From The Field
California Academy of Sciences: Accelerated Entitlements – An Unexpected Benefit
By Mark Palmer, Municipal Green Building Coordinator
City of San Francisco
San Francisco’s flagship municipal green building project is a new home for the California Academy of Sciences, a natural history museum, aquarium, planetarium, research and education center located in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park The Academy's strong commitment to integrated design, ambitious sustainability goals, and proactive community engagement efforts helped them navigate a multi-year planning and entitlement process to achieve a LEED Platinum rating and avoid costly delays.
Energy use was modeled to be 20 percent less than required by California’s already rigorous energy code (Title 24), saving over $248,000 and reducing carbon dioxide emitted by 1.3 million pounds annually. Over 90 percent of construction and demolition waste was diverted from landfills and recycled. The Academy will save more than 20 million gallons of potable water and in excess of 8 million gallons of wastewater per year compared with a code-compliant building. The living roof will retain up to 3.5 million gallons of stormwater per year and requires no permanent irrigation.
Of note is the Academy’s effort to incorporate many green operational strategies that surpass traditional architectural and engineering design. These strategies include natural ventilation, integrated pest management, green purchasing and housekeeping, reverse osmosis humidification in the research collections, alternative transportation, and a sustainable café. Now 1 year old, the California Academy of Sciences is currently beginning its performance period data collection to apply for LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance certification.
An important aspect of the museum’s design, which helped during the entitlement process, was the reduction of building footprint, and resulting increase in open space, compared with the old museum being replaced. This footprint reduction was especially challenging as the square footage of the new museum is much greater than the original, and the building height could be no taller than the original. These seeming contradictions were resolved through consolidating the research and collections functions to above- and below-grade spaces (with generous daylighting to all levels), and designing some aquaria below grade where lower light levels are desirable. Thus the new museum design was actually able to “give back” over one acre of land to Golden Gate Park — a huge bonus for park-loving San Francisco residents.
A streamlined entitlement process was a big benefit of this project’s aggressive environmental agenda. Land use planning in San Francisco is a very public process, and getting permits can literally take years for controversial projects. Organized neighborhood groups are a potent force in preserving existing land use and buildings. Proposed developments are often modified and sometimes scuttled due to public testimony and neighborhood concerns. Advance planning to communicate with and involve the public in development proposals is absolutely necessary to ensure that the entitlement process is smooth and successful.
“Planning the planning process” was also instrumental in this project’s success. More than two years before permits were applied for, the Academy began the process of identifying and calendaring the various approval boards and commissions, working with staff from the approving departments, and targeting and resolving key issues that could have possibly interrupted or delayed the entitlement process.
The Academy formed the Academy Community Advisory Group, a volunteer committee that participated in design reviews and acted as a liaison to various other community and neighborhood groups to ensure that any community concerns about the project were addressed. Lining up project supporters to give testimony at hearings is also critical to ensuring success. Being referred “back to committee” for further analysis or input can add months to a project’s timeline. This proactive approach to iron out potential problems paid valuable dividends in keeping to a schedule that would allow for the timely reopening of the museum.
A tribute to this thoughtful process, the Academy won unanimous approval at nine boards and commissions in a two-month period, an achievement unprecedented in San Francisco history for a project of this magnitude. This remarkable acceptance record is due, in part, to the green building “story”—the 2.5-acre living roof to attract butterflies and capture stormwater, the natural ventilation and nocturnal cooling to keep energy costs at bay, and the return of land to the park. There was broad support from the Academy Board of Trustees, project sponsors, museum administration and staff, project managers, city departments, decision-makers and the public. No NIMBY testimony was given. Everyone involved saw this project as a benefit for all stakeholders.
The time value of money in a speedy entitlement process can equate to huge savings in development costs to project sponsors — with a return on investment vastly greater than the energy, water and resource savings guaranteed by the project. With over 2 million visitors annually, this is expected to be the most-visited LEED Platinum building in the world.
Learn more about the municipal green building program in the City & County of San Francisco or contact:
Mark Palmer, LEED AP
Municipal Green Building Coordinator
City and County of San Francisco, Department of Environment
A version of this article was originally published in Lessons Learned:
The Costs and Benefits of High Performance buildings Vol. 5, by Earth Day New York.
Main Street Green & The Road to Copenhagen
By Jeremy Cohen
Government Sector Associate, USGBC
Think Globally, Act Locally is an enduring adage of the environmental movement. As we gain a better understanding of the way that economies, ecosystems and societies are connected on a global scale, we are challenged to put that knowledge to use in making more-sustainable choices for our own communities. In many ways, green building epitomizes this challenge. To adopt green building as a sustainability strategy is to embrace the idea that a widespread change in practices, starting at the level of an individual building, can have a significant impact on a local, regional and even global scale.
