Architecture 2030 Challenge: Are we on track?

The green building community has widely embraced the idea that newly constructed buildings and those undergoing major renovations should be carbon neutral by adopting the Architecture 2030 Challenge. Are we, as an industry, on track to meet these goals?

Numerous jurisdictions, including some municipalities and states, now require publicly funded projects to meet the 2030 requirements. In addition to states like Minnesota that require compliance with the 2030 Challenge for state-bonded projects, other states like California are on the path to requiring widespread compliance by including these principles in their upcoming energy codes.


A recent article from Licensed Architect evaluates progress towards achieving the Architecture 2030 Challenge. It uses regional and individual case studies of projects that participated in utility-sponsored energy design assistance programs in the Midwest, through which predicted and actual energy use for various building types and locations were analyzed. In these case studies, whole building energy analysis is used to help project teams balance energy, environmental, and financial goals.


In studies of three Midwestern states, all three are exceeding the national average of 7% achieving 2030 goals, which suggests the difference lies in the energy analysis processes used.


The reductions required to meet the A2030 goals for building energy performance can be achieved if we:

  • Optimize design strategies to minimize the load

  • Maximize efficient and cost-effective systems to meet the load

  • Test the value of the latest technologies, including on-site renewables

  • Educate facilities personnel and occupants so they can properly operate the building systems


Furthermore, both current and emerging technologies will be needed to meet the 70-80% reduction between now and 2020. Coupling efficiency and renewables will reduce the payback for renewables and increase stakeholder appeal of efficiency.


The lowest cost mix of energy efficiency and renewable energy to achieve net-zero will vary by building type and climate, but it will always be a mix. Energy efficiency is generally less expensive than renewable energy, up to a point. That point will depend on the use of the building, local utility rates, and incentives and tax credits for both renewable and efficiency measures. With renewable energy costs falling rapidly year after year, and new more efficient technology becoming available, project specific analysis is needed to determine that balance point.


Integrated design and early, whole-building energy analysis are key to attaining Architecture 2030 goals. Long-term energy reduction to achieve carbon neutrality will require a continuum of energy analysis and monitoring throughout the lifetime of our buildings.


The good news is that the Architecture 2030 goal—making all new buildings, developments, and major renovations carbon neutral in 15 years—is practicable. This is evidenced by utility-sponsored design assistance programs, which have helped design teams in the Midwest achieve better actual results than the Challenge projects average for predicted results over the same time period.