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  • Writer's pictureEcomedes Team

What Buildings are the Deepest Green?

What Buildings are the Deepest Green?

The green building movement in the United States is thought to have been established in the early to mid 1970s in response to oil embargos, when oil prices skyrocketed. Owners and our government were forced to think about energy consumption and look at options and alternatives to traditional practices. Fortunately, the green building movement stuck around, even through the 80s and 90s as consumerism drastically increased. Climate change activism began to pick up in the 90s, with many of the leading organizations we look to today (e.g. 350, Power Shift Network, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) being established at this time or soon after. The U.S. Green Business Council (USGBC) established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification process in the mid 1990s. LEED is the most well known green building certification, recognized worldwide, with more than 126,000 buildings certified to date.

The green building movement is now taking steps to create buildings that have even less impact on the environment and surrounding community, referred to as “deep green” buildings. USGBC is moving forward with the LEED Positive vision, a strategy to lay the foundation for a future of LEED that is regenerative, where buildings can heal and repair the surrounding environment and communities. The Living Building Challenge also requires a building to go beyond prevention and actually have positive environmental impacts. The International WELL Building Institute’s certifications prioritize the health of the individuals using the space. WELL certifications, developed in 2014, are relatively new to the scene but often obtained in tandem with LEED, so they are recognized and used frequently. The new Fitwel certification also focuses on the health of the surrounding community and building occupants, more recently looking at limiting the spread of COVID-19 within a building. As the green movement evolves, the certifications are also expanding to better understand how development and redevelopment can help have positive impacts rather than just no impact.

Ecomedes is a tool that helps builders, architects and owners find, compare, select and document the sustainable building materials that will support their applications for LEED, WELL, Living Building Challenge and other certifications.

Here are five deep green buildings that stand out to us:

1. DPR Regional Office

Phoenix, Arizona


Platinum LEED

Net-Zero Energy Office Building (NZEB) from Living Building Challenge

Architect / Engineers: Smith Group

Highlights: DPR Construction’s Regional Office is Arizona’s first net-zero energy office building (NZEB), qualifying because it creates as much or more energy than it consumes, a difficult task anywhere but especially within a desert environment. The office incorporates natural ventilation through the use of 87 operable windows, shower towers, a zinc-clad solar chimney and fans to reduce the building’s power demand. The building has a Lucid Building Dashboard® system that shows water and gas usage, lighting and power consumption, and photovoltaic energy production in real time. Seeing this data is one of the many perks of visiting the offices. DPR’s regional office in San Diego is also NZEB, earning them an Energy Petal. The building also has a Place Petal and Beauty Petal. Several of DPR’s regional offices have achieved or are tracking for NZE. You can read more about DPR’s path to net zero here.

2. Etsy Headquarters

Brooklyn, New York


Petal Certification from Living Building Challenge

Architect: Gensler

Highlights: Etsy’s space is not surprisingly filled with art and furniture made responsibly and sustainably by local artists and Etsy sellers. They collaborated with manufacturers to ensure that none of the 1,500+ materials used in the building are harmful or toxic (ecomedes is an especially good resource for this type of evaluation). All of the wood used was either Forest Stewardship Council certified (FSC) or salvaged and reused, and built to minimize straight lines, avoiding straight walls and right angles to mimic irregularity found in nature. The open floor plan and rooftop meeting spaces use natural light, and they have a 12 kW solar power system next to their rooftop garden that powers a portion of the office. Green walls and plants throughout the building ensure air quality inside is even better than it is outside, with the rooftop and terraces having 60 species of native plants to create a healthy habitat for insects and birds. Etsy is also the first global e-commerce company to offset all of its emissions from shipping. You can read a full case study here.

3. Bullitt Center

Seattle, Washington


Living Green Building

Owner: Bullitt Foundation

Build: Schuchart; PAE Consulting Engineers

More info: Case Study

Highlights: The Bullitt Center, a commercial office building, is said to be an experiment to create a physical model for 21st Century sustainability, and is definitely one of the darkest green buildings to date. The location of the building was selected to improve walkability and bring economic development to the neighborhood, with many adjacent improvement projects following the completion of the Center. The interior climate is controlled by a computer system that acts as the brains of the building, where the outside environmental conditions control shades and window openings, along with the radiant in-floor heating system. The solar panels on the roof generate more electricity than what occupants use each year, and rainwater is collected for the toilets throughout the building. In order to obtain a net zero certification, high goals were set and data was analyzed over time to assure the building was functioning as efficiently as possible.

4. Bank of America Tower

Houston, Texas


Platinum LEED

Fitwel Rating

Owner / Construction: Skanska Architect: Gensler

Highlights: The 35-story glass-clad tower was the first LEED v4 Platinum Core and Shell certified project in the United States. The building is a mixed use building with the Understory Culinary Market (designed by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture) at the base of the building, with community spaces built to encourage innovation and collaboration. The green roof retains rainwater on-site in a 50,000-gallon rainwater collection system for reuse inside the building, watering plants and flushing toilets. The building was designed to incorporate views and to use natural light throughout the space. Temperature within the building is controlled by a high-performance exterior facade, an energy recovery wheel that brings in fresh air, and a district cooling system that provides chilled water and air.

5. Salesforce Tower

San Francisco, CA


Platinum LEED

Owners: Boston Properties, Inc and Hines

Build: Clark Construction, Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction, Magnusson Klemencic Associates, and others

Highlights: The 61-story (1,070 feet tall) Salesforce Tower received Platinum LEED certification for many building details, including floor-by-floor air intake systems with high-efficiency air handlers that allow natural ventilation and Under-Floor Air Distribution (UFAD), enhancing indoor air quality and reducing HVAC and fan-horsepower energy usage. Each floor also has integrated metal sunshades, reducing solar gain, and low-emissivity glass that helps reduce cooling load. For additional cooling, the tower’s foundations are wrapped in heat-exchanging coils. The Tower connects directly to the Salesforce Transit Center, San Francisco’s main transit hub, improving the city’s public transit, along with improving the transit corridor with a 5.4-acre public park on top of the transit center, a key element of the sustainable design strategy. Most recently, the Tower built a blackwater recycling system in partnership with the City of San Francisco, adding water recycling capabilities and reducing the building’s drinkable water consumption by 76%, saving up to 30,000 gallons of fresh water a day, equivalent to the yearly water consumption of 16,000 San Francisco residents.

What building do you think is the greenest?

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