Why Aren't There More Energy-Efficient Buildings?

  • 2015-11-19
  • CityLab

For the fifth year running, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) has crunched the numbers on its national sustainability challenge, the AIA 2030 Commitment. Architects who sign up pledge to strive to meet an ambitious energy-efficiency target in their designs—a 60 percent reduction in predicted energy-use intensity (pEUI, or the amount of energy they expect their buildings to use) from baseline levels. A report on the program issued Thursday shows mixed results.

The good news is that more architects are taking the oath to design sustainably, and a whole lot more of the total building square footage now being planned is intended to be highly energy efficient.

The square footage represented in the AIA’s database has grown to 2.4 billion, an increase of 50 percent. The number of architectural projects represented has risen even more dramatically to 4,354, a 78 percent increase. These figures suggest that high-performance building is gaining momentum among U.S. architects.

The design data submitted by participants, however, paints a less rosy picture. The average pEUI reduction reported by the firms came nowhere near the 60 percent target: It was just 34 percent. And that number has hardly budged since the AIA began collecting this data in 2010. From 2013 to 2014, the mean pEUI reduction improved by only 3 percent.