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Build a better Earth Day with better buildings

By American Institute of Architects Published in the Illinois Times, Thursday, April 29, 2021

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Having recently celebrated Earth Day, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the world's largest design organization, is asking architects, design professionals, building industry partners, civic leaders and the public to join us in our effort to create a zero-carbon, resilient, healthy and equitable built environment. One way to make a big difference is joining us in our support of the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Rising global temperatures are causing climate-related natural disasters, and one of the biggest culprits is in plain sight – buildings. In total, buildings account for about 40% of annual fossil fuel carbon-dioxide emissions (CO2). That makes buildings responsible for more CO2 emissions than cows, cars or the manufacturing industry. Building materials, construction and ongoing operations, by contrast, produce most of the rest. In Illinois we are suffering from our own climate crisis. In the last few years, we've seen an increase in major flooding, record-breaking Lake Michigan water levels, higher temperatures and a rise in tornadic activity.

We must act now to stop this emergency.

In just a few weeks, Illinois lawmakers will take action on a bold new comprehensive energy policy to greatly improve energy efficiency in buildings and ramp up renewable energy development. The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) will put our state on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050, cut carbon emissions from the power sector and create much-needed jobs and economic opportunity in every part of Illinois.

Big challenges call for big ideas.

AIA Illinois is a member of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition and strongly supports the Clean Energy Jobs Act. We are particularly excited to see the Building Energy Performance Standard for state buildings in CEJA. These standards, which may also be adopted by local jurisdictions, are flexible and drive innovative solutions. The Clean Energy Jobs Act also supports efficiency programs to fix health and safety problems like faulty wiring and poor indoor air quality in low-income homes. These programs will improve residents' health and create training and small business development opportunities in these communities.

AIA architects throughout Illinois are working to curb our carbon addiction. We are challenging ourselves to create new high-performance buildings that are passive, all electric, and produce zero CO2 emissions. As of 2020, over 130 Chicago firms have signed on to the AIA 2030 Commitment – a holistic, firm-wide, project based, and data-driven pledge, aimed at making all new buildings and renovations carbon-neutral by 2030.

It is our personal and professional responsibility, as leaders in the design and construction industry, to make the business and financial case to our clients and to help them better understand and support integrating renewable energy sources into all buildings, making them more sustainable, resilient and economical. AIA Illinois will continue to provide trainings related to cost-effective energy efficiency, recycling and use of repurposed materials; we will work to update our statewide codes where it makes sense, and lobby for historic preservation tax credits to promote the adaptive reuse of buildings and to reduce the carbon footprint of new construction.

We can all do more.

Climate change will become irreversible soon. We must change how we design and build projects. We hope you will join us and support policies, like the Clean Energy Jobs Act, that align with our shared goal to reduce and eliminate carbon in the built environment.

Stand with us.

Contributed by Fred Brandstrader, AIA, 2021 AIA Illinois board president, Jessica Figenholtz, AIA, LEED, AP, 2021 AIA Chicago board president, and Karen Shoup, AIA, 2021 AIA Prairie Illinois board president.

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