Architects’ Group Urges America to Reduce Carbon in Built Environment

As the nation prepares to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, the American Institute of Architects  has issued eight principles governing how architects can mitigate climate change and has urged the government to protect policies designed to conserve energy and reduce carbon in the built environment.

“Architecture and design can mitigate climate impact while simultaneously reducing operating costs for building owners,” said AIA President Thomas Vonier on April 17 in a formal statement. “We need the federal government to keep and even expand incentives that are already producing major advances in energy efficient design and cutting the carbon footprint of buildings.”

“These principles reinforce our strong national position on how energy-conscious urban planning and appropriate building design can help meet global climate challenges,” Vonier noted. “In fact, the business case for meeting these challenges has never been greater.”

Among the values and principles espoused by the AIA are the following:

  1. The United States must lead the fight against climate change. The federal government must maintain America’s global leadership in the design and construction of carbon neutral buildings. Current federal policies that set goals by 2030 for carbon neutrality in federal buildings are already creating major advances in energy efficient design.
  2. We believe that the business case for reducing the carbon footprint of buildings is stronger than ever before. Studies show that sustainable and energy efficient buildings command rent premiums of 2 percent to 8 percent, occupancy increases of 3 percent to 10 percent, and sales premiums of 3 percent to 12 percent. High performance and sustainable homes in the Washington, DC, market command sales premiums of 3.5 percent. (Source: Energy Efficiency in Separate Tenant Spaces – A Feasibility Study)
  3. We know that carbon neutral design and construction is a growth industry. Employers from roughly 165,000 U.S. companies doing energy efficiency work expect employment to grow 13 percent over the coming year, adding 245,000 more jobs. (Source: Energy Efficiency Jobs in America)….We call on policymakers to protect financing and incentives to help communities design, build and retrofit their building stock.
  4. We believe that the climate change battle will be won or lost in cities. Three-quarters of global carbon emissions come from the 2 percent of the Earth’s land surface occupied by urban communities. While architects can drive greater efficiency and performance from urban areas, we need municipalities and urban design financiers to work as true partners in the climate change battle.
  5. We understand how buildings contribute to climate change. Almost 40 percent of all U.S. energy is consumed by buildings, which produce carbon through heating, cooling and lighting and through their construction. Architects can reduce such operational and embodied carbon production with passive design techniques, energy efficiency measures. and low-impact building materials, which increase human health and productivity. We call on lawmakers to retain and extend tax incentives that underwrite such energy-efficient design and construction.
  6. Designing and building resilient buildings is not a choice; it’s an imperative. As temperatures and weather become more extreme and severe, four global warming impacts alone—hurricane damage, real estate losses, energy and water costs—will come with a price tag of 1.8 percent of U.S. GDP, alone; or almost $1.9 trillion annually (in today’s dollars) by 2100. (Source: NRDC Climate Change Costs Study Estimates 3.6 percent of US GCP in 2100)
  7. Codes, standards, and evidence-based rating systems are essential to creating a high-performing, resilient built environment. We stand for the development, adoption and enforcement of comprehensive and coordinated building codes that mandate energy efficient design and construction.
  8. Collaboration is the key to climate change mitigation. Architects have the skills and experience to help protect the planet from the effects of climate change. But only by working and communicating globally with policymakers, the building industry and the general public can we effectively address the climate change challenge.

Vonier said that the design and construction of sustainable and resilient buildings is already creating jobs and growing the American economy. From 2011-2014, he noted, the green construction market generated more than $167 billion in GDP, supported over 2.1 million jobs, and provided $148 billion in labor earnings.

In 2015, alone, he said, over a quarter of a billion square feet of commercial property was designed to be net zero- projects, contributing nearly $150 billion to construction laborers’ pockets.

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