“Eighty percent of success in life is just showing up.” – Woody Allen

Last Tuesday, we had our big Mayoral primary election in Boston. First time in twenty years that Thomas M. Menino wasn’t on the ballot. Given the historical significance of this race, you’d think voter turnout would be off the charts. It wasn’t. 113,222 ballots were recorded, 31% of registered voters.

But that participation rate was still better than what we’re seeing from the architects in Boston who have signed the AIA 2030 Commitment.

Allow me to explain.

The AIA 2030 Commitment is a brilliantly-conceived program from the American Institute of Architects that puts the aspirational “carbon-neutral buildings by 2030” goals of the 2030 Challenge into an actionable practice-oriented format. It gives hard-working architects a common language of energy efficiency metrics to evaluate our design work and an objective format for annual progress reporting. The reporting gets shared every year with the AIA, who complies and publishes the results. If every architectural firm participated in this program, we’d have a crystal-clear picture of how our profession is meeting the challenge of fighting greenhouse gas production from buildings.

And in case you haven’t been reading this blog from the beginning, here’s the idea: It’s the story of my architectural firm – Bergmeyer – after we signed the Commitment in 2011 and are finding our way through the program. We’ve been sharing our struggles, accomplishments, foibles, and lessons-learned in the hope of persuading YOUR firm to sign, too, and to see the value of the program to your practice.

It’s also been my personal agenda to focus the message on member firms of our local AIA Chapter – the Boston Society of Architects – because I’m BSA President for another couple months and, well, Bostonyou’re my home.

Ultimately, once a bunch of firms had signed the Commitment, the plan was for the BSA to collect the compliance reporting data from our local members, consolidate it (like AIA Chicago does) and publish those results so everyone can know how our chapter is collectively doing. Because, really, that’s the point. Sustainable design is an all-hands-on-deck group effort. Our chances of success improve if everyone is in.

About thirty BSA-member firms have signed the Commitment so far. You can see them on the national signatory list here. Earlier this year, the call went out to BSA members for data. Two years and 51 blog posts later, we got spread sheets from nine firms.

Nine firms?

Is that the best we can do, Boston? Eight firms out of the thirty that signed is about 29%. That’s lower than the voter turnout last Tuesday. And it looks even worse this way: The Boston Society of Architects has 639 member firms. So only one in twenty BSA firms have signed the Commitment, and only one in eighty have shared their compliance reporting data.

We can do better.

But before this post turns into a diatribe, let’s take a moment to thank the few and the proud that have bravely volunteered to give us their numbers so far. In addition to my firm, Bergmeyer, these are the other Boston firms that are with us:


Coldham & Hartman




Perkins & Will


The SLAM Collaborative

So tell me. Why hasn’t your firm signed, and why haven’t you shared your data? I’ve heard the reasons. Let’s take them one at a time:

“We don’t see the program’s value.” The AIA 2030 Commitment asks you to report on the PEUI or LPD of every project your firm designs each year. When you complete your compliance report and send to the AIA, you have at your fingertips a spreadsheet with all your projects, by type and by size, with their designed energy efficiency. Every project! You can sort by market segment. Sort by client. Sort by project team. Compare this year’s results to last year. Where are your successes, what needs more attention? How much more value could one spreadsheet deliver, for cryin’ out loud?

“It’s too labor-intensive.” It’s one spreadsheet! You must be confusing the AIA 2030 Commitment with LEED. (Sorry. No disrespect intended. I love the USGBC.) Yes, you have to make it part of someone’s job to collect project data. Tell me: how does your firm approach sustainable design now? Isn’t it part of everyone’s job? That’s what I thought.

“We’re afraid of posting bad numbers.” Guess what? We all are. This chat usually includes a description of the firm’s markets – hospitals or public buildings – and a claim that project energy use intensity is near-impossible to manage. Or that the firm’s leadership is risk-averse and cautious about posting less-than-stellar results. Or they don’t want to be “early adopters”. What’s the deal, if you can’t get a gold plaque you don’t want to know about it? Nobody said net zero energy or carbon-neutral operations would be easy. But the value of sharing our knowledge and experience far outweighs the embarrassment of admitting – what? – we haven’t perfected this yet? Nobody has.

“We don’t want to commit to something we might not be able to achieve.” This one is my favorite. Think of the Commitment as a BHAG, or Big Hairy Ambitious Goal. The idea is right out of the book Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. BHAGs are compelling and strategic organizational goals that focus a company on critically-important long-term achievements. Yes, you might fail. But if you really get behind a BHAG, you will try like there’s no tomorrow and transform your practice.

So c’mon, Boston. If you’ve already completed your AIA 2030 Commitment report for 2012, share it with us. We promise we won’t name names, just compile the data. And if you haven’t signed, there’s still time to start working on 2013.

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

Published Sep 26, 2013