In my last blog post, I shared some thoughts from the Design Futures Council’s 2014 Summit on Sustainability, which was held in September. One of the ideas that left me feeling inspired was Ed Mazria’s 2030 Challenge.

Big Idea
Over the past 10 years, Mazria’s research into building sector energy use and carbon emissions has reshaped our understanding of climate change. He notes, “Buildings are the major source of global demand for energy and materials that produce by-product greenhouse gases (GHG). Slowing the growth rate of GHG emissions and then reversing it is the key to addressing climate change.” In his presentation, Mazria shared that by the year 2030, 900 billion square feet of buildings will be constructed; that’s the equivalent of recreating New York City every 35 days throughout the world.

He created the 2030 Challenge in response to the increasingly dramatic impact buildings have on GHG emissions. Mazria essentially argues that the building sector is both the problem and the solution when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, and challenges designers to construct carbon neutral buildings by 2030. So far, more than 2,000 mayors have signed on in support of the challenge, as well as governments and professional organizations around the globe.

What it Means
The 2030 Challenge is admirable, but is it practical? The short answer is: not yet. The way humans live today is not sustainable, so it is incumbent upon designers to essentially “make up for” human behavior by integrating more sustainable design practices. And that’s at the heart of the 2030 Challenge’s biggest… well, challenge. Massive change on a global level is inherently slow. As an industry, that means we must be faster to respond to increasingly sustainable design.

Industry leaders and advocates must also be more thoughtful in how we approach the education of future architects and designers. Schools like our very own University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning to make sustainable design part of every studio students take. Future designers can only understand what it takes to design with zero carbon emissions when they fully understand climate change as a byproduct of every design consideration they make on every project they touch. Their professors must be willing to instill the fundamentals of climate change in addition to teaching the fundamentals of design. And their mentors must be willing to espouse sustainable, holistic design methodology.

Making it Practical
I was really intrigued by some examples Mazria offered which demonstrate that progress can be made against the 2030 Challenge. For example:
• In recent years, several “2030 Districts” that meet the energy, water and transportation emissions reduction targets of the 2030 Challenge have come online, in cities you’d expect – read: both coasts – as well as Midwest locales like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. These districts represent more than 100 million square feet of commercial building space in downtown business districts that work together to track metrics and performance, report milestones and achieve measurable GHG emission reductions.
• The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) launched URBANISM+2030, an effort to advance sustainable urbanism by providing new design and retrofit models to help communities realize low-carbon development. This educational series seeks to bring best practices and implementation strategies to bear for communities of any size that wish to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.
The 2030 Palette is a free, online program that advances 2030 principles for design professionals worldwide. Designers can select from a virtual “map” that offers recommendations, rules of thumb, images, resources and other detailed information for implementing the 2030 vision by region, city/town, district, site or building use. Topics range from top daylighting controls to hazard mapping, and contain a wealth of information right at an architect, designer or planner’s fingertips.

Even with all this progress, it’s easy to see why the 2030 Challenge is just that: a challenge. But it represents a positive shift and opportunity for the industry, and one that we are SHP certainly can’t ignore.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll explore one speaker’s challenge to go Beyond the Building.