SF’s Transamerica Pyramid Achieves Green Building Milestone


San Francisco’s iconic Transamerica Pyramid, a unique silhouette on the city skyline for almost 40 years, celebrates a green building milestone today.

The 48-story building, already the possessor of a LEED-Gold green building rating, now is certified at the highest level possible by the U.S. Green Building Council — LEED-Platinum. Owner Transamerica Pyramid Properties and its building management team are marking that achievement in a ceremony this morning.

I’ll be attending the event and will update this post afterward. In the meantime, here’s background on the building, what it took to make it green and how those efforts reflect San Francisco’s push to make its commercial buildings better environmental performers.

Completed in 1972, the Transamerica Pyramid is 853 feet high with 530,000 square feet of space. Its first LEED rating — LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — came in 2009 after about a decade of renovations that were aimed at making the building greener.

The work included installing a cogeneration plant that now supplies 70 percent of the building’s electricity, 100 percent of heating, including the energy needed for hot water. The cogen system saves the building owners about $700,000 a year in energy costs. The building owner and managers also embarked on an aggressive water-saving and waste reduction programs to earn the first LEED rating.

Those efforts accelerated when the owner and operators decided shoot for LEED-Platinum status. In the process, the Energy Star score for the building rose from 77 in 2009 to its latest score of 98, which means the building in among the top two percent of high-performing energy saving structures in the country.

The energy and water efficiency measures have produced $2.5 million in savings on electricity, gas and water costs over the past four years. And the cost for waste collection plummeted by 73 percent in the past three years as a result of a recycling and composting program that diverts 70 percent of material otherwise destined for landfill.

To top it off, the building’s shape and it white precast quartz aggregate exterior provide the same benefits as a cool roof by reducing the need to cool the building and by diminishing the heat island effect caused by a concentration of dark-colored surfaces (think: traditional roofs, road and parking lots) in urban areas,

The Transamerica Pyramid’s latest green accomplishment brings with it a shiny new plaque that announces its LEED-Platinum certification. But the property owner and managers have also achieved another important but less touted milestone: They are among the first movers to comply with San Francisco’s new ordinance requiring energy performance reporting by commercial buildings.

Earlier this year, San Francisco joined the ranks of the small but growing number of U.S. cities that have adopted measures requiring