The TH Interview: Edward Mazria, the Man from 2030 (Part One)



Architect Edward Mazria was one of the first to draw major attention to the source that emits almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions: our buildings. Architecture 2030 has been his vehicle for communicating a design logic based on stemming the carbon footprint of the built environment, and his widely adopted 2030 Challenge has laid a strategy for rendering those buildings carbon neutral. Mazria was featured on PBS’s e2 series on sustainable design, and his 2010 Imperative is a call to teach ecological literacy to the fledgling designers of the world. ::TreeHugger Radio
Listen to the podcast of this interview via iTunes, or just listen/right-click to download.

(Thanks to Calabash Music for our soundtrack.)

Full text after the jump. TreeHugger: You've been calling for a lot more focus on climate solutions within design schools. What needs to change and how do you see that manifesting?

Ed Mazria: Well, in essence, climate change has really just come on the scene in full force in the last year. The years prior it's been understood, and many people were talking about it, but it hadn’t blasted onto the scene the way it has now. Now, it's front page news all the time because we're beginning to see some of the effects of climate change.

The schools have not kept up with the news and the situation that we have today. We're going to need students coming out of school that can address the issue. We know, for example, that the building sector is a major part of the global warming problem. So we're going to need to design our buildings very, very differently from now on out.

So when students come out of school and they go into to the profession, especially the design or architecture professions—planning, landscape architecture, interior design, industrial design—they need to have a keen understanding of what the issues are and how to solve the problem within that sector. So the designs have to be appropriate really for today's situation.

TH: You yourself, of course, are an architect but some of your talks make you sound like a climatologist. Is climate science something that architects need to now grasp?

EM: I think so. I think climate science needs to be understood by everyone. I think it's now becoming part of the conversation and people really need to understand what it means and what it means for them. Because everyone has a role to play. Some more than others, but everyone has a role to play in addressing the situation.

We understand that in the building sector we have a major role to play. So we need to, for example, not only change the profession and change the schools, but we need to change the people who ask for buildings to be designed and built. So there's a lot that we need to do to educate all sorts of people about what's going on.

TH: A lot of people really credit you with bringing to public attention in recent years the climate impact of the built environment. So in the simplest terms, how do you define the carbon footprint of buildings?

EM: Well, you need to look at two parts of buildings. There are actually many parts, but these are the two primary parts. The first is building a building and all the energy and greenhouse gas emissions that occur when you manufacture and transport the materials, and when you actually build the building.

So this is what we call the embodied energy component, or the greenhouse gas emissions component, of constructing a building.

The other part of a building is building operations. Now, that is a much larger number. Because once you build the building, it then stands for 25, 50, 75, sometimes 100 years or more. So over its lifetime, in order to operate the building—heating, lighting, cooling, running machinery, the plug load, heating hot water, for example—there are all sorts of building operations and they all consume energy and they all give off greenhouse gas emissions.

So the major portion of greenhouse gas emission is attributed to the building sector's building operations. Another percentage—a much, much smaller percentage—is the embodied energy of building the building and the greenhouse gas emissions.

TH: When you look at the entire pie that represents carbon emissions, how big a slice does the build environment constitute?

EM: Well, the built environment, it's pretty much everything. But if we say just buildings, about 48% of total energy consumption in this country is attributed to buildings. Forty percent on an annual basis is attributed to building operations; 8% is attributed to building the buildings, what I talked about as embodied energy.

So that's just buildings. Then you have transportation; so you have air, rail, auto, and bus, and part of that is attributed to what we'd call the built environment, how you lay out the building plan, so you can affect that part also. It's only three sectors: building, industry, and transportation. And so the build environment consists of all those three.

But the building sector, the designers, also have huge influence on the industrial sector, on the types of materials that they manufacture and whether those materials have high embodied energy or low embodied energy and, therefore, would cut your greenhouse gas emissions.

And you're now seeing programs and instruments in the hands of designers that actually now let them see that. Let's just take carpet, for example. There are so many different carpet products, and there are programs now that let you look at all the different types of carpet and see what the greenhouse gas emissions are for the manufacture of these different types of carpet. Or different types of flooring, or different types of paint, or different types of gypsum board, or other types of board. Different types of woods, things like that.

So those tools are now making their way into the profession, and architects are beginning to use them.

TH: The 2030 Challenge is your creation. Tell us about that.

EM: It's a global challenge that we publicly issued in January of 2006. We basically worked backward and said: what are the reductions we need by 2050, then what are the reductions we need in the building sector by that time, and then we worked back to the present day.

So the first thing we need to do is level out emissions. The building sector's emissions are growing annually and energy consumption is growing annually, because we add more buildings to our building stock every year and our population grows. So the first thing we wanted to do was to stop emissions and energy consumption growth, especially fossil fuel energy consumption growth.

So we looked at the numbers: how many square feet are demolished in this country every year, how many square feet are renovated every year, and then how many square feet are built new every year. And what we discovered was that we renovate just about as much square footage as we build new in this country.

So, what we said is, if we renovate a building, we tighten it up and make it more efficient, and we reduce its consumption by 50%, then we've made room for new buildings.

Then if new buildings are 50% lower than the average for each building type, then we've basically leveled out the curve, because we make room, with renovation, for new buildings. We cut down their energy consumption to make room for the energy consumption of newer buildings.

And so that's how the first phase of the 2030 Challenge works. What it calls for is a 50% reduction in fossil-fuel energy for all new buildings and major renovations below the regional average for that building. So that flattens the curve out.

In order to bend the curve down, what we've done is we've increased the reduction by 10% every five years so that, by the year 2030, we get to zero, to what we term "carbon neutral." Which means that any new building designed in the year 2030 would be designed to use no greenhouse gas-emitting energy to operate. That doesn't mean the buildings don't use energy to operate, they just don't use greenhouse gas-emitting energy. And that's why we termed it the 2030 Challenge.

Tags: Architects | Buildings | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | Carbon Neutral | Design Competitions

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