America’s Cities ‘LEED’ the Way

May 17, 2005
The green building movement is being readily adopted into municipal facilities

The greening of U.S. cities has begun.

Decision-makers in cities nationwide have started to think green - at least when it comes to constructing police stations, fire stations, libraries, and other municipal facilities.

From Atlanta to Boston, Chicago to San Francisco, Houston to Seattle, increasingly more cities are adopting LEED certification standards for city-owned building projects. These municipalities and others are paving the way for widespread use of LEED, setting an example for other municipalities and the private and residential sectors.

“The adoption of the LEED Green Building Rating System into city building codes is a powerful demonstration of civic responsibility,” says Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO, and founding chair of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the organization that created and oversees LEED certification. “This type of proactive behavior is to be applauded, and I hope it will serve as an example to other cities that may currently be considering city-wide adoption of LEED green building practices.”

According to the LEED Users Summary compiled in February by the USGBC, 41 U.S. city and county governments have adopted some form of LEED certification requirements in the construction or major renovation of municipal facilities. Some of these communities have set the bar high, requiring a minimum of a LEED Silver rating.

“We are the long-term owner,” notes Sarah Zaphiris, a policy advisor in the mayor’s office in Boston, where LEED Silver recently was adopted as the minimum rating for city-owned building projects. “People who are building the buildings to sell can’t recapture the money spent. Long-term owners can capture the operating costs. It makes a lot of sense.”

Across the Map
The move to adopt LEED standards in municipal building ordinances is widespread. Up the coast from San Francisco, which has eschewed green building since the late 1990s, cities such as Portland, OR, and Seattle have had green building ordinances on the books for several years. Atlanta passed an ordinance in late 2003 requiring all city-funded projects of more than 5,000 square feet in size, or costing at least $2 million, to meet a LEED Silver rating. All new city buildings in Kansas City, MO, are now required to meet LEED Silver at a minimum. The city also is participating in a LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) pilot program for its city hall.

LEED activity is popping up all over Texas. The Austin City Council passed a resolution in June 2000 requiring LEED certification of all public projects larger than 5,000 square feet. Dallas requires all city buildings larger than 10,000 square feet to have at least LEED Silver certification. Officials there also are exploring ways to encourage LEED buildings in the private sector.

In the same state, employees in Houston’s Building Services Department (BSD), the city’s in-house property developer and manager, had been hearing about green building and LEED guidelines from consultants and vendors for several years. In 2002, individuals from the department asked the USGBC representatives and local architectural firms to educate staff members from other city departments about green buildings.

“They helped facilitate roundtables with city representatives from Dallas and Austin so we could learn from their experiences,” says Issa Z. Dadoush, director of Houston’s BSD. “We concluded that the LEED framework aligned nicely with BSD’s goal of providing energy-efficient, healthy buildings that are a wise investment for Houston.”

Houston adopted a Green Building Resolution in June 2004, requiring all city-owned buildings and facilities larger than 10,000 square feet to use LEED to “the greatest extent practical and reasonable, with a target of LEED Silver certification.”

“Many of the practices rewarded by the LEED rating system are not new but are strategies that we previously encouraged our design consultants to use,” Dadoush says. Such practices include efficient lighting, stormwater management, and brownfield remediation.

“Because LEED is a flexible, option-based system, we felt that it would guide designers toward our goals without dictating design solutions. We also felt the LEED commissioning and certification processes provided a quantified record of achievement consistent with responsible government,” Dadoush notes.

LEED activity in cities isn’t limited just to the West Coast and the South. In November, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino announced the city would adopt the LEED Silver rating as the goal for all city-owned building projects. Additionally, the city amended Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code to require that all large projects built in Boston (20,000 square feet and larger) are LEED certifiable.

“Every day, cities are leading the way when it comes to green building,” Menino says. “In Boston, our partnerships make this type of environmentally friendly building possible.”

Menino’s Green Building Task Force - comprised of experts in development, real estate, architecture, and construction, as well as public health and the environment - is a driving force behind the city’s green building movement. The task force works with private foundations and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to fund its work, including feasibility grants to help upcoming projects incorporate green building into their design, Menino notes.

Leading By Example
Peter Templeton, USGBC director of LEED & International Programs, says cities make up nearly 25 percent of registered projects using LEED. “It’s been extremely helpful in creating an example of what can be done, and goes a long way toward educating the industry,” he says.

