The 2030 Challenege
Acting Now To Reduce Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Edward Mazria

August 1, 2007

Since buildings are responsible for almost half of all U.S. energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually, stabilizing emissions in the building sector and reversing them to acceptable levels over the next 10 years is critical to any attempt to address global warming and climate change. As a key stakeholder in the building sector, the construction industry and its suppliers have a major role in determining the success of any U.S. effort to bring its GHG emissions under control.

Often the best solutions to a crisis are overlooked or ignored because they are not new or sexy. Such is the case with global warming. The most effective, cheapest, and least damaging solution to this crisis involves practices and methods that are readily available. Good design and efficiency have been used for centuries to create buildings that work with the landscape instead of against it, and have only recently fallen by the wayside in the wake of plentiful, cheap fossil fuels.

Clearly, proper insulation plays a key role in ensuring that a building is efficient. It is essential that those in this industry bring insulation, as well as other materials and building methods that contribute to a building’s efficiency, into the discussion on climate change. Issues that must be addressed include not only the operating energy saved due to proper insulation, but also the type and amount of energy it takes to make the material. Proper insulation also plays a key role in meeting The 2030 Challenge, a global initiative issued by Architecture 2030. This initiative calls for all new buildings and major renovations to reduce their fossil-fuel GHG-emitting consumption by 50 percent by 2010, and for all new buildings to be “carbon neutral” by 2030. The 2030 Challenge specifically calls for the following:

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

These targets may be accomplished by implementing innovative sustainable design strategies, as well as by generating on-site renewable power and/or purchasing (20-percent maximum) renewable energy and/or certified renewable energy credits. Design and efficiency can play the largest roles in achieving the goals of The 2030 Challenge. According to Architecture 2030, most developments and buildings can be designed to use only a small amount of energy at little or no additional cost through proper planning; siting; building form; insulation; glass properties and location; shading; material selection; and by incorporating natural heating, cooling, ventilation, and day-lighting strategies. The additional energy necessary to maintain comfort and operate equipment can be supplied by renewable resources, such as solar, wind, biomass, and other viable carbon-free sources.

The 2030 Challenge has been adopted and supported by numerous organizations, states, cities, and design firms, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors (Resolution number 50); American Institute of Architects; U.S. Green Building Council; the states of Illinois and New Mexico; the counties of Sarasota, Florida, and Fulton, Georgia; the international firms of Perkins & Will and HKS; and many others. All of those involved in deciding the energy footprint of buildings are encouraged to adopt and implement The 2030 Challenge within their areas of influence.

In addition to practicing and encouraging good design methods, those who wish to make a difference must also address the processes that are causing harm, or their efforts will not make a difference. Reducing GHG emissions is one of the key steps to avoiding catastrophic climate change worldwide, yet there are 151 conventional coal-fired power plants on the drawing boards in the United States. Seventy-six percent of the energy produced by these plants will be used to operate buildings. According to Edward Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, “People across the United States are investing large amounts of time, resources, and money to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change, but if they allow conventional pulverized-coal plants to continue being built in the Untied States, all of their efforts are for naught.”

To bring this point home, Mazria explains that in just one year, the CO2 output of a conventional pulverized-coal plant negates the benefits of planting 30 million trees. He notes that “the annual CO2 emissions of a large conventional pulverized-coal plant would also negate the efforts of adoptees of The 2030 Challenge to reduce by 50 percent the fossil-fuel energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of approximately half a million existing residences.”

According to Mazria, the next steps are congressional action on conventional pulverized-coal plants and an updated national Building Energy Efficiency Code Standard that incorporates the new benchmarks and 2030 Challenge targets, along with the financial incentives to implement the Standard.

To learn more about The 2030 Challenge and the work of Architecture 2030, please visit