Starchitect Ed Mazria On The 2030 Challenge and How Designers Can Beat Climate Change

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Ed Mazria earned an architecture degree from the Pratt Institute and continued with graduate studies at the University of New Mexico. He built a successful practice in New Mexico, becoming an expert on passive solar building design and energy efficiency. During the oil embargos of the 1970s, Mazria closely examined the energy consumption of his buildings – long before any widespread understanding of climate change existed.

In the early 2000s, while reviewing research on climate change and carbon emissions for a series of workshops at his firm, Mazria noticed that all of the projections at that time did not include a Building Sector – as if, to researchers, Building Sector energy consumption and emissions did not exist. Mazria discovered that those projections were not telling the true story.  Our risk of irreparable environmental harm had not been mitigated between the 1970s and the early 2000s, but had metastasized – and he wanted to let architects know. 
Mazria founded Architecture 2030, a nonprofit research organization with a mission to rapidly transform the built environment from the major contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a central part of the solution to the climate and energy crises. Architecture 2030 pursues two primary objectives: the dramatic reduction in global fossil fuel consumption and GHG emissions of the built environment by changing the way cities, communities, infrastructure, and buildings, are planned, designed, and constructed and; the regional development of an adaptive, resilient built environment that can manage the impacts of climate change, preserve natural resources, and access low-cost, renewable energy resources. Here Ed Mazria reflects on his biggest accomplishments to date and lessons for future designers. 

You've been working as an award winning architect for many decades, what is it that made you decide to try to steer the profession in a more sustainable, climate friendly direction? What drives you Ed? 

I've worked on passive design strategies in architecture from the 1970s, both as a researcher and teacher, and then as a practicing architect in my own projects. In 1979 I wrote The Passive Solar Energy Book. It was clear to me early on that we were planning and designing buildings in ways that were inefficient, disconnected from the natural environment, and required too much energy to operate.

When climate change became an issue, I discovered that much of the United States’ energy production was used to operate and build buildings, and was shocked to discover nearly half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced by the building sector. I realized then that building design professionals – architects, engineers and planners – had a great responsibility, and also a great opportunity to make a real difference. That chance to move the building sector from being one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions to being a key part of the solution is what drives me and our organization Architecture 2030.

To date, what have been your greatest accomplishments of the 2030 Challenge and associated programs?
Since 2006, the landscape for low-carbon buildings has been transformed, and designing with sustainability and high performance in mind has become the standard approach. Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) buildings have gone from being prototypes and experiments to being widely built and, in the case of California, being the standard that will be adopted for new residential buildings in 2020 and commercial buildings in 2030. Of course, this entire shift is not only due to the 2030 Challenge, but it has helped focus the industry’s attention on the problem, and suggested a path to solving it.

The 2030 Challenge has been adopted and is being implemented by 80 percent of the top 10 and 65 percent of the top 20 architecture/engineering/planning firms in the U.S. In addition, the AIA, ASHRAE, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the federal government, and many other organizations and state and local governments and agencies have adopted the Challenge. In Canada, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Ontario Association of Architects and cities such as Vancouver have also adopted the Challenge targets.

The Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 set a clear target of limiting the global average temperature increase above pre-industrial levels to less than 2 degrees C, and work towards keeping it under 1.5 degrees. Architecture 2030 was instrumental in organizinga Buildings Day that took place in Paris at the talks. At Buildings Day, Architecture 2030 called for a carbon neutral building sector by 2050 – which is what we’ll need to do to meet the targets set in Paris.

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