The LEED v4 stories series features the people the behind diverse LEED v4 projects.  Project team members and project owners tell of their experiences—both the wins and the challenges.

Brooklyn Basin is the first certified LEED v4 for Neighborhood Development: Plan. This groundbreaking enterprise will consist of 3,100 homes, 200,000 square feet of retail, 32 acres of waterfront parks and two marinas. When complete, it will provide residents in the city of Oakland access to a significant part of its shoreline currently closed to the public. Brooklyn Basin will house up to 6,000 residents, and create more than 10,000 jobs. Notably, there were no significant cost differences between the baseline project and the strategies pursued to achieve LEED v4 ND certification.

I spoke to Deborah Tu, Project Manager for Signature Development Group, and Abena Darden, Project Director for Thornton Tomasetti, about this remarkable project.

The choice

Why LEED v4 ND instead of v2009?

Abena: We wanted to take advantage of the streamlined certification process of [LEED v4 NPD] plan certification versus the pre-certified stages under v2009. Also, because the credit language was updated for clarity and for updated reference standards, the v4 system ended up making far sense for our project, particularly the construction activity pollution prevention plan standards and energy standards.

How has achieving this certification helped the Brooklyn Basin project and the team behind it?

Deborah: Having a highly visible project in Oakland with the first LEED ND v4 certification heightens the city’s status as a leader, not just in the Bay Area for green initiatives, but in the world. It sends a clear signal to the rest of the world that the Bay Area is at the forefront of positive growth and change.

The LEED experience

What were the biggest differences you experienced in LEED v4?  

Abena: Because the overall content of the credits did not change much from 2009, there was not a large implementation leap from v2009 to LEED v4. One thing that I was spurred on by is the credit language update for LEED v4, how NPD Connected and Open Community is calculated. By looking at how people walk through a community, LEED v4 (and now 2009) looks holistically at connections by expanding the concept to include public trails and other pedestrian-oriented pathways, instead of just sidewalks, when calculating connections. Also, we were the first project to move through the certification pipes, so we had a lot of interaction with the USGBC team. This was really helpful in understanding any nuanced changes to the rating system, working through the offline process and talking through opportunities for the project to evaluate.

What is the coolest credit in LEED v4 ND?

Abena: The update to NPD Connected and Open Community is a great credit. By looking at more than just streets and sidewalks, this credit allows for greater flexibility in how people can comfortably walk through a community.

Artistic renderings by Signature Development Group.

The cost

Was there a cost difference between this and other projects you’ve done?

Abena: There were no significant cost differences between the baseline project and the strategies we pursued to achieve ND certification.

What were the overall project costs of the v4 certification?

Abena: No changes were made from our original plan to achieve certification.

Tell me about the business strategies and cost incentives for pursing LEED v4.

Deborah: As a second-generation Bay Area real estate developer, we always take a long-term perspective on investment. As population in the United States increases, and as people congregate toward “knowledge centers” such as the Bay Area, it’s important to develop for people in existing urban cores. By building in, we can utilize existing infrastructure, get people out of cars into public transit and generally get people to live more active lives. If we don’t, people are forced to migrate toward suburbs and exurbs. This leads to longer commutes, more spending on roads and infrastructure and larger carbon footprints. We see taking on green initiatives as part of our responsibility as long-term investors in the community, and expect to see intangible benefits from pursuing LEED ND. 


What were the biggest lessons learned in the jump to LEED v4?

Abena: LEED ND v4 just reinforced how important smart early planning and the integrated design process is for large-scale projects. When we started the LEED process, we spent a lot of time evaluating how the prereq and credit intents were already reflected in the design and how potential strategies that were being considered would fit into LEED.

LEED has a great global following, but some people still see it as a U.S. standard. What would you say to people who want to use LEED outside of the States?

Abena: LEED ND seems to be growing faster internationally than in the United States, so something is working there!

Finally, what have you learned through your pursuit of LEED ND certification?

Deborah: While sustainable technology has a great “wow” factor, the best way to reduce a person’s carbon footprint is to locate them in an urban setting. In general, per capita emissions for city dwellers are one-third of those of their suburban counterparts.