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AIA 2030 Commitment at Neumann Monson: 2024 Update

March 14th, 2024 | 8 min. read

AIA 2030 Commitment at Neumann Monson: 2024 Update

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While addressing climate change requires multiple solutions, reducing the built environment’s impact is part of the equation. Between heating, cooling, lighting, and appliance operation, buildings consume a large amount of energy, accounting for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

One of the ways architects are working to address climate change is through the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Commitment. The Commitment calls on architects to reach net zero emissions by 2030 by incrementally reducing Energy Use Intensity and increasing on-site renewable energy generation. To date, nearly 1,300 firms have participated in the program—Neumann Monson being one of them. 

The 2030 Commitment is one of the most important initiatives in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, transforming how we approach building projects. Committed to transparency, we are sharing our progress in meeting the 2030 Commitment’s energy reduction targets, how we rank compared to national and state averages, and the challenges and opportunities we see moving forward. 

What is the 2030 Commitment? 

The 2030 Commitment is a program created by the AIA to support the 2030 Challenge—an initiative created by the non-profit Architecture 2030. 

In 2006, Architecture 2030 challenged the design and construction industry to eliminate carbon emissions by 2030. To achieve this goal, the Challenge called for all new buildings and developments to incrementally reduce their site Energy Use Intensity (EUI)—the amount of energy used per square foot annually on a specific site—beyond baseline regional standards while increasing on-site renewable energy production. 

Reduction standards become more stringent every five years, eventually leading to carbon-neutral developments in 2030. In 2015, the Challenge aimed for a 70% reduction, and in 2020, it increased to 80%. 

While the 2030 Challenge promotes renewable energy use, it stresses more energy-efficient designs first. Design teams should work to reduce a project’s energy load as much as possible before introducing on-site energy production. 

The AIA’s 2030 Commitment supports the 2030 Challenge’s goals by encouraging firm-wide adoption, data tracking, and reporting. Firms participating in the Commitment track the projected EUI of active projects during the reporting year and share those numbers on a database available to other participating firms. 

It also calls on participating firms to create a sustainability action plan outlining how they will promote sustainability through project work and their operations. We joined the 2030 Challenge in 2007 and signed onto the Commitment in 2016, completing our sustainability action plan in May 2018. 

Industry Overview of the 2030 Challenge 

Each year, the AIA releases an aggregate report of the data submitted by firms participating in the 2030 Commitment. The report summarizes the industry’s progress in meeting energy reduction targets. 

Over the years, the number of reported square footage has increased, meaning more firms are participating in the Challenge. Percentage reductions have also increased. While the AIA reported a 38% reduction in 2015, they reported a 51% reduction in 2020. 

In 2021, however, the annual reduction had decreased a percentage point, and reductions have hovered in the 50% range since 2019. 

Although the industry has made improvements over the last decade, these numbers are behind the targets set by the 2030 Challenge. To meet carbon neutrality by 2030, the industry should have met a 50% reduction earlier in the 2010s. 

In addition to the national average, the AIA breaks numbers down by state. Some states are performing better than others, with California reporting a 55% reduction. Currently, our home state of Iowa reports a 47% reduction. 

2030 Commitment at Neumann Monson 

At Neumann Monson, we reported a 51.05% reduction in 2022. This number signals we are moving in the right direction—beating national and state averages. An increase in net-zero energy projects and large-scale high-performance projects has helped increase our reductions in recent years. 

Although we are proud of our progress, we know we have a long way to go. In the coming years, our team—and the industry at large—will have to overcome many hurdles to reach the overarching net-zero goal. 

Challenges Facing the 2030 Commitment 

One of the hurdles to achieving reduction targets is outdated energy codes. In Iowa, the energy code hasn’t been updated since 2014 when it adopted the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code. 

Although we always encourage owners to go above and beyond these requirements, not everyone has the interest or ability. Encouraging sustainable design practices takes time and education, pointing to a larger issue: the gap in public knowledge. 

Although everyone is aware of climate change, many do not understand the built environment’s impact. Understandably, most do not start a building project to address an environmental crisis. Design teams must shoulder a lot of responsibility in educating the public. 

Project typologies can add to this educational process. For institutional clients like K-12 schools or universities, investing in sustainable design practices is a logical decision. While these investments may increase initial project costs, they reduce operational costs and lead to long-term savings. 

Convincing someone to invest in energy-efficient systems is more difficult when they are not responsible for utility costs or plan to sell the building in the future—a common goal for multifamily developers. 

Fortunately, this project typology is changing. Developers are becoming more aware that energy efficiency can increase property values, incentivizing them to invest in sustainable systems. Lowering energy costs through design is also becoming a strategy for attracting and retaining tenants as more realtors add sustainability features to their Multiple Listings Service that allow people to filter searches when looking for a home or apartment.  

Internal processes are another hurdle our firm and others face. Often, reducing EUI involves a third-party consultant’s input. Programs like Iowa’s Commercial New Construction Program make this investment more feasible by providing complementary consulting and rebates for energy reductions. 

When such programs are unavailable, the work falls on the design team. We are still working to develop trust in our tools and form an efficient internal process for incorporating strategies like energy modeling. As we continue to hone our process, improving performance across all projects will become more achievable. 

Beyond these hurdles, our local climate presents challenges. It is safe to say achieving energy reduction targets is more feasible in some areas than others. Areas of the country with milder, consistent climates can more easily implement strategies like natural ventilation. 

In the Midwest, we face drastic seasonal temperature changes and rely heavily on mechanical systems to heat and cool our buildings. Although the Midwestern climate will continue to pose challenges, projects like Unitarian Universalist and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security show net-zero energy is possible anywhere. 

Investing in Sustainable Design 

The 2030 Commitment provides a pathway for achieving a net-zero future. Although there is a long way to go in achieving this goal, the important thing is that we continue to make incremental changes. 

On any project, we should strive to make more sustainable design decisions. The only way we can achieve a carbon-neutral future is by reducing our EUI a little more each day. 

Equally as important is bridging the public knowledge gap and explaining the benefits of investing in sustainable design measures. A building project involves many stakeholders beyond the design team, and goals should be aligned with everyone involved. 

Following a building certification system can be a starting point for sustainability. Systems like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Living Building Challenge (LBC) provide a pathway for lowering energy consumption and improving occupant well-being while providing third-party proof a building is operating as intended. 

To learn more, read about the most popular certification system and their requirements