In San Francisco, the philosophy of the municipal sector setting the stage for the private sector in the green building arena has been alive since 1999 - well before LEED became a common industry term. The city passed its first Green Building Ordinance that year and established a series of 10 pilot projects. Construction began on those projects in 2001, says Mark Palmer, an accredited LEED professional and green building coordinator for the city’s Department of the Environment.

Since 1999, green building practices for San Francisco municipal projects have evolved. In October, an amended Green Building Ordinance went into effect. The revamped ordinance requires all new projects, including city-owned facilities and leaseholds, to achieve at least a LEED Silver certification.

Palmer says the Green Building Ordinance has enabled the city to learn what works in terms of green municipal construction - in concert with the local building trades and union situations, available materials, recycling infrastructure, and more. More importantly, the city has demonstrated that green building can be done right and be done efficiently.

“We want to show that we’re just not telling people what they should do, but also prove we can do it ourselves,” Palmer says.

Chicago is another city that’s “walking the walk and taking it one step farther,” says Marcia Jimenez, commissioner of the city’s Department of Environment.

In October, the city adopted what is called the Chicago Standard. This construction standard for municipal buildings guides the city’s design, construction, and renovation in a manner that provides healthier indoor environments, reduces operating costs, and conserves energy and resources. It also includes provisions for outfitting, operating, and maintaining those facilities. All new and renovated municipal buildings will meet the LEED Silver rating under the Chicago Standard.

Bennie Currie, spokesperson for the Chicago Public Buildings Commission, says the city’s first LEED-certified fire station opened in June 2004. That’s just the beginning. As of Jan. 1, 2005, all building projects will be green for the city - not just fire stations, but police stations, libraries, schools, office facilities, and more. “[Moving forward,] all of the design specs for every project will meet LEED Silver,” Jimenez says.

One of the first major projects for the city’s Public Buildings Commission is revamping the Richard J. Daley Center. The city is looking at making it LEED-EB certified, according to Currie, who notes that the facility houses numerous city offices and is one of the country’s largest courthouses.

“We’re exploring what it would take to make it [happen]. We’d like to maximize the potential the building has,” Currie says. “We hope this will be a model to let owners of other buildings know what they can do to make their existing facilities more environmentally friendly.”

The city also tested its green building mettle when it turned a 1952 building on a former brownfield site into the LEED Platinum-rated Chicago Center for Green Technology.

“We’re designing it, installing it, showing how it works. We’re working the kinks out and showing the private sector how these green technologies can be employed and moved into regular practice by putting them into our building codes,” Jimenez says. “You just can’t set standards without testing things and trying things first.”

It all comes down to learning better ways of building facilities so they become healthier places, the commissioner says.

“It’s a smart investment,” she notes. “The challenge is to understand what the total cost of a building is. If you look just at the mechanical cost of design and installation, you miss the boat. The ongoing operation and maintenance of a building need to be considered. We’re trying to show developers [that] if they can and do design buildings that look at an owner’s overall cost, they are more marketable.

“If you could put a green seal of approval on a building, you would never have trouble renting space. That’s the future. That’s where we have to go.”

Robin Suttell ([email protected]), based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

LEED Platinum Showcase
California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco

Nothing short of LEED Platinum is good enough for the new home of the California Academy of Sciences.

The City of San Francisco, the building’s owner, hopes to achieve a LEED Platinum rating as it builds a new facility for the museum in Golden Gate Park.

Since the academy (the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States) opened in Golden Gate Park in 1916, long-term wear and tear, caused by over 100 million visitors, has taken a toll on the buildings. Additionally, a number of the California Academy of Sciences’ buildings were damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and some public areas have been closed since then.

The new museum building is being designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, in association with Chong Partners Architecture, San Francisco. Architects will ensure that the museum complex is seismically safe, and that it will incorporate environmentally responsible construction technology and recycled and renewable building materials into an aesthetically accomplished masterplan. The new academy will be a physical and conceptual extension of its mission.

“We want the academy to be a symbol of excellence architecturally, educationally, and scientifically. The new facility will allow people to see how nature and science can work together to create a learning infrastructure in-line with the academy’s mission to explore, explain, and protect the natural world,” explains Dr. J. Patrick Kociolek, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences.

Incorporating the natural world into its design, the museum will feature a living roof of native and adapted species that will blend the building into its park setting; reduce heating and cooling requirements; create oxygen for the planet and habitat for wildlife; and reduce stormwater run-off, which will lessen the burden on the city’s wastewater treatment plants. Floor-to-ceiling glass walls will suffuse public spaces with natural light and integrate the interior space with the environment of the park. Solar panels will provide clean, renewable energy for the academy.

