Did Albert Einstein really say insanity was making the same mistakes over and over again but expecting different results? I know, it’s the most over-used cliche of all time. But gimme a break. It works perfectly here. And I promise never to use it again.

The 2013 Annual Report of the AIA 2030 Commitment is here. Download it, read and share. Help promote this important measure of our progress. Post a link on your firm’s intranet. Like it on your Facebook or LinkedIn page. It’s a screen-shot of where we are in our quest to improve the designed energy efficiency of our buildings and spaces.

You can and should read the whole report yourself. But in summary, how are we doing?

There’s good news and there’s bad news. Let’s start with the good news:

The database is growing by leaps and bounds. In 2012, 1.4 billion square feet of designed project floor area was submitted by firms completing compliance reporting. That’s more than twice the previous year’s total of 656.2 million gross square feet. A 120% increase.

More good news: This report on the AIA 2030 Commitment is a keeper. It’s nicely written and edited by the estimable Kelly Pickard*. It features a deep-dive on embodied energy and carbon in building structures, lots of info-graphics on modeled PEUI by building type and size, and a fact-filled update on the reference standards behind both key reporting metrics: PEUI (Predicted Energy Use Intensity) and LPD (Lighting Power Density).

Allow me to digress here. Do you ever wonder how your AIA dues get spent? Along with the excellent new Sustainability Leadership Opportunity Scan by AIA Resident Fellow Mary Ann Lazarus FAIA and everything that AIA Communities by Design does, the AIA 2030 Commitment and this annual report are worth every penny. Because if America’s architects truly are “committed to building a better world”, these programs and documents are proof. They make the value proposition for architects better than any advertising campaign could.

And although we are told that a few of the projects in the 2013 AIA 2030 Commitment are at 100% energy use reduction (net zero energy) and 12% of projects are designed to be 60% better than code or greater, that’s about it for the good news.

The overall average energy efficiency needle has barely budged from 2010. The use of energy modeling has not increased, the number of small firms in the Commitment is still embarrassingly small, and (here’s the worst news) only 46% of the firms that signed the AIA 2030 Commitment actually completed their 2012 compliance reporting. Really? What’s up with that?

In other words, we’re all stuck. Which brings me back to the opening quote of this blog post. For the last several years, we have been approaching our design work the same way but hoping for improvement.

We recognize the connection between architecture and climate change and have embraced the all-important goal to move our practices and projects towards net zero carbon emissions. Our first year of AIA 2030 Commitment results looked pretty good. We were proud of seeing our buildings aggregated at 34% better-than-baseline. But when our second and third year results looked just like our first year, we must admit that we haven’t built upon that initial success. We haven’t improved.

My firm – Bergmeyer – is in this predicament as well. We don’t exactly know how to get un-stuck, either, but we’re going to try a few things:

For starters, we’re asking the Sustainable Performance Institute to take a look under the hood. The SPI is an organization that helps firms figure out how to deliver on their sustainable design promise. For us, it might be coming to an understanding of what “change management” entails. It might be setting more specific goals for our projects or training our design teams more effectively.

We’re also going to try our hand at post-occupancy evaluations and collecting actual energy-use data on past projects. We know this step should already be part of our core services, but like most architects we’ve been focused on completing our scopes of work and moving on. It’s time to start looking back.

And we also need to get better at thinking like engineers. We need to set clearer expectations for our engineering consultants. We’re pretty tired of asking for lighting power density calculations after a project has been designed and then being shocked – shocked! – by LPD values that are all over the map. This has to change.

So that’s the report. The challenge of how to make continuous, systemic improvement is squarely before us. How is your firm improving its design process? What works for you? At Bergmeyer, we’ll keep working at this AIA 2030 thing . . . . and keep blogging about our measured progress as we go. Stay tuned.

* Up until recently, Kelly was the Director of Building Science + Technology for the AIA and was the organizational leader of the AIA 2030 Commitment. Since Kelly has now left the building, let’s be sure the AIA puts someone as energetic and resourceful and – well – committed behind the Commitment soon.

More footnotes: BSA Member firm Gensler has shared their aggregate 2012 AIA 2030 Commitment data with the BSA, too. Thank you, Gensler. And another BSA-member firm has signed the Commitment: Symmes Maini & McKee Associates. Good going, SMMA.

This post originally appeared on the blog of Principal Mike Davis, FAIA.

Published Nov 04, 2013