Beyond EUI: EHDD’s AIA 2030 Commitment Evolution
In April of this year, Michelle Amt at VMDO wrote an inspiring article about being radically transparent in their journey toward achieving the goals set by the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) 2030 Commitment. We recognize Michelle’s courage and integrity in making such a post and wanted to honor those ideals by publicly sharing the results from our 2022 portfolio.
EHDD has been a signatory to the AIA 2030 Commitment for over a decade. During that time, we have been an industry leader in achieving the goals set by the challenge and have met AIA targets for 8 out of 10 years since we started reporting in 2013.
In 2022, our firmwide average performance declined by approximately 10% compared to our 2021 performance, missing the AIA 2030 target. We are digging into the data to better understand why this is, including examining performance data by project type. For instance, we see that our student residence halls lagged behind the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) reduction of some other project types; meanwhile, the percentage of our work represented by student housing jumped up substantially in the last few years. Going forward, focusing more attention on student housing performance is a priority.
EHDD’s aim is to eliminate fossil fuel use from our projects, support grid electrification, reduce energy use within realistic limits, and address embodied carbon. This shift is clearly evidenced by two significant projects included in our 2021 and 2022 portfolios, the AIA National Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the YouTube Campus Expansion in San Bruno, California. Both projects relied on a mix of on-site and grid-provided renewable energy to achieve the AIA 2030 targets.
The AIA National Headquarters is an existing building renovation that achieved robust improvements in energy performance with a gross pEUI of 32 and included as many onsite renewables as could fit on the site. Operational carbon neutrality was achieved through the purchase of fully additional renewable power from the D.C. power grid. Similarly, our YouTube Campus Expansion in California combines extensive onsite renewables, a microgrid with battery storage, and offsite renewables to achieve zero carbon operation.
Additionally, in our work on Sonoma Clean Power Headquarters, EHDD has also been considering how patterns of energy use can be as important to reducing carbon emissions as the total amount of energy used. This GridOptimal pilot project shifts energy use to times when the grid has higher levels of generation from renewables—such as during the day when the sun is shining—orienting us toward a future where buildings are a resource, not a burden, to the electrical grid. This strategy also has the potential to reduce time-of-use electricity rates, resulting in both carbon and cost savings while taking the pressure off the grid.
Analysis using our EPIC tool shows that combining electrification and efficiency can reduce emissions beyond efficiency alone. As our research summary shows, while electrification achieves only a 25% reduction in energy use, it achieves an almost 80% reduction in carbon emissions. From a carbon perspective, it’s much more impactful to push for all-electric power than for a slight improvement in efficiency. This is true in various locations and across diverse project types.
The approaches for these projects align with the recent changes in the AIA 2030 Commitment reporting system that allows for counting legitimate (additional & dedicated) off-site renewables as negative EUI to offset operational energy. This change highlights a shift from thinking purely about energy reduction to one that aims to decarbonize the entire building stock while supporting the energy grid’s shift to renewable generation. A shift to focusing on carbon can help projects that cannot achieve an extremely low EUI (especially existing building retrofits) and that cannot accommodate significant onsite renewables to still meet the intent of the AIA 2030 commitment and contribute to the scalability of decarbonized energy.
The AIA’s 2030 Design Data Exchange (DDx) now invites firms to report on embodied carbon data. Both of the EHDD projects highlighted above also underwent significant embodied carbon reductions with analysis through full life-cycle assessments. While this was tracked in the AIA 2030 DDx, it does not currently contribute to the portfolio’s percent reduction number — an accounting metric we hope to see reflected in future iterations of the 2030 reporting.
We applaud the continuing efforts of the AIA 2030 Working Group to move the program away from EUI and toward fossil fuel reductions across operational and embodied emissions. And while our firm would like to be meeting the 80% reduction goal today, we are confident that by addressing carbon broadly in our projects, EHDD is on track to meet the ultimate goal of zero emission buildings by 2030.