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2030 Challenge: Protecting the Planet 1 Project at a Time

By Steve Harris, AIA, LEED AP, Partner, Associate, Rowland+Broughton Architecture, Urban Design, Interior Design, Aspen and Denver, Colorado


In January 2006, Architecture 2030 issued the 2030 Challenge, asking the global architecture and building community to adopt a set of targets to reduce fossil fuel consumption by improving energy efficiency and reducing the carbon emissions of buildings. The goal? Ensuring that all new buildings and major renovations reach carbon neutrality, getting to net zero by 2030 through incremental improvements in project performance.


Planning and constructing buildings can take multiple years. Taking the carbon neutral challenge to heart while recognizing the formidable climate challenges ahead, our team is proactively embracing the concept and rising to the occasion. Driving transformational change, we are reaching beyond the fundamental concept of designing buildings and spaces that reduce carbon emissions to creating beautiful, efficient structures that truly benefit the experience of their inhabitants.


We have the tools we need and are committed to utilizing them to their fullest capacity. We design high-performance buildings to generate healthier indoor air quality, resiliency in the event of a wildfire or power outage, lower energy bills, increased indoor thermal comfort, little to no dependency on natural gas, and a smaller carbon footprint. Awareness is key to achieving mutual goals to benefit the global community.


As architects, we are curators and caretakers of the built environment, which contributes about 40% of the annual global CO2 emissions. Our approach to decarbonizing construction is to drive changes to the building that don’t sacrifice user comfort and design quality. Those changes can occur without impacting the final product by making intelligent decisions. Energy consumption comes first, followed by the selection of building products that don’t harm the built environment over their lifespan.


As is required of all signatories to the 2030 Challenge, our team underwent a multiple-month process of introspection to establish sustainability goals, ultimately presenting a Sustainability Action Plan outlining our commitment, design and approach, goal setting and evaluation, governance and reporting, internal training and education, outreach advocacy and external knowledge-sharing, and operations/outlook. Starting with the American Institute of Architects’ framework for design excellence, we established three guiding measures – carbon, well-being, and resilience – as pillars for sustainability guidance.


Early in introspection, we determined data would create the most impact on our commitment, therefore all projects are tracked internally utilizing our project sustainability tracking tools. Projects that are larger than 5,000 square feet and have an impact on the building envelope and mechanical system are reported and shared to the 2030 Challenge online data portal, “2030 DDx.” Data is submitted after each phase of design and compiled annually into a year-end sustainability report.


Since committing to the 2030 Challenge, we have succeeded in driving down the amount of carbon emitted during the operational building phase of our projects by using less energy from the grid, generating energy and storing it on-site, eliminating fossil fuel consumptions, and optimizing items such as snowmelt, spas and pools. We are addressing how to limit the use of high-carbon-emission building materials such as concrete and steel.


In addition to a commitment to lowering operational carbon through the AIA 2030 Challenge, we are a signatory to the AIA Materials Pledge to guide projects in selecting materials that improve indoor air quality and lower climate impact. The five Materials Pledge statements (Human Health, Social Health + Equity, Ecosystem Health, Climate Health and Circular Economy) address materials’ life cycles, manufacturing, human rights in supply chains, lower global warming potential, reduced emissions, and resiliency and reuse for a zero-waste goal.


Our firm is also a Silver member of U.S. Green Building Council, whose mission through LEED certification is to transform how buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environments that improve the quality of life. Proudly, our team includes a sustainability committee with a dedicated sustainability architectural manager, and seven of our 41 team members are LEED Accredited Designers.