Alibi V.16 No.9 • March 1-7, 2007 

News Profile

In the Year 2030

Ed Mazria leads a new generation of architecture

Ed Mazria has been an advocate for sustainable architecture for more than 30 years.
Ed Mazria has been an advocate for sustainable architecture for more than 30 years.
Courtesy of Mazria Inc.

Ed Mazria takes global warming seriously. The Santa Fe architect is taking carbon emissions so seriously he’s brought his fight to reduce carbon emissions to the rest of the planet.

Mazria is the founder of Architecture 2030, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing building-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Traditionally, greenhouse gas emissions have been thought to come from the transportation, industry, residential buildings and commercial building sectors. These and similar categories are used by the Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental entities to determine where pollutants originate.

But, as an architect, Mazria felt a responsibility for the building sector as a whole.

So in 2003, he cut the carbon emissions pie into nontraditional slices: transportation, industry and all building types lumped together--including operations, construction and building materials.

What he found when he redistributed the responsibility for carbon emissions is buildings contribute 48 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

His first priority was to make the problem known so that the people in the building sector understood their contribution. “We were going along thinking it was transportation like everyone else,” he says. He had to get the word out that the building sector was a major greenhouse gas-emitting sector. The next step: They had to develop strategies to get that sector under control.

So was born the Architecture 2030 Challenge.

“The challenge states that all new buildings meet an energy consumption and greenhouse gas performance standard of about half the regional average for that building type. And this is a global challenge,” says Mazria, stressing that such a goal is possible with existing technology.

Participants in the challenge are then expected to further reduce the emissions of the buildings they design and construct by 10 percent every five years so that by 2030, all buildings designed, redesigned or built in that year by participating members will be completely free of carbon emissions.

Mazria is no stranger to the environmental movement.

Back in the ’70s, when the U.S. suffered its first oil crisis, New Mexico was on the forefront of a fledgling solar energy movement, and Mazria was one of the movement's leaders. Mazria wrote and published The Passive Solar Energy Book in 1979. The book was one of many inspired by the states’s ever-present sunlight. Like so many other books of its kind written in New Mexico, it earned a national following in that first wave of solar energy technology. Mazria also taught architecture classes in solar building design. Thirty years later, Mazria has recreated his role as an environmental leader.

So what exactly do buildings do to earn 48 percent of the responsibility for U.S. carbon emissions?

Howard Kaplan was one of Mazria’s colleagues when he taught alternative building design in the ’70s. Now he’s an Albuquerque architect and a member of the Green Building Council. Kaplan has joined Mazria in the battle against greenhouse gases but on a more local level.

Kaplan says buildings themselves actually burn carbon directly. Gas-fired furnaces and hot water heaters are responsible for 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon emissions for which buildings are responsible, he says.

“The rest is lights, heating and air conditioning systems, plugging in your computers, your stereo equipment--it’s just using that energy,” he says.

In New Mexico, most of that demand is met by coal-fired electrical power plants.

In other words: When you plug something in and turn it on, you’re burning coal.

That demand is increasing, which is causing energy companies to build more coal-fired power plants. The hotly debated Desert Rock power plant proposed to be built on the Navajo Reservation is just one example.

According to Kaplan and Mazria, their plan is to make buildings increasingly more efficient, thereby reducing demand. At the same time, they plan to encourage the creation of more alternative (meaning carbon-free) energy sources like wind and solar.

So far, the American Institute of Architects; the American Association of Heating, Cooling and Refrigeration Engineers; the United States Green Building Council; and the United States Conference of Mayors have accepted Mazria’s 2030 Challenge.

According to Mazria, the only major players missing from the sector are home builders’ associations and building trades unions, but Mazria believes they’ll be along. “Green” is the new buzzword in the building industries, he says. Everyone will have to come along or be left behind.