Visitors to the museum’s temporary facility will be able to view a model of the new museum and go on a “virtual tour” of the new facility, allowing a “first-hand view of the new building, highlighting its iconic exhibits and design.”

“This building is just another exhibit of sustainability, as are the other academy exhibits,” says Mark Palmer, green building coordinator for San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. “Everybody is on-board to make this as green as we possibly can.”

The new museum is scheduled to open in 2008.

For more information on the new California Academy of Sciences building, visit (www.calacademyorg/newacademy/index.php).

LEED Platinum Showcase
Chicago Center for Green Technology

Take one former brownfield site. Apply green building standards and some ingenuity. What do you get? A benchmark LEED Platinum-rated facility; in this case, the Chicago Center for Green Technology (CCGT).

In 2003, the center was the third building in the country to receive the highest level of LEED certification, and the first renovated structure and government-owned building to receive this rating.

The structure, built in 1952, is surrounded by a 17-acre site that was formerly the Sacramento Crushing Corp., a construction materials recycler. The Chicago Department of Environment shut the company down in 1996 after 600,000 cubic yards of waste were discovered on the site. The company had filled the entire site with illegally dumped debris, with piles of rubble reaching as high as 70 feet. One pile, according to the city, was so dense that it sank 15 feet into the ground.

The city invested $9 million in clean-up costs, and another $5.4 million toward construction and renovation. The money for the CCGT came from a settlement with the Commonwealth Edison Co.

The Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment formed a design team for the project, led by Chicago-based Farr Associates Architecture and Urban Design.

The building, which was completed in early 2003, uses solar and geothermal energy, a rooftop garden, and a natural habitat to filter storm- water. Features include solar panels, rainwater collection for irrigation, recycled building materials, smart lighting, a green roof, and a geothermal exchange system.

It also features extensive use of recycled materials and low-VOC paints and sealants. Additionally, the building’s smart lighting systems sense natural light and increase or decrease intensity depending on need. Lights turn off automatically if there is no movement in a large space, such as a conference room.

“The city, through our Center for Green Technology, has really demonstrated how you can take an existing facility in a town that is old and industrial, and not tear it down,” says Marcia Jimenez, commissioner for the City of Chicago Department of Environment. “It shows how you can take an existing facility and make it a [LEED Platinum] facility. You can bring it up to modern-day standards and modern-day technology, applying what we know [with] respect to good healthy living.”

The building’s environmental ethic carries over into its tenants: Spire Corp. (a solar panel production company), GreenCorps Chicago (the city’s community landscaping and job-training program), WRD Environmental (an urban landscape company), and a Chicago Department of Environment satellite office are housed there.

The center also houses the city’s Green Tech U, a new certification program developed to provide structure and learning objectives in green building/green design and sustainability. The programs are free and open to the public, regardless of experience.

Green Tech U also fosters partnerships with various professional organizations that give continuing education credit to their members for attending the programs. These include the AIA (architects) and ASHRAE (engineers). By taking a series of six courses (out of many choices) during a 12-month period, participants can earn certification in Architecture, Building and Construction Management, (Do It Yourself) DIY Green, Engineering, Green Business, Interior Design, and Landscape Design.

For more information on the Chicago Center for Green Technology, visit the center’s website at (

San Francisco Shares Online

The City of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment offers a number of excellent green building resources on its website. When you visit (, you will find a link to download the city’s recently issued Municipal Compliance Guide, which is available as a PDF file. It’s a valuable resource, says Mark Palmer, green building coordinator for San Francisco’s Department of the Environment.

“We tried to link all the different LEED credits to existing environmental requirements - state, federal, or local San Francisco governments,” Palmer says. “It also lists various outside resources and websites. We’ve been [getting] good feedback on it from our city designers. It’s a really good guide.”

The city’s Green Building site also features a Green Building Resource Guide that includes a valuable “Tools of the Trade” section, which was developed to provide useful information on green building tools and resources - particularly those with relevance to public building projects in San Francisco.

While Palmer notes that both documents were developed primarily for use by the staff of the San Francisco Bureau of Architecture, he adds that anyone involved in the design of commercial or institutional buildings can benefit from the information in these reports.

“It’s not just restricted to municipal buildings,” he says. “That’s just what we have designed. Everything we do is public domain. Nothing is a secret.”

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