San Francisco has long been an epicenter for progressive movements. Just take a walk down any block in the city and you are likely to overhear the word “transformation” at least once. The City By the Bay takes pride in its vanguard position on many subjects, especially sustainable environmental practices. After all, San Francisco has the winning combination of civic-mindedness, extensive environmental legislature, a world class design community, and the forward-thinking spirit to make it all happen.
Green building projects have been shown to create jobs and add value to the city. Perhaps most importantly, they represent a responsible approach to climate change with respect to the impact that today’s choices have on tomorrow’s generations. At its heart, the sustainability movement is about ensuring a better future.
Here are some examples of how sustainability is transforming the “Built Environment” in SF:
Living spaces that truly come alive
In 2008 the California Academy of Sciences made waves when it unveiled its Living Roof.
The undulating green roof sits atop the museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, striking a harmonious balance between art and science.
Like the museum it shelters, it is designed with a reverence for the natural world- serving as both a wildlife habitat and a fantastical work of art. It provides a home for birds and insects, regulates the museum’s temperature, incorporates solar panels, and soaks up rain water. Most importantly, the Living Roof is an outdoor classroom–from stargazing and eclipse watching to investigating the life of bees, the Living Roof offers a range of programs and learning opportunities that connect visitors to the natural world.
On a more intimate street level scale (while still large and impressive), there are projects like the vertical garden of the Drew School. This fantastical living wall was designed by Botanist Patrick Blanc, a pioneer of vertical garden design. A vertical garden is much more than just plants on a wall, it is a complex system including a base of materials that mimic cliff growing moss to hold nutrients in place. They also feature self-sustaining water distribution systems, and a selection of plants suited to thrive in specific weather and light conditions.
‘LEEDing’ the Way
LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. LEED provides a framework to create healthy, extremely efficient, cost-saving green buildings.
One visually striking example is the 30-story SalesForce tower at 350 Mission Street. which was awarded LEED’s Platinum level certification. The project exemplifies a new urban ecology in which environmental, social, and economic sustainability is applied to new construction in San Francisco.
The ground floor of the building is designed to blur the line between public and private space with a 50-foot high “living room.The building uses cutting edge energy conservation strategies and recycled construction materials. Additional sustainability strategies include stormwater harvesting for non-potable uses and charging stations for electric vehicles.
Classic Buildings Get Green
San Francisco’s City Hall, built in 1915, is the oldest building in the U.S. to receive LEED Platinum certification. After much retrofitting, City Hall is more energy efficient than 90% of comparable buildings across the country.
The ventilation and heating systems were redesigned to greatly reduce its carbon footprint and its high-efficiency toilets conserve approximately 825,000 gallons of water per year. Older civic buildings in San Francisco and across the country are also seeing the financial benefits of retrofitting as their utility costs shrink while city residents benefit from the new jobs created for this budding construction niche.
Boutique Hotels in San Francisco are getting serious about going green. It is the norm these days for top hotels to use sustainable practices on a grand scale and also in the details.
Luxury stays at hotels like The W, Axiom, and Orchard Garden, now include comprehensive organic services. Guests at these hotels can expect a chemical-free environment, water conserving linen reuse, organic food, all natural spa supplies, in-room recycling, and carpeting made of recycled materials.
Orchard Gardens was the first hotel in San Francisco to receive LEED certification. One of its unique practices is key card energy control systems, a trend that began in Europe, by which guests “turn off” their room with the keycard which has reduced energy usage by 20%. The more people begin to associate sustainability with luxury, the hotel industry will continue to move towards eco-conscious practices.
Green building projects embody the dream of sustainability in American cities. Can cities transform their built environments to respond to the needs of current residents as well as the health of the planet and future generations?
San Francisco is a city of transformation, with countless brilliant examples of what is possible when we put ideas into action. It is evident here that green building practices can enliven and improve the function and appearance of the city without diminishing the history of existing buildings. It looks like sustainability is the new normal in San Francisco, something that comes as no surprise to those who know the city best.