The American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), Architecture 2030, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and the U.S. Green Building Council, supported by representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy, finalized a memorandum of understanding this week, establishing a common starting point and goal of net zero energy buildings.

"This memorandum allows the building design sector to move forward with designing buildings that use substantially less energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create spaces that are healthy and comfortable," according to the groups.

While focused on designing net zero energy buildings, the ultimate goal of the memorandum is carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. Carbon neutral buildings use no energy from external power grids and can be built and operated at fair market values.

The building sector accounts for almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. annually and carbon neutral buildings reduce carbon emissions to help mitigate climate change; reduce dependence on oil power, fuel imports, and the use of fossil fuels in general; and provide a measure of energy security.

To reach the energy reduction goal, AIA, ASHRAE, Architecture 2030, IESNA and USGBC agreed to define the baseline starting point for their common target goals as the national average energy consumption of existing U.S. commercial buildings as reported by the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). CBECS data is a set of whole-building energy use measurements gathered by the DOE's Energy Information Administration, which can be used to determine a national energy use intensity using kBtu/sqft-yr as the metric.

"ASHRAE is excited to work with the various organizations that have participated in developing this agreement," Terry Townsend, ASHRAE president, said. "Collectively, our programs, initiatives and goals now have an agreed-upon baseline to operate from in our common quest to achieve a sustainable future. The challenge is now upon each organization to make good on their commitments."

"The task we face is daunting," Edward Mazria, founder and executive director of Architecture 2030, said. "Working separately, we could accomplish something significant in each of our respective spheres. But by working together, we actually have a chance to influence the course of history - and we will."

"Establishing a baseline for reducing energy consumption is a critical step in the goal of curbing the emissions generated by the built environment," said AIA president RK Stewart, FAIA. "From this baseline, the design and construction industry can use this reference point to ensure that new or renovated buildings are designed to operate in a smart, healthy and efficient manner."

"This agreement is a significant demonstration of the importance of an ongoing alliance among the key organizations responsible for building design," Kevin Flynn, IESNA president, said. "Careful deliberations have resulted in agreed upon goals for addressing substantial reduction in energy use. IESNA looks forward to pursuing these goals in collaboration with the partnering organizations."

"By working together on this important initiative, we will make a difference in the built environment," said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO & Founding Chair. "Buildings are a big piece of the climate change puzzle but the good news is they are also part of the solution, and together we will make an impact."

Buildings and Climate Change - Quick Stats:
• Buildings Account for 38% of CO2 emissions in the United States -more than either the transportation or industrial sectors
• Over the next 25 years, CO2 emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector, with emissions from commercial buildings projected to grow the fastest-1.8% a year through 2030
• Buildings consume 70% of the electricity load in the U.S.
• Buildings have a lifespan of 50-100 years during which they continually consume energy and produce CO2 emissions. If half of new commercial buildings were built to use 50% less energy, it would save over 6 million metric tons of CO2 annually for the life of the buildings-the equivalent of taking more than 1 million cars off the road every year
• The U.S. population and economy are projected to grow significantly over the coming decades, increasing the need for new buildings - to meet this demand, approximately 15 million new buildings are projected to be constructed by 2015
• Building green is one of the best strategies for meeting the challenge of climate change because the technology to make substantial reductions in energy and CO2 emissions already exists. The average LEED® certified building uses 32% less electricity and saves 350 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually
• Modest investments in energy-saving and other climate-friendly technologies can yield buildings and communities that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthier places to live and work, and that contribute to reducing CO2 emissions