What if buildings alone had the power to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by one-third, reduce energy needs by 25%, and divert over 80 million tons of waste from landfills each year?
Large cities like Los Angeles account for approximately 70% of global CO2 emissions. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, known for exacerbating global warming and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events.
So, what then is a main contributor of CO2 emissions?
Buildings are one source - accounting for 38% of U.S. total CO2 emissions. Heating, cooling, lighting, powering and “watering” buildings sucks up 73% of electricity use and 13.6% of potable water consumption (15 trillion gallons/year) here in the United States. As a major fixture in our urban ecology, building design, development and maintenance stand out as key drivers for achieving climate action goals.
The COP21 Global Climate Change Agreement reached in Paris, France calls for rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, research for “negative emissions” technologies, and the creation of carbon sinks. To keep the rise in global temperature below 2°C, each city has the responsibility to develop low-carbon solutions best suited to local urban ecology. Each country has agreed to monitor, verify and publicly report greenhouse gas emission levels throughout the coming years. The 195 State Parties will reconvene every five years to evaluate progress and re-negotiate plans for ongoing and future policies and programs.
Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification is one tool for sustainable building & design that sets a new standard for:
- Building materials;
- Indoor air quality;
- Energy and water efficiency;
- Solid waste disposal; and
- Greenhouse gas emission reductions.
To date, the LEED green building certification program includes more than 72,000 projects, comprised of 13.8 billion square feet, across 150+ countries and territories.
From carbon negative building blocks to light shades and living roofs and walls, buildings are a prime investment opportunity for low-carbon assets. Sustainable building & design principles are instrumental in promoting a healthier urban ecology through new project designs, retrofitting, and ongoing building maintenance. Painting, roof maintenance and power cleaning, for example, each provide opportunities to reinvent standard practices and create energy-capturing, carbon dioxide-absorbing, and water-saving options.
L.A.’s iconic smoggy skyline, documented urban heat island effect, and severe air pollution levels have forced developers and policymakers to strategically rethink construction and renovation projects. Since 2011, all new buildings, additions, and alterations of $200,000 or more are subject to the Los Angeles Green Building Code - a policy aimed at reducing a building’s energy and water use, waste, and carbon footprint (LAGBC). As of 2015, L.A. has 615 LEED projects and the number continues to grow.
One highlight is the Caltrans District 7 Headquarters. Completed in 2004, the 1.2 million-square-foot complex in the heart of downtown L.A. has achieved LEED Silver status and features:
- An integrated photovoltaic system (one of the largest in the Western U.S.);
- An adjustable perforated panel exterior wall that serves as a shading device, significantly reducing the building’s heat gain.
The project has won numerous awards including the L.A. Business Council Architectural Award for Best Future Design and the L.A. Downtown News Most Environmentally Aware Design award.
Another highlight is the 777 S. Figueroa Tower - the sixth tallest building in Los Angeles. Owned by Brookfield Office Properties, the tower is one of seven towers downtown that has undergone “green” upgrades as a part of the company’s commitment to environmental sustainability. The 777 Tower is a 1.1 million-square-feet office building that has achieved LEED Gold status with water use reductions, responsible materials selection, and energy efficient operations.
What do you think? Can LEED certification serve as an excelerator for L.A.’s evolution in sustainable building & design? Will it be the government or the private sector that leads the way in restoring health to urban ecology through building design and maintenance? What types of partnerships are possible with green building projects? Share your thoughts and your city's stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images by Alyssa Curran. Data linked to sources.