Data-Driven Transparency

Take a step back from the microcosm of the LEED plaque for a moment. Look at the big picture of global climate change. To move the dial, achievements in carbon reduction require data-driven transparency. Who are we asking to drive this shift? Architects and existing building operators have been targeted to influence climate change on a massive scale. Let’s take a quick tour of three high level sustainability programs established within the last decade:

  1. 2030 Challenge (est. 2006)
  2. Better Buildings Initiative (est. 2011)
  3. 80 x 50 (est. 2014)


2030 Challenge

The first call to action started as the pet project of one Architect’s sensitivity to climate change. Edward Mazria founded Architecture 2030 as a non-profit in 2002, and rolled out the 2030 Challenge in 2006. The organization has an ambitious mission:

“To rapidly transform the global built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate crisis.”

In addition to the AIA, ASHRAE, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the federal government, and other agencies have adopted the 2030 Challenge. Interested firms are encouraged to independently adopt and implement the challenge on new construction and major renovation projects.

The 2030 Challenge exclusively targets building for carbon reduction. Firms are encouraged to use the Zero Tool to calculate baselines and targets.


2030 Commitment

The AIA supported the endeavor whole heartedly by establishing framework for a 2030 Commitment. It asks that Architecture firms to voluntarily pledge their commitment to the goal of, “all new buildings, developments, and major renovations shall be carbon-neutral by 2030.”

To support constructive steps towards the goal, the AIA also established an online tool called the Design Data Exchange (DDx) to help track progress towards carbon-neutral buildings. DDx relies on designers performing energy models to predict a building’s energy use intensity (EUI).

Read a summary the 2015 Progress Report from Architect magazine.


Better Buildings Initiative

President Obama introduced the Better Buildings Initiative in a 2011 State of the Union Address. It takes shape as a U.S. Department of Energy initiative. The goal is 20 percent more energy efficient existing buildings by 2020.

Learn about the four key areas in this infographic. Then, review the progress with this interactive map.

The Better Building Initiative is multifaceted. It encompasses 13 Partnerships to promote leadership, financing, and collaboration to meet the reduction goals. The most well known partnership is the Better Buildings Challenge, which is targeted towards CEOs, University Presidents, state and local government leaders to adopt and transform their sphere of influence.

The success of the Better Building Challenge is supported by municipal benchmarking ordinances that have also been adopted by numerous mayors. In addition to commercial buildings, the Better Building Initiative includes manufacturing plants and residential home improvements.



The only non-national program in this list is NYC’s 80×50. Based on United Nations Paris Climate Agreement, the City of New York committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 (80 x 50). Progressive cities around the world are committing to achieving this goal through energy supply, buildings, transportation, and solid waste.

The city has committed billions of dollars and developed a comprehensive roadmap of policies and programs to curb carbon emissions. This initiative is unique because it looks beyond the building envelope and into these sectors:

  • Transition towards a renewables-based electric grid
  • Reduce the number of miles driven in New York City while replacing remaining vehicles to zero-emissions vehicles
  • Achieve the goal of Zero Waste to landfills


Whats Next?

As more practitioners join the movement for benchmarking, transparency, and optimization of our built environment, new doors open for organizations to inspire change. Two influencers to follow are:

It may seem like all these challenges and commitments overlap. Then it becomes difficult to know what takes precedence. The big takeaway is that data-driven transparency is more urgent than ever. No matter if you participate in one or all of these initiatives, the bottom line is that you participate.