Reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment

A roadmap for action after COP21

For years, the largest source of energy demand in the United States has been for the operation of buildings. In 2011, 43 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S. was dedicated to the heating, cooling, and powering of buildings, outpacing demand for both industry and transportation. As a whole, buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions. The effects of climate challenge cannot be addressed without changing the way our buildings are designed, constructed, and operated.

That makes architects uniquely positioned to lead efforts to increase energy efficiency and incorporate renewable sources in the built environment through their work. From establishing the project mass and orientation to incorporating passive lighting and ventilation strategies, architects make numerous decisions that are key to reducing the energy consumption of building designs.

With the conclusion of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris last December and its effort to forge a global climate change action plan, the American Institute of Architects and its members stand ready to work with policy makers in the United States to advance programs that encourage solutions for a sustainable and prosperous future. These include energy conservation and the development of renewables, and working with allies in the international design community to help reduce the impact of the built environment on the planet’s climate.

An AIA issue paper, “Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the Built Environment — A Roadmap for Action After COP21,” details the actions architects can take after the Paris meeting.

For more than 150 years, the more than 86,000 members of AIA have worked to advance our quality of life through design. From designing the next generation of energy-saving buildings to making our communities healthier and more vibrant, architects play a central role in advancing a better built environment through their work.

The architecture community has undertaken multiple efforts to help reduce U.S. and global energy demand through more energy-efficient building design and construction. The Architecture 2030 Challenge, the 2012 International Green Construction Code (IgCC), and the UIA 2050 Imperative, along with steadily increasing consumer demand for environmentally responsible buildings and products, show that high-performing building design will be a lasting shift in the construction industry.

For architects, the majority of high-performing design efforts have focused on producing highly efficient new buildings, largely due to easier adoption of advanced technologies in new construction. Energy-efficient design in the existing building stock is a less mature market, even though each year another 5 billion square feet of existing buildings are renovated – equal to the yearly total square footage of new construction.

The new building market is a key driver in the development of advanced energy efficiency technology and investment. Since architects can direct a building’s energy consumption in overall building design, increases in efficiency are somewhat easier to achieve in this market. However, lack of knowledge and training, financing, and commitment drives building owners to often opt for less expensive, less efficient building designs.

Read the full issue paper: Reducing the Carbon Footprint of the Built Environment: A Roadmap for Action After

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