There are plenty of yardsticks to assess the environmental impact of new commercial construction, notably the LEED checklist created by the U.S. Green Building Council. Now there’s a tool to reveal how firms are doing across their entire practice. I’d liken it to a full-body scan vs. a site-specific x-ray.
The Excel-based software was developed over the past year by the American Institute of Architects. It will become available for free on the institute’s website on June 11, Day 2 of the AIA annual convention. But it won’t be open to everyone: Firms will have to sign on first to the AIA 2030 commitment to reduce the predicted energy consumption of their designs by 60% through 2015 and produce only carbon-neutral projects by 2030, to slow global warming.
I got a peek at the program from Rand Ekman, director of sustainability at OWP/P|Cannon Design in Chicago, who helped design and test the new software. The process is simple and straightforward. Firms input a few particulars about every project (even those in conceptual stages) such as projected annual energy usage, gross square footage, building type, and current energy standards (to establish a baseline). Do the math, and you get a three-part score for the complete portfolio, not just a few exemplary projects.
There is a hard part, however, and that is collecting all the facts and figures for the spreadsheet. Based on his experience at Cannon Design, which has 15 offices across North America and two more in Asia and a catalog of more than past and current 650 projects, Ekman says it could take big firms at least a couple of months to come up with the required data for the first assessment. But after that, the data gathering should become speedier.
So far, 103 firms have made the 2030 commitment. That’s a relatively puny tally at a group with 80,000-plus individual members, though it includes several of the very biggest, such as Gensler, HOK, and Perkins + Will. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Kevin Harris, a one-man residential designer. The AIA will publish the annual scores of each pledge, and Ekman hopes that peer pressure will prompt more architects to join in and try hard.
“Every firm is considerably more facile with the issue of energy than they were 10 years ago or 20 years ago,” Ekman told me. But he added: “One of the major premises of this tool is to drive change within the design practice. There’s little bit of the keeping up with the next player that is going on here as well.”
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