What is the Architecture 2030 Challenge? / by Sustainable

Architecture 2030 issued a challenge for all industry of the urban built environment to make all new buildings, developments and major renovations carbon-neutral by 2030.

What is carbon in context of climate change?

Carbon is a chemical element, like oxygen, lead, and nitrogen on the periodic table. It is the most abundant element on the planet and can combine with other elements to form molecules. Carbon-based molecules are the basic building blocks of all organic things. Some greenhouse gases CO2 and methane are carbon based molecules. The shorthand in context of discussing climate change becomes ‘a tonne of carbon’ which in a scientific context, the phrase could mean ‘CO2 containing a tonne of carbon’. The term carbon also shows up in the phrase ‘carbon footprint’ which describes the total amount of greenhouse gases released as the result of activity. In this context, ‘a tonne of carbon’ may mean ‘a mix of greenhouse gases with a combined warming impact equivalent to that of a tonne of CO2’.  

How does Architecture 2030 address this?

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Architecture 2030 began in 2006, asking the global architecture and building community to adopt the following targets.

  • All new buildings, developments and major renovations shall be designed to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 70% below the regional (or country) average/median for that building type.

  • At a minimum, an equal amount of existing building area shall be renovated annually to meet a fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of 70% of the regional (or country) average/median for that building type.

  • The fossil fuel reduction standard for all new buildings and major renovations shall be increased to:

    • 80% in 2020

    • 90% in 2025

    • Carbon-neutral in 2030 (using no fossil fuel GHG emitting energy to operate).

They ask the global community to implement innovative sustainable design strategies, generate on-site renewable energy and/or purchasing off-site renewable energy.

Global CO2 Emission by Sector

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A quick introduction to carbon-neutral: carbon neutral means there are zero carbon emissions from fossil fuels and other GHG emitting sources. Net zero carbon emissions balances carbon emissions with carbon removal (offsetting). The building industry makes up a lion’s share of global carbon emissions from combined operations and construction at almost 40%.

The global building stock is expected to double by 2060. It is expected to 2.48 trillion sq. ft. (230 billion m2) of new floor area to the global building stock. This is the equivalent of the entire New York City every month for 40 years. This new building stock must be designed to reach zero-net carbon standards.


If you are well versed in Sustainable’s mantra, going carbon neutral is our raison d’etre.

We’re already dancing in step with the Challenge’s ultimate goal, to have all new buildings be carbon-neutral by 2030. That’s only 11 years away which in our industry, is not a large stretch of time.

So how does Architecture 2030 expect this to be implemented across the industry?

The 2030 Commitment

These following steps are outlined by the 2030 Challenge.

  1. Establish an EUI (Energy Use Intensity) baseline and target using the Zero Tool.

  2. Apply low/no cost passive design strategies to achieve maximum energy efficiency. Visit out the 2030 Palette for ideas.

  3. Integrate energy efficient technology and systems.

  4. Incorporate on-site and/or off-site renewable energy to meet the remaining energy demands.

  5. Engage in iterative energy modeling throughout the entire design process to understand the interactive effects of various design decisions and to assess progress towards meeting the EUI target.

The American Institute of Architects created the 2030 Commitment program to provide their network of designers with a signatory response to the climate crisis.

The Ontario Association of Architects also created the OAA+ 2030 Professional Series and provided a cache of tools for Ontario architects to understand and implement their carbon-reduction practices to work.

It is a great initiative for architects to grasp the nuances of making carbon-neutral buildings as they outline tangible goals and measurement for progress architects can stride for.

At Sustainable, we make sure our projects reach the 2030 milestones with strategies adopted independently from 2030 but achieve the same results. We argue that going carbon-negative is even better. How? By creating infrastructure that sequesters carbon and effectively storing it away from the atmosphere.