What does your architecture firm know about sustainable design?

I’m not asking what YOU know about sustainable design. What you know is between your ears. What an organization “knows” is different.

The book that brought me to the fascinating topic of organizational knowledge was Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. It introduced me to the concept of systems thinking. Through systems thinking, organizational leaders can connect people to a shared vision and evaluate how the group is performing. This is how an organization learns. And much of what we sustainably-thinking architects call “integrated design” (getting all the players in the process around the metaphorical table at the same time) is based on the same principle. Systems thinking is the mindset that architects use when evaluating the external costs of the buildings we are designing.

The theories may be a little esoteric; but in practice the rules are simple. One example: for an organization to learn, information must be shared.

So my question again: what does your architecture firm know about sustainable design?

Does your firm know the designed energy use intensity of all its projects? Can your firm evaluate the designed energy efficiency of its work by project type or by client? Does your firm know its collective capacity to exceed baseline energy codes? And does it know exactly what it has to do to improve? If your firm signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, it would.

I have a copy of Bergmeyer’s 2011 AIA 2030 Commitment Reporting Tool right in front of me. It’s a pretty amazing spreadsheet. Let’s look . . .

Our firm completed construction documents on 49 projects in 2011, totaling about 770,000 GSF. We listed about 500,000 GSF of our volume – 38 projects – as “Interiors Only”. Since Interiors is our biggest market, let’s take a closer look.

The reporting metric for design energy efficiency for interiors projects is Lighting Power Density or LPD. Our 2011 aggregate LPD for all 500,000 GSF was a relatively strong 19.5% better than the national comparison threshold. Good for us.

But there’s more. We reported six different project types under interiors: Banks, Retail, Office, Food Service, Lodging and Education. How did we do in each project type?

Retail wins for number of projects (17) but Office wins for best overall energy reduction thanks to one very large project – a State agency fit-out in a downtown commercial building – that logged a whopping 33% reduction in LPD. Our two Lodging interiors projects (both student residence hall renovations) had very respectable 21% and 31% reductions in LPD, and one of our Food Service interiors jobs (a college dining hall) slayed the pack with a 60.9% (!!) reduction in LPD.

Our single biggest client was a bank. We did 11 interiors projects for this client with a median energy efficiency of 12% better than ASHRAE and a maximum EUI of 48% better. We also did several Whole Building projects for the same client – all energy modeled – that were typically between 35 and 40% better than regional average site EUI.

All this from one spreadsheet. Not bad at all.

The takeaway? Our most energy-conscious client type in 2011 was Universities, but our greenest individual clients were that big multi-unit bank and the public agency. We did well with those clients. But up next for Bergmeyer: to significantly improve our firm-wide energy efficiency, we have to focus on reducing the lighting power density of our retail work. It’s our biggest market and where we can have the most impact. Our mission is clear.

Look, the whole point of this blog is to promote the AIA 2030 Commitment. Sometimes it’s with human-interest stories or tales of real-life challenges faced. Sometimes it’s with hard data and facts. So here’s a fact: without data on how your firm’s design work is performing against objective standards, you’re guessing. We signed the AIA 2030 Commitment, so now we know.

The proof is in the spreadsheet. Join and learn.

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

Published Nov 30, 2012