• Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, and Francesca Desmarais, director of the 2030 Challenge for Products, are Vision 2020 co-chairs for Energy and Carbon.

    Credit: Eli Meir Kaplan

    Edward Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, and Francesca Desmarais, director of the 2030 Challenge for Products, are Vision 2020 co-chairs for Energy and Carbon.


The widely recognized maximum threshold for the “safe” long-term level of atmospheric CO2 in the atmosphere is 350 ppm. This comes from an understanding of the Earth’s climate history and observations of current and ongoing climactic changes. Currently the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is 390 ppm, which has resulted in global temperatures rising 0.8 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. Scientists advise that avoiding irreversible and dangerous climate change is possible if we stabilize and then return CO2 levels in the atmosphere to 350 ppm or less.

The risk we face is that unless quick action is taken, the U.N. Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) warns of a “deadly collision between climate change and urbanization,” with many communities, towns, and cities around the globe vulnerable to increased heat waves, heavy rainfall, flooding, drought, and inundation from sea level rise. Food and water supplies, physical infrastructure, transport, ecosystems, goods and services, and access to affordable and dependable energy supplies will all be affected.


The 2030 Challenge defines the design energy and CO2 emissions reduction targets for new buildings and major building renovations—a 60% energy consumption reduction today, incrementally increasing to carbon neutral by 2030. Architecture 2030 has also set the 2030 Challenge targets for planning and building products:

• For planning: a 10% reduction of energy and water consumption and emissions from transportation for existing developments and communities, incrementally increasing to 50% by 2030; and

• For products: a 30% reduction of embodied carbon below a product category average, incrementally increasing to 50% by 2030.

All the top 10 U.S. architecture/engineering firms—and 75% of the top 20—have embraced the 2030 Challenge. According to the annual 2012 Design Intelligence survey, 50% of all architecture firms queried were committed to the 2030 Challenge targets. This year, more than 240 firms are participating in the AIA 2030 Commitment, measuring and reporting on firm progress toward meeting the 2030 Challenge targets. The federal government requires that all new federal buildings and major renovations meet the 2030 Challenge targets, and California has mandated that all new residential and commercial buildings be net-zero energy by 2020 and 2030, respectively. Many cities, states, and counties have also adopted the Challenge targets.

To ensure that the adoption and implementation of the 2030 Challenge progresses, the AIA+2030 Professional Educational Series, a course in the design and technology applications needed to produce next-generation buildings, is being offered in 23 markets across the United States and Canada, including Seattle, New York, Boston, Denver, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Toronto, and Houston. Planning is under way to expand the series abroad, where there is increasing interest in the program.

2030 Districts, large urban areas in Seattle, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh committed to reducing their energy, water consumption, and CO2 emissions as called for in the 2030 Challenge for Planning, are increasing in number with new 2030 Districts forming in Los Angeles and Bellevue, Wash.

In order to certify that low-carbon building products meet the 2030 Challenge for Products, scientifically credible Product Category Rules (PCRs) standardizing the calculation method for a given product category must be established. Industries, such as concrete, flooring, windows, and gypsum board, are writing PCRs that will allow manufacturers to communicate comparable carbon footprints to architects and specifiers. Having a better understanding of a carbon footprint will further drive innovation in supply chains, manufacturing processes, and materials toward low-carbon products.

Historically, major transformations in the built environment originate from within the sector. Our contemporary built world has its origins in the modern movement, articulated by leading architects and planners in the 1920s and ’30s such as Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture, and the International Congress of Modern Architecture as described in the Athens Charter. Many of the underlying guiding principles of the movement made possible by urbanization, the Industrial Revolution, and fossil fuel energy—divorce of wall and structure, transparent wall, free plan, function-based zones, high-rise building blocks, and street/road design for efficient vehicular circulation—are with us today.

Likewise, today, to accelerate the momentum in transitioning to a more sustainable world, two requisite actions must quickly be realized: the codification of a new shared vision by leaders and practitioners in the architecture and planning community, and the dissemination of the guiding principles of that vision.