The LEED v4 stories series features the people the behind diverse LEED v4 projects. Here, you’ll find interviews with project team members and project owners that tell of their experiences—both the wins and the challenges.

Nestled in the heart of the financial district, One Sansome Street is one of the tallest buildings in San Francisco. In 2014, it became the first skyscraper in the world to certify under LEED v4 for Existing Buildings and attain Platinum status. I recently spoke to Michael Barker, Managing Director of Barker Pacific Group (project owner) and Barry Giles, Founder and CEO of BuildingWise LLC (consultant) about One Sansome Street. 


Tell us about your space. What kind of building is One Sansome? How long has it been around? Who occupies it now?

Michael: One Sansome is a major office building in San Francisco, in a very prime location, and one of the few buildings in the city where the BART station is directly accessible from the lobby. It’s a 41-story building, built in 1984, and, like a lot of buildings in the downturn, during the 2008-2009 period went through some rough times because the ownership was capital-starved, and the occupancy of the building dropped to around 70 percent. We [Barker Pacific Group and Prudential] came along in 2010. While the building was already certified Gold under version 2009, we contacted Barry to see what could be done to improve that status, and we turned out getting the top. In the last five years, I think, without exception, we have rebuilt every inch of the interior. We have a lot of new tenants, including several high-tech companies.

The LEED v4 Experience

What are you most proud of?

Michael: Not only are we proud to have the plaque and the recognition, but just the fact that the building has been so well received in the community with the tenants that want to be there.

Barry: For me it’s that this building is the first v4 that ever went through recertification, and it got Platinum—and that is something that will never be taken away from that building.

What were the biggest wins and challenges with LEED v4?

Barry: This building got 28 of the 38 energy points; it also got 10 of the 12 water points. And that, in and of itself, should be proclaimed from the highest mountain, because it shows that not only did the building perform well in regard to Energy Star, but it was able to do the peripheral credits like Demand Response—which is a brand new credit in v4—and the team was able to prove that what they were already doing was the perfect answer to the credit. Not to forget all the transportation credits. Of course we’re right up against BART, and that encourages people to use it. If you ever stood on the platform, and watched people take BART...I think 480,000 people now use it to travel in and out of the city every day! We were able to quantify that the tenants in the buildings were making use of that rather than driving into the city, using their own vehicles. Exemplary performance came up in energy, water and transportation, and the building really did deserve it.

Overall, what is your impression of LEED v4?

Barry: I like v4. I like the push for transparency. I think we need to support LEED for existing buildings, because at the end of the day, it’s important we focus on what we already have, and giving those buildings the praise they deserve for maintaining and operating them sustainably. Without people like Michael Barker and his whole team, we wouldn't have gotten these buildings through to the levels that we got to.


Having a green building is great. But people still think green is green; that it costs more. Tell me about the business strategies and cost incentives for pursing LEED v4.

Michael: As an owner, yes, there are costs ,but in the end, it depends on how you look at the ownership...if you look at it from a long-term perspective, saving operating expenses by being more efficient—that may require some capital costs up front. For instance, the underflow system we did in Hamilton Landing was more expensive than doing ductwork, but in the long run it pays off, and I think the same is true here. When we make decisions, we think, “What is the long-term benefit of this?” and it’s not just the marketing, it’s the efficiency.

Can you share details related to your investment and ROI?

Michael: A lot of what we’ve done are not just physical improvements, but operational improvements…it’s how we restructured our management of recycling down to the kind of paper we use, and little details like that add up to the status that the building has attained. So return on investment is hard to quantify, because it’s not just, "Did we spend an extra million dollars on this item, and do we expect a return on that over time?" We do expect a return, but given the variety and spread of our investments, it’s difficult to quantify the exact return.  

Barry: We do, however, have performance statistics that I would love to share:

  • To get to and from One Sansome, its occupants use alternative transportation 85 percent of the time—mainly BART. Alternative transportation includes walking, biking, public transit, telecommuting, carpools and green vehicles.
  • The building has reduced its indoor water use by 34 percent, which equates to 894,621 gallons of water saved annually.
  • It has an ENERGY STAR Score of 95, meaning that it performs in the top 5 percent of similar buildings in the United States. 
  • It purchases 91.32 percent sustainable cleaning materials by cost.
  • One Sansome saves approximately 2,788 metric tons of CO2 compared to similar buildings nationally,

The choice

Every year, approximately 1 billion square feet of buildings are demolished and replaced with new construction in the United States alone. And by 2030, the Brookings Institute projects, roughly one-quarter of today’s existing building stock will be demolished and replaced. Why is it important that we focus on greening the buildings we already have?

Michael: I’ve been involved in developing buildings from the ground up for the last 40 years, and what USGBC is trying to accomplish is extremely important. I’m passionate about being a good steward. There is a lot of product that will be demolished over the next several years, but there are more that will remain, so let's be very concerned and cognizant about what should be done for existing buildings and recognize those that do make the effort.

Some people think that once a building gets LEED certified, that’s it—the work is done. One Sansome was already LEED Gold in 2010, which was an impressive achievement, but you not only chose to go for LEED Platinum when recertifying, but you chose to use v4. Why?

Michael: We wanted to go for the top, and as an owner of a building, it gives me great pride to see that you can achieve these things with an existing building. It’s not just new construction that can get the recognition. It was a challenge, and thank God, Barry and his team knew what they were doing and were very adept in helping us through the process.

Barry: One of the main things we’ve got to point out is that we had a client who was more than willing to step up to the plate and make it work. It was a building [team] that was very conscious of what it was doing in the marketplace, not just trying to attract the best talent to the building, not just to save energy, but it was also willing to do all the necessary things to make the building right for where it was. Recertifying under v4 had never been done before, so it was a step into the unknown we all made together, but our business (BuildingWise) is totally associated with recertification and certification of existing buildings. Some of things that came out of it were great.

What’s next? I understand One Sansome is not done with LEED?

Barry: That’s exactly right. It’s not as if Michael has taken a plaque and put it on the wall and said, “That’s it, you’re out of here.” They’ve hired us to come in on a regular basis and make sure the building stays LEED Platinum. We’ve already registered the building to do recertification in four years' time. We’re looking forward to making sure that the building retains its LEED Platinum status in the later period.

Michael: In the financial world, you have auditors who examine the books every year. At One Sansome, we’re taking a similar approach with our operations and maintenance, making sure what we do is sustainable. For instance, our cleaning materials are over 90 percent sustainable by cost, but that is something you could easily transgress. Here again it’s a function of making sure your management team and procurement people buy the right stuff and make sure it meets the standards, and that takes diligence.


What were the biggest lessons learned in the jump from LEED 2009 to LEED v4?

Michael: The process was very enlightening to our entire team and to us. We involved our engineering folks, construction people, property management and a variety of other people to make sure that we were incorporating diverse perspectives to accomplish this project. It’s been very educational from that standpoint.

What advice would you give other LEED v4 users?

Michael: As I said, I’ve been in development for 40 years and I want to be responsible, I want to do the right thing, but I don’t know every detail about how to do the right thing, so having a team that can work together is paramount to any success that you’re going to achieve. The key is having people like Barry who know what needs to be done, to bring people like that on board.

Barry: LEED for existing buildings is not rocket science. It’s not doing anything so far out in left field that it would make it radical. There’s nothing radical we did. It just needs clear explanation, it needs clear instruction and it needs the kudos given back to the teams who are able to support and do that work.

View One Samson Street in the LEED Project Directory