater community of architects and designers.

We get creative by incorporating sustainable education into everything from internal newsletters and staff meetings to broader presentations and challenges. It’s important to promote and increase our knowledge of sustainable practices, and we keep our staff updated on progress towards a carbon neutral future.

Eric: The Challenge can inspire some healthy competition. AIA 2030 Reports are presented to the principals regularly to demonstrate WDG’s carbon performance compared to other firms participating in the AIA 2030 Commitment. Awareness of this information is beginning to influence our design and collaboration processes. The collaboration with Paladino and our clients helps us to pursue leadership and achieve even better results.

How have partners played into your efforts and ability to achieve your goals?

Esther: Paladino, in particular, has helped advance our progress through education and project involvement.  It’s honestly been a fantastic partnership.

The Paladino team helps WDG assess educational gaps and provide timely education to quickly close knowledge gaps.  They have also helped us understand what RFP inclusions are needed to align with 2030 commits.  At the project level, we bring sustainable consultants like Paladino in early enough to help set the sustainability vision based on our client’s business values, which in turn sets the Sustainability Committee up for success with their progress reporting and team support.

Eric: We recently collaborated with Paladino to create training sessions to prepare WDG for the LEED v4 changes. These sessions were crucial for integrating the new requirements into our design process ,and generated great ideas about approaches to some of the more challenging credits. Our conversations covered everything from early energy modeling to construction and finish materials; and how to guide owners, contractors, and engineers through the process. Through shared knowledge with our consultants, driven by our Sustainability Committee and Paladino partnership – and in pursuit of our 2030 goals –  we can easily adapt to changes to jurisdictional and LEED requirements.

2100 L Street – will be LEED v3 Platinum, Architect: WDG Architecture and Martinez + Johnson

Thank you so much! Do you have any final words of advice or encouragement for your peers at other architectural firms?

Esther: Yes! Don’t be afraid of the 2030 commitment. It is not just the right thing to do for the planet – it is also a foundation for a market differentiator. It empowers the WDG design team to have overt discussions about sustainability goals with clients. The benchmarking data has been eye opening, and it can help architecture firms to re-frame their understanding of their place in the market.

Eric: Challenge yourself to take the challenge!

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