As of this writing, more than 500 architecture and engineering firms have signed onto the AIA’s 2030 Commitment, a voluntary commitment to pursue deep energy reductions across their portfolios and report their progress. 

But if the level of participation demonstrates a high interest in sustainability, the reporting numbers tell a different story. As of the AIA’s last progress report, less than half of firms reported, and only six met the program’s goals across their portfolio.   

Why the discrepancy? The fact is that clients, not architects, establish a project’s priorities and decide what to pay for. Many clients are unaware of the benefits of high-performance design. And most assume (often incorrectly) that high performance comes with a high cost.  

It is often left to the design team to educate the client and make the case for performance. This can be a challenge because building a robust case can be a major undertaking.  

Architects need a better way to build a case for sustainability with their clients. Many also need a better way to meet their 2030 reporting commitments. What if 2030 reporting, the analysis it requires, and the data it generates, can all be leveraged to solve both problems — and in the process add value to projects?

 

The 2030 Commitment: Carbon Neutral by 2030

 

For those not familiar, the AIA 2030 Commitment challenges participants to achieve a 70% energy reduction from a typical building, and progress toward 100% reduction (carbon neutral) by 2030. Firms report via the online Design Data Exchange (DDx), and through tools like Sefaira that integrate into the DDx

The 2030 Challenge aims for a 70% reduction in energy use for new buildings, decreasing to carbon neutral by 2030. 

Firms are asked to report their entire portfolio of ongoing work once a year — meaning that many projects are captured at multiple points in the design process. For many firms, this is a time-consuming effort disconnected from the design process — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three ways firms can leverage their 2030 reporting to maximum effect.

 

1. Use the DDx to Benchmark Performance

 

Many clients may not want to pay a premium to be ahead of the curve on performance, but they don’t want to fall behind, either. You can use the DDx to get a fast, reliable baseline for any building, which shows the performance of similar buildings regionally or nationally. This baseline provides a meaningful point of reference for clients and serves as a springboard for a conversation around energy.

The AIA 2030 DDx can help you find a Baseline Energy Use Intensity and 2030 Challenge Target for your building. 

The DDx can also visualize data from all reported projects (anonymized, of course). That means you can position your design against other similar buildings in your region. Unlike the 2030 Baseline, this is a group of new projects designed by fellow 2030 adopters — arguably a more representative group of peers. This sample will likely show that a large number of similar buildings have achieved deep reductions — often around 40-50% from the baseline.

The DDx’s “Research” tool can be used to see how other similar buildings are performing. 

Firms can build upon these for even more control. For example, creating custom Space Use templates for building types they frequently work on, or custom Envelope templates to reflect the firm’s standard assemblies and details.  

In this way, benchmarking does two things:

  1. It raises the bar in terms of what a client sees as the competitive landscape and desirable performance within that landscape; 
  2. It reduces the perceived risk of high performance by demonstrating that others have already tread this path.

Sefaira Tip: You can get a benchmark in minutes by using Sefaira’s DDx integration. Simply click the “upload project” link, double-check your project information, and upload to the DDx. Most of the necessary DDx inputs are automatically pre-populated by Sefaria. If you don’t yet have a Sefaira model, a quick study model with the appropriate square footage is enough to get started.

The process of uploading a project from Sefaira to the AIA 2030 DDx is quick and straightforward. 

2. Use 2030 Reporting to Inform Design

 

The 2030 Commitment asks firms to report on every project at least once a year. But rather than doing this all at once (in an annual Herculean effort by your firm’s sustainability team), integrate analysis and reporting as a standard part of your schematic design process. This has a few benefits:

  1. It helps you make the case for better performance. When incorporated into schematic design, analysis isn’t just for reporting: it can do double duty as a design tool. A quick comparison of options, or assessment of “low hanging fruit” can lead to a productive conversation around performance.
  2. It demonstrates your team’s value & expertise. Clear graphic outputs and interpretation of data leave a lasting impression on clients, increasing the perceived value of your design services and highlighting your expertise. This shifts 2030 reporting from a costly obligation for your firm to a value-adding step.
  3. It builds a repository of data. Over time, consistent reporting gives you a dataset you can use to do internal benchmarking or market your firm’s capabilities. (We expand on this below.)
  4. It frees your sustainability team to work on projects and helps to build the capacity and expertise of your project teams.

Of course, this doesn’t have to be limited to Schematic Design. You can design multiple 2030 reporting checkpoints into your typical process, aligned with analyses you want to do anyway.

Sefaira’s graphic outputs can quickly create a client-facing presentation based off a schematic analysis. 

Sefaira Tip: Use the “Guidance” tab in the plugin to help identify design strategies based upon your design’s performance. Each strategy links to a page of the 2030 Palette, which provides detailed guidance and case studies.

 3. Leverage the DDx’s Data

    

Once you’re reporting regularly, the DDx becomes even more valuable as a repository for your firm’s data. This opens a few more opportunities:

  1. Build performance into your firm’s reputation as a core value proposition. Use the data in the DDx to demonstrate your ability to deliver results.
  2. Analyze your firm’s data to see how project performance evolves over time, to identify opportunities for improvement, and to highlight successful areas you may be able to learn from. For example, you may learn that certain building types or design studios are consistently over- or under-performing; this data can inform future initiatives.
  3. Shift clients’ mindset and expectations around building performance. Many clients are not aware of the value of high performance. Portfolio-level data provides an opportunity to document and discuss the benefits of high-performance design — whether energy cost savings, capital savings that result from an Integrated Design approach, or improvements in daylighting or comfort. This changes the conversation around performance to one of “value” rather than “cost” — and has the added benefit of positioning your firm as adding value beyond what the client may expect.

Sefaira Tip: Add the Sefaira project URL to the AIA 2030 DDx, so you can always find your way back to the analysis model.

Use the DDx “Notes” field to link back to the Sefaira analysis model. 

Approached in this way, the 2030 Commitment and its reporting requirements are not about managing an arduous “reporting” exercise. Instead, it’s a catalyst for improving the design process, integrating lightweight analysis, and capturing valuable project data — all of which help you to provide more value to clients and better make the case for high-performance design.