The 2030 Challenge

The 2030 Challenge

By on 02/01/2008

The 2030 Challenge is a proposal by Architecture 2030, a nonprofit started by Edward Mazria, AIA in 2002. “2030’s mission is to rapidly transform the United States and global building sector, from the major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to the global-warming crisis,” according to the program’s Web site. “Our goal is straightforward: to achieve a dramatic reduction in the global-warming-causing greenhouse gas emissions of the building sector by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed and constructed.”

The genius of this approach is that it looks at one sector of the economy: buildings. It then evaluates buildings’ contributions to the problem of global warming. Finally, it charts a course toward transforming the building sector. The end goal is to have all buildings be either carbon neutral or using no greenhouse-gas-emitting energy by 2030.

Architecture 2030 has issued The 2030 Challenge, asking the global architecture and building community to adopt the following targets.

  • All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil-fuel, greenhouse-gas-emitting, energy-consumption performance standard of 50 percent of the regional (or national) average for that building type.
  • At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil-fuel, greenhouse-gas-emitting, energy-consumption performance standard of 50 percent of the regional (or national) average for that building type.
  • The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings shall be increased to: 
    60 percent in 2010 
    70 percent in 2015 
    80 percent in 2020 
    90 percent in 2025 
    100 percent carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuels or greenhouse-gas-emitting energy to operate).

These targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative, sustainable design strategies, generating on-site renewable power or purchasing renewable-energy credits.

This is obviously a dramatic change in the way buildings are typically constructed and operated. It is motivated by a consensus of climate scientists who demonstrate that we have very little time to make major changes to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included over 2,500 scientific reviewers from 130 countries, and constituted the strongest statement yet about the state and progress of climate change. Dangerous climate-change effects are likely to be seen at lower temperature increases than previously reported, according to the report. The fact that buildings use 76 percent of the electricity generated, most of which is derived from coal — the most intensive greenhouse-gas-generating fuel — places the building community at the forefront of this battle.

“Over an 11-year period (1973-1983), the United States built approximately 30 billion square feet of new buildings, added approximately 35 million new vehicles and increased real GDP by over one trillion dollars (in year 2000 dollars) while decreasing its energy consumption and CO2 emissions,” according to Architecture 2030.

If we look at the technological breakthrough and integration of computers over the last 25 years, we also see the possibilities for global change in a short time. We have the technology now. We need the commitment at all levels — from individuals, to businesses, to local, state and federal governments — in order to make a transition happen. The costs of relying on fossil fuels, particularly coal, are enormous. We need incentives and subsidies that address the real consequences of relying upon carbon-based fuels. The cost of preventing the worst effects of climate change today is low in comparison with the price we’ll pay for doing nothing.

The 2030 Challenge is a clear analysis of the role of buildings in global climate change. It demonstrates the pace at which we need to change in order to avoid the high risks of increased carbon-dioxide emissions from human activity. Some of the risks associated with accelerated global warming are extreme weather events, such as more droughts and floods, sea-level rise and an accelerated loss of species. On the other side of the coin, economic opportunities abound in the new economy of energy conservation and clean technology that our area can take advantage of.

The AIA, many cities and organizations including Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the U.S. Green Building Council, have signed on as supporters of the 2030 Challenge. There are a few from our area, too: Visit to see who supports the challenge. Ideally, this model could be adapted to other segments of the economy, from agriculture to industry to transportation. The problem is big enough for everyone to play a part in finding a solution.

Visit for more information about Architecture 2030. Go to to learn about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.