Frequently asked questions about the 2030 Challenge


Q. What is the baseline for the 2030 Challenge?

A. On May 4, 2007 the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Architecture 2030, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), supported by representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, agreed to define the baseline starting point for their common target goals as the national average/median energy consumption of existing U.S. commercial buildings as reported by the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). CBECS data is a set of whole-building energy use measurements gathered by the DOE’s Energy Information Administration, which can be used to determine a national energy use intensity using kBtu/sq. ft.-yr as the metric.

See Press Release.


Q. What is the metric for the 2030 Challenge?

A. The metric for the 2030 Challenge is site Energy Use Intensity (EUI) in kBtu/sq. ft.-yr, not source EUI.


Q. Are the 2030 Challenge targets for the year I start design or for the year the design of the project is expected to be completed?

A. The 2030 Challenge targets are for the year of the project’s completion of design, not the year that the project begins initial design.


Q. Does the 2030 Challenge call for all new building and major renovations to be “net-zero energy” building by 2030?

A. No, the 2030 Challenge advocates for “carbon-neutral” buildings in 2030, which is not to be confused with “net-zero energy” buildings. A carbon-neutral building is defined to be a building that uses no fossil fuel, greenhouse-gas-emitting energy to operate. In contrast a net-zero energy building must produce as much energy on site as it consumes.


Q. Can I just buy renewable energy for my project and meet the 2030 Challenge?

A. No, Architecture 2030 advocates that the 2030 Challenge energy reductions be met firstly through energy-efficient design strategies. These are low-cost and/or no-cost options, which include proper orientation, daylighting and passive heating and cooling strategies, etc. Secondly, Architecture 2030 recommends applying energy-efficient technologies and systems, which include high-efficiency mechanical equipment and on-site renewable energy generation. Once all energy-efficient design strategies and technologies are exhausted, Architecture 2030 recommends purchasing off-site renewable energy and/or renewable energy credits for the project’s remaining energy needs (20% maximum).


Q. The 2030 Challenge allows for 20% maximum of off-site renewable energy and/or renewable energy credits. 20% of what?

A. The 2030 Challenge allows for 20% of the required reduction to come from purchasing renewable energy and/or certified renewable energy credits. [This is also a major difference from a net-zero energy building.] Presently, the Challenge allows for 20% of the 70% reduction, but as the Challenge progresses it will be 20% of the 80% reduction, or 20% of the 90% reduction, and so on. The rest of the reduction should be gained firstly through energy-efficient design and secondly through on-site technology (including on-site renewable energy).

Architecture 2030 does not discourage using utility renewable energy and/or renewable energy credits for the rest of the project’s power; however, only 20% of the reduction can be counted towards meeting the 2030 Challenge targets.


Q. Of the 20% maximum allowed, which types of renewable energy and/or certified renewable energy credits qualify for purchase?

A. We recommend consulting the Green-e Climate Protocol for Renewable Energy for determining the types of acceptable renewable energy purchases.


Q. Is there a tool I can use to see if my project is meeting the 2030 Challenge?

A. Yes, Architecture 2030 has developed an online tool, Zero Tool, that enables users to determine the average energy consumption of specific building types in a specific region, as well as to determine energy reduction targets in accordance with the 2030 Challenge. Zero Tool should be the first resource in determining a projects energy consumption target.


Q. What if my project’s building type is not available in the Zero Tool?

A. If a project’s building type or median site EUI is not available in the Zero Tool there are a number of strategies that can be used to establish an appropriate baseline:*

  1. Local or regional energy consumption databases (e.g. from benchmarking and disclosure ordinance reporting) can be used to assess the performance of similar building types and estimate a baseline.
  2. Firm portfolio data, or data from peer firms, can be used to assess the performance of similar building types and estimate a baseline.
  3. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory initiative Labs 21 has created an energy-benchmarking tool to determine the average energy consumption of laboratories and associated energy reduction targets.
  4. If no appropriate data can be found, projects can target carbon neutrality, which makes establishing a baseline unnecessary.

*Use best practices and professional judgment when estimating a baseline, and be sure to consider all factors that affect energy performance including climate, weather, space type, building size, occupancy, and schedule.


Q. To meet 2030 Challenge guidelines (in the strict sense) is it necessary to include the embodied energy/GHG emissions created during building material production?

A. Although operating energy is the majority of energy consumed by buildings, the embodied energy of the materials that compose buildings is an important consideration to designers. Embodied energy is the energy used in production and distribution of a product or material. Presently the embodied energy of building materials contributes anywhere from 15 to 20% of the energy used by a building over a 50-year period. Designers have tremendous influence as to what material are used and can specify those materials with low embodied energy, thus reducing the amount of fossil-fuel energy used during production. Also, as the operating energy is reduced through efficient design and technology, embodied energy will become more and more important in reducing a building’s carbon footprint. See:  canadianarchitect


Q. Are there any governmental rewards or incentives for energy conserving designers, energy companies, contractors, or any other people directly involved with the construction of buildings?

A. Some states, counties, and cities provide incentives specifically targeted to builders and developers such as expedited permitting processes for green building, tax rebates and loans. Search by your state at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.


Q. What is considered a “Major Renovation”?

A. A Major Renovation is any renovation of a building where (a) the total cost of the renovation related to the building envelope or the technical building systems is higher than 25 % of the value of the building, excluding the value of the land upon which the building is situated, or (b) more than 25 % of the surface of the building envelope undergoes renovation.


Q. Is the 2030 Challenge the same thing as the AIA 2030 Commitment?

A. No, the main difference between adoption of the 2030 Challenge and that of the AIA 2030 Commitment is one of scope. The 2030 Challenge is specifically focused on lowering building energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Although the 2030 Challenge is at the core of the AIA 2030 Commitment, the Commitment – which only applies to AIA members – encompasses other issues as well, such as incorporating water and indoor air quality requirements in every design and outlining internal policies within the firm with regards to recycling, green product purchasing and energy conservation, among others.

In addition, the AIA’s Commitment asks for actions plans and implementation steps to be documented and submitted to the AIA by committed firms “for posting on the website and subsequent dissemination.” Although Architecture 2030 encourages 2030 Challenge adopters to keep them informed about their process and progress, it is not required.

The 2030 Challenge is a stand-alone commitment and Architecture 2030 encourages all firms to become official adopters here, and to begin using the 2030 Challenge Adopter’s logo to indicate that your firm is committed to designing buildings that meet the 2030 Challenge targets.

Those wishing to incorporate the additional steps required by the AIA 2030 Commitment should also sign on to the Commitment. However, if you have signed on to the Commitment and have not yet become an official adopter of the 2030 Challenge, we ask that you do so because, in order to fulfill the requirements of the AIA 2030 Commitment, the buildings your firm designs must meet the 2030 Challenge.

Featured Programs and Initiatives