These dual goals were in the air at the 2009 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo where the theme was, “Main Street Green: Connect to the Conversation.” Educational sessions on community engagement, local politics and neighborhood revitalization were occurring next door to a summit of international green building councils and discussions of multinational corporate sustainability. In the opening keynote, former Vice President Al Gore implored the audience to mobilize local political will in support of an international agreement at the COP15- United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
It was in this setting that USGBC’s Roger Platt sat down with a panel of government and business representatives to discuss the impact that negotiations in Copenhagen will have on main street America- the local impacts of a global action. The panel discussed the challenge of advocating for a focus on buildings in international climate change negotiations. While the triple bottom line benefits of green building are undeniable at the local level, the international dialogue tends to focus on macroeconomic solutions. In practice, a national cap on carbon emissions will provide an incentive to improve energy efficiency but complementary policies and programs enacted on a local level are necessary to realize the rapid change that will create jobs and opportunity while mitigating global climate change.
When an environmental problem is truly global, the old adage can work in reverse. In order to make global action effective, nations must keep their thoughts on the local conditions necessary for change. Listen to Roger Platt’s complete conversation in the recorded podcast, The Road to Copenhagen. Read more about bringing sustainable buildings to the climate change discussion at USGBC’s COP 15 Blog.
Government Community Update
Outcomes from the Government & Codes Community Workshop at Greenbuild 2009
The 2009 Greenbuild International Conference & Expo in Phoenix, Ariz., featured over 20 education sessions highlighting governments’ role in advancing a more-sustainable built environment, including an entire session track focused on “The Federal Effect” and two Specialty Update sessions introducing innovative programs and resources for the government. Conference attendees from the government sector networked with their peers, discovered new green building technologies and strategies, and discussed policy approaches for sustainable communities.
The Government & Codes Community Workshop and Forum brought together over 50 participants from all levels of government to discuss the major challenges and opportunities in four issue areas related to government green building: Green Building & Climate Change, Building Government Capacity, Codes & Standards, and Improving Communication between Governments.
The experiences and strategies shared in this forum provide feedback to USGBC on what government, code and regulatory areas are most in need of attention and resource development. Download the outcomes from this meeting, which summarize the challenges, opportunities, and existing resources identified by participants in this workshop.
This workshop was the fourth Government Strategy Session held in 2009. Download the outcomes from previous sessions and view recorded webcast archives by visiting www.usgbc.org/government and clicking the link to “COMMUNITY.” Check the community page in February 2010 for a schedule of upcoming strategy sessions. Questions or comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Launch of the USGBC Government Network
This fall, the USGBC Board of Directors acted on task force recommendations to create a new structure for USGBC volunteer committees and realign the work of our dedicated volunteers with current programs and the 2009-2013 Strategic Plan. As part of this realignment, the USGBC Government Committee was sunset. We are sincerely grateful for the time, energy and creativity that Government Committee members have contributed over the years. Through this transition these leaders will help formulate new strategies for USGBC to better engage and support a government green building community.
Volunteers from the government sector will continue to represent government priorities through participation in USGBC committees organized around the Board, LEED, Education, and Chapters. The Government Corresponding Committee, the community of USGBC members who have followed the activity of the Government Committee, participated in peer-to-peer forums, and volunteered for open committee positions, is being re-launched as the USGBC Government Network.
The Government Network is a first for USGBC and is being launched with the recognition that the best practices and greatest challenges in government green building are evolving every day as those in government continue to innovate in pursuit of their sustainability goals. In this context, USGBC can provide support by creating forums for governments to share experiences and by expanding opportunities for volunteer involvement in planning USGBC programs for the government sector. In the coming months communications will be sent to the Government Network announcing these new opportunities. How to get involved:
- Join the USGBC Government Network at the My Account page
- Look out for announcements for volunteer opportunities and peer-to-peer forums
- E-mail feedback or questions to email@example.com
USGBC 2010 Federal Summit
Leadership in Sustainability from Coast to Coast
May 18 & 19, 2010
Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C.
In 2010 we continue the conversation started at previous Federal Summits about the opportunities that green building represents for the government sector. Whether it is good, green, American jobs that save energy, water and taxpayer money or energy efficiency retrofits that cut carbon emissions, together we can change the way we construct and operate our built environment.
The educational programs will feature timely sessions on all aspects of sustainable design, construction and operations practices for buildings and communities, including their impact on people, the environment and the economy. The current call for proposals is the first opportunity that the government community has to submit sessions to be a part of the Federal Summit program. USGBC is now accepting proposals for potential presenters and topics for the 2010 conference. Session proposals are due Jan. 15.
Another opportunity to participate in helping to craft the sessions at the 2010 Federal Summit is to participate on the Federal Summit working group or to act as a proposal reviewer. All opportunities are accessible via the link below.
Submit a proposal for the 2010 Federal Summit »