Green-Minded Aia Draws Industry

An encouraging note accompanied the American Institute of Architects’ recent call for a 50 percent reduction of fossil fuels used to construct and operate


An encouraging note accompanied the American Institute of Architects’ recent call for a 50 percent reduction of fossil fuels used to construct and operate buildings by 2010: Because energy consumption reductions will be realized over the life of a building, we need to look beyond first impacts associated with constructing a facility and consider what happens over the many decades [it] will be used. That observation from AIA Sustainability Summit Task Force facilitator R.K. Stewart shows appreciation for life-cycle analysis. Part engineering, part accounting and difficult to dumb down, such analysis favors concrete products and building methods in nearly all applications where they are commercially viable.

The AIA sounds its call for reduced fuel consumption at a time when construction decisions increasingly hinge on building designers and owners taking greater stock of their projects and the environment. First impacts speaks to a matter concrete interests have confronted on the subject of energy consumed in producing and delivering construction materials or products. The key ingredient of concrete, portland cement, is the product of energy-intensive milling. If the AIA or any other organization that influences project specifications based decisions on first impact, concrete would not necessarily fare well against alternatives for building envelopes and load-bearing surfaces or members.

An 8-in.-thick concrete or masonry wall measured by first impact stands to embody more consumed energy than a comparable wood or steel-framed assembly. But when provided with tools to analyze first impact and life cycle, AIA and its members can recognize a concrete or masonry wall’s thermal mass and the prospects for perpetually lower fossil fuel required for heating and cooling over the life of the building it encloses. Reinforcing the first impacts reference, the institute’s position statement on reduced fossil fuel consumption cites this goal: Promote research to provide the design and construction industry with full life-cycle assessment data for all products and assemblies used in the built environment.

Buildings account for 48 percent of U.S. energy consumption and generate far more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector, says Stewart. It is incumbent upon [our] profession to encourage clients and the design and construction industry to join us in plotting a course of measurable changes. AIA will collaborate with other organizations and the scientific research and public health communities, he adds, while developing and promoting sustainability as a core principle in curricula for architects and architecture students.

Concrete groups have moved quickly to inform AIA members of the environmental benefits of cast-in-place, precast and masonry building methods, and align with the institute on formal education. Recent developments in Portland Cement Association’s two-year-old Concrete Thinking for a Sustainable World public awareness campaign include the launch of The Web site outlines environmental aspects of concrete; provides links to the main PCA site,, for information on the cement industry’s ambitious goals to reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; and, profiles architects who have tapped concrete to meet green-building objectives.

In late 2004, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association became a registered AIA Continuing Education System (CES) course provider offering Learning Units (LU) required annually for architects to maintain institute membership. Last month NRMCA rolled out an online, architect-geared course, LEED Green Building Rating System and Concrete. The National Precast Concrete Association was named a CES provider last fall, and is conducting its first related course, Precast Concrete: The Architect’s Solution, during this month’s MCPX in Anaheim, Calif.

With architects poised to advance the sustainable or green building movements, receptive to life-cycle analysis, and not predisposed to building materials and methods’ first impacts, concrete interests appear to be expending their energy wisely at the drawing board.

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