Eric Corey Freed
Eric Corey Freed
April 22, 2022

Earth Day: What a Difference a Year Makes…

Eric Corey Freed
Eric Corey Freed

April 22nd marked the 52nd Annual Earth Day, where over one billion people across 190 countries participated in celebrating this planet we call “home.”

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to be optimistic about the environment right now. The latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is alarming and has been called a “Code Red for Humanity.” The past five years have been the hottest on record since 1850. The recent rate of sea level rise has nearly tripled compared with 1901-1971. But scientists say a global catastrophe can be avoided if the world acts quickly. Fortunately, we are starting to act.

So, for this Earth Day, let’s reflect on the positive things occurring between this year and last. Back on Earth Day 2021, we were in a vastly different position than we are today. There has been more real climate action in this last 12 months than in the 5 years that preceded it.

Companies are committing to climate reporting and transparency:

Old school fossil fuel companies are slowly making the transition to a clean energy future:

  • Just this past February, coal giant Duke Energy delightfully surprised everyone by announcing plans to exit all coal and double their renewables; Peabody Energy later announced a similar withdrawal from coal.
  • court ruled that oil giant Shell must cut their carbon emissions by 45% by 2030.

The banking and insurance industries are seeing the oil economy as a major risk:

  • The major US banks have banded together to measure and manage their climate risks.
  • JPMorgan pledged $2.5 trillion over the next decade toward climate change.
  • Moody’s, the world’s largest credit ratings agency, stated they would trigger a credit squeeze for carbon intensive companies.
  • The insurance industry has expanded its stance to see climate risk as an insurance risk and is taking that into consideration.
  • Banking giant HSBC recently announced a “phase down” of funding for its fossil-fuel clients.

Investments in clean tech (and out of fossil fuels) continue to break records:

The regulatory landscape has changed rapidly too:

The Federal Government has made some incredible moves:

And design firms are making strides in meeting our carbon reduction targets, including CannonDesign:

  • We’re halfway toward our 2030 Commitment for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral by 2030.
  • We signed onto the SE2050 Commitment to design net zero embodied carbon structural systems by 2050.
  • We signed onto the AIA Materials Pledge to support climate health by preferring products that reduce carbon emissions and ultimately sequester more carbon than emitted.
  • We’re signatories to many other important commitments, including the MEP 2040, the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero Commitment, and the AIA Large Firm Roundtable’s Sustainability Commitment.
  • We endorsed the COP26 Communique to make it clear to the countries attending the conference that those of us responsible for planning, designing, constructing and developing the built environment are actively working to meet the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degC carbon target.
  • We support the mindfulMaterials (mM) initiative to bring transparency to the materials we specify.
  • We support the Embodied Carbon Construction Calculator (EC3) to calculate ways to reduce the embodied carbon in our projects.
  • We signed the letter to President Biden to Build Back Better.
  • And most importantly, we’re acting on these commitments by designing beautiful and efficient buildings and spaces that are slashing carbon emissions.

This list doesn’t even include the countless pledges by nations and companies to make big changes. So, you can see there’s a great deal to celebrate this Earth Day!

It only took the automobile 15 years to replace horses as the preferred mode of transportation. The internet went from an army experiment to our primary form of communication in just a few decades. It seems humanity can change rapidly if the value proposition is enticing enough. The world is starting to see the immense value of climate smart buildings.

Our outlook for the future of climate action is bright.