Our AIA 2030 Results for 2018

The Green Engineer is an adopter of the Architecture 2030 Challenge(1) as well as a signatory of the AIA 2030 Commitment(2).

This is the second year that we have measured our progress toward the Architecture 2030 Challenge. This year, we have reported and submitted energy data from 81 of our projects that were in a design phase (concept design, SD, DD, or CD) in 2018 to the AIA 2030 Design Data Exchange. These 81 projects combined represent a total of 13,001,076 GSF of building construction.

Fortunately, due to the nature of our work, 79.8% of our 2018 projects have completed energy models. The exceptions are projects in very early design stages as well as some interior fit-outs.

The building use types that represent the greatest number of projects we reported in 2018 include education K-12 schools (28 projects reported), large offices (29 projects reported), medium offices (16 projects reported), multi-family buildings greater than 5 units (15 projects reported), and university buildings (16 projects reported.)

Similar to last year, based on the average predicted EUI3 from the project energy models compared to the Energy Star median EUI per building type, libraries, k-12 schools, and large office buildings performed the best out of all of our project types. Additionally, this year another contender, college dormitories, made its way up the ranks with an average 49% reduction.

2018-pEUI reduction.png

The 2030 Challenge goal for today is 70% predicted EUI (pEUI) reduction. The average pEUI reduction across all of our reported projects in 2018 was 40.5% (which is about the same as last year’s 40.6%). 10 of our reported projects achieved a 70% pEUI reduction or above (1 school, 1 courthouse, 3 libraries, 4 large offices 100,000 sf or greater, and 1 mixed-use project).

2018-pEUI reduction-no of projects.png


Our light power density (LPD) reduction for interior fit-out projects was 38.7%, compared to 37.2% last year, which exceeds the current 2030 goal of a 25% LPD reduction with 100% of our reported projects meeting that goal.

2018-LPD reduction.png

What does this all mean?

We are fortunate that our work at The Green Engineer focuses on sustainable design and energy efficiency, and that Massachusetts - where a majority of our projects are located - is ahead of the curve. That said, there hasn’t been much improvement since last year in our % EUI reduction. Why is that? Many of the projects reported this year are the same projects as last year, just in later design phases, and many new projects are still too new to have an energy model completed. Also, since The Green Engineer reports a large number of projects, it is going to take some big shifts in the industry for the needle to move in our reporting.

The urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions: buildings alone account for 39%. Eliminating these emissions is the key to addressing climate change and meeting Paris Climate Agreement targets. The 2030 Challenge states that since 2015 all new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 70% below the regional (or national) average/median for that building type. The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations shall be increased to 80% in 2020, 90% in 2025, and carbon-neutral in 2030 (meaning that GHG-emitting, fossil fuel energy is not used for operations). (4)

As an industry, we are currently behind schedule to meet our carbon neutral goal by 2030. It is, however, not impossible to catch up. We’ve made some progress: our energy codes are significantly more stringent now, and there are a handful of buildings in our region that are actually operating at net zero energy (see Moving Beyond “Net Zero”: Let’s Decarbonize Our Buildings). It is up to us, as design professionals in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry, to push the needle forward on carbon neutral building design.


What’s Next? Real Feedback.

An important next step is the future integration of the AIA 2030 design phase energy data with post-occupancy feedback data so we can determine if the buildings are performing as designed. This year, in an effort to improve our results and learn from past projects, TGE began an initiative to gather information on how our completed buildings are performing. Energy is the primary focus, but we are also seeking other data as well, such as water use and occupant well-being feedback. These performance metrics will inform our sustainability work going forward. Our pilot project consists of about 20 public K-12 schools and public libraries. We have been collecting real data on actual energy and water use and interviewing facility directors, town/school business managers, and library directors to get general feedback on how well the buildings are performing. So, stay tuned, as we continue to collect data and conduct our analysis.


  1. The 2030 Challenge is an initiative started by nonprofit, Architecture 2030, that calls for all new buildings, developments, and major renovations to be carbon-neutral by 2030. The two major objectives of the 2030 Challenge are:  1) to globally reduce  fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the built environment; and 2) to advance the development of sustainable, resilient, carbon-neutral buildings and cities.  

  2. The mission of the AIA 2030 Commitment, in turn, is to transform the practice of architecture, with the 2030 Challenge in mind, to prioritize energy performance and carbon reduction strategies during the design process.

  3. Site energy consumption is typically measured as Energy Use Intensity (EUI) in kBTU/SF/year. A building with an EUI of 0 is a net zero project.

  4. Architecture 2030, https://architecture2030.org/2030_challenges/2030-challenge/

By Allison Zuchman and Stephanie Strifert.  

Allison is a Senior Sustainable Design Consultant at The Green Engineer.

Stephanie is an Assistant Sustainable Design Consultant at The Green Engineer.


Moving Beyond “Net Zero”: Let’s Decarbonize Our Buildings.

By Chris Schaffner, PE, LEED Fellow, WELL AP, Lic. BREEAM Assessor

The building industry has long been thinking about “net zero” buildings. Looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 10 years since Governor Patrick’s Net Zero Energy Building Task Force (in which I participated) issued its final report calling for “(1) broad marketability of zero net energy commercial and residential buildings by 2020 and 2) universal adoption of zero net energy practices for new commercial and residential construction by 2030“. Ten years later, we’ve made some progress: our energy codes are significantly more stringent, and there are a handful of buildings in our region that are actually operating at net zero energy. At the same time, we’ve seen a lot of unsubstantiated claims, such as “we’re net zero ready!” That’s like me saying I’m “skinny ready”. We’ve also seen general market confusion, and a growing realization that “net zero” energy at the scale of individual buildings is not actually a useful target.

This last point is worth discussing, as it may not be something you’ve heard before.  For years, Amory Lovins (physicist, environmental scientist, writer, and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute) has talked about how optimizing one element of a system can have the effect of “pessimizing” the larger system. The classic example he typically cites is how sizing a pipe for the trade-off between pipe cost and pump energy misses the opportunity for downsizing the pumps. The “optimized” pipe size results in bigger pumps and higher costs, both first costs and operating costs. 

The same thing happens when we try to make every individual building net zero. To get to net zero energy we typically need a building small enough in scale that the energy it consumes can be offset by the site generated energy – usually roof top solar.  Short buildings work for this, taller, high density buildings do not.  (See Table 1) 

Table 1 - EUI Targets for Net Zero Site Energy with Rooftop Solar in New England*

Number of stories Site EUI (kBTU/sf/yr)

1 21.3

2 10.5

3 7.1

4 5.3

*assumes 50% roof coverage with PV

The recently completed Walden Pond Visitor Center here in Concord, MA, is a perfect example of this approach. We were proud to be part of this project’s team, and the building is stunning. It’s also Net Zero Site Energy thanks to it’s small size (6,000 GSF) combined with +/-100 kW of solar PV canopies in the parking lot. This approach works for a visitors’ center in a state park, but is hardly replicable as a model for our communities. If we try to build every building net zero, we end up with massive amounts of sprawl in low density, un-walkable, car-dependent suburbs and towns. We’ve optimized the buildings, but have, in turn, “pessimized” our communities. The carbon savings created by the buildings are likely offset by all the increased transportation impacts. What good is a zero energy building if it is 20 miles from anywhere and its users are completely dependent on the automobile to access it?

The net zero Walden Pond Visitor Center in Concord, MA. © Chuck Choi Architectural Photography

The net zero Walden Pond Visitor Center in Concord, MA. © Chuck Choi Architectural Photography

The second issue with our current approach is that net zero is not the same as zero. If every building is net zero thanks to rooftop solar, it means that we end up with surplus power when the sun is out, but will still need a power source at other times, when it is not. This results in something that has been called the “Duck Curve”. Demand on the electric grid is very low midday, but quickly ramps up in the early evening.

In this scenario, despite being “net zero”, we still end up relying on the fossil fuel power plants at certain times times of day. However, the caveat is large fossil fuel power plants aren’t very good at turning on and off quickly, so things stay dirty, and get expensive.  We end up with optimized buildings, but a “pessimized” system. Enter the batteries, and all kinds of fixes.

So, over the last few years my thinking about this has evolved a bit. I’ve come to the conclusion that as building designers and green building advocates we should really have four goals we’re working towards, instead of simply trying to have our buildings achieve net zero. These four goals are:

  1. Reduce building energy consumption 

  2. Decarbonize buildings by eliminating the use of on-site fossil fuels

  3. Encourage renewable energy generation

  4. Work to decarbonize the electric grid

The end result would be a world of low energy all-electric buildings with distributed renewable energy sources connected through a green grid. We would get there by decoupling the consumption and generation in buildings. Instead of designing the PV array on the roof to match the building loads, we design buildings to consume as little energy as possible, and we install renewable generating capacity of all kinds, in the places and scale that makes the most sense. We end up with communities designed to an appropriate scale, powered only by renewables. The system is now optimized.

This is already happening. Thanks to stronger Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), electricity in the Northeastern US is pretty low in carbon. That means just switching our buildings from high efficiency natural gas heating to electric heat pumps makes a big difference in our carbon emissions. The figure below illustrates the results of a recent study we did as part of a campus climate action plan. By simply switching from gas to heat pumps, the campus cut could carbon emissions by 50%. And the numbers get better as the grid gets greener.

Emissions per unit heat for a variety of heating sources (based on ISO-NE eGrid factors.)

Emissions per unit heat for a variety of heating sources (based on ISO-NE eGrid factors.)

With these goals in mind, as designers, our number one priority should be to eliminate all fossil fuel use. Electric heat pumps, in all their forms, should be our default approach for heating. Of course, we also want low energy buildings with good building envelopes. But, let’s not worry so much on where we put the solar panels, but, rather, ensuring they all get connected to the grid. I’m talking to you, un-named prep school, who insists on putting solar panels on the roof of your new library (which lies in the shade) instead of over your parking lots, where you could install twice the capacity of panels for the same price. Let’s leave off the decorative rooftop wind turbines. Let’s all advocate together for a smart grid complete with such things as off-shore wind, and community scale renewables.  As our electric grid gets greener, we all stand to benefit.  

- Chris Schaffner, PE, LEED Fellow, WELL AP is the Founder and President of The Green Engineer.

The Walden Pond Visitor Center was commissioned by the MA DCR, and designed by Maryann Thompson Architects.