The 2030 Challenge

When you first read it, Ed Mazria’s 2030 challenge sounds like yet another one of those high-reaching pleas that looks great on the monitor – and goes absolutely nowhere. The  idea behind the challenge is to make our entire built environment (both existing buildings and new construction) carbon-neutral in 23 years. A wise goal, indeed. But when you consider that in the next few decades, we’re expected to build more than human civilization has up to this point, the 2030 challenge seems damn near impossible.

Mazria, then, must be one charismatic dude, because the Challenge is actually gaining momentum. Inhabitat posted a nice interview with Mazria on Sunday, in which he explains just how much the 2030 Challenge has taken off in the year since it was introduced. It’s been adopted by the American Institute of Architects and the US Conference of Mayors, and Mazria’s working with Congressmembers to bring it to the federal level.

These are great organizations to have on your side, but they’re far from guarantors of Architecture 2030’s success. One of my recurring points here at the Wild Green Yonder is that utopian visions are worthless without a workable series of steps to getting there. As Kyoto has shown, carbon reduction schemes can garner the support of (almost) the entire world and still ring hollow, swept away by beauracracy and institutional inertia.

Fortunately, it looks like Mazria’s on that as well. He insightfully points out that designing a carbon-neutral world will require a major overhaul of contemporary curricula, and he’s issued another date-based proclamation, the 2010 Imperative, to get the ball rolling on sustainability in design education. To usher in sustainable thinking in Architecture schools, Mazria is urging teachers to include a sentence with every assignment that makes students consider the environmental impact of their designs:

“This will set off a chain reaction, globally, throughout the student population. Because what the students will do at the outset of a new assignment is they will research the issue…. They’ll then bring everyone else in that class, including the instructor, up to speed on the issues, the design strategies, and the technologies that are available and part of the design palette. Out of that, universities and professional studios will become instruments for transforming design.”

The idea that adding a sentence to every assignment will set off a paradigm shift in design education might be overly optimistic. Fortunately, the other elements of the 2010 Imperative offer some more concrete steps. Hundreds of design schools and architecture firms have signed on to a live webcast “teach-in” to be held on February 20th, and Mazria and others are beginning to campaign design schools worldwide to take a serious look at making sustainability an integral part of coursework.

So will the Challenge work? Will the hundreds of millions of structures that rest on the Earth actually be carbon-free by 2030? As much as I think they should be, I’m not convinced that they will. But creating deadlines like the 2030 Challenege are an excellent way of raising awareness and speeding along the process.  And I, for one, will be tuning in on February 20th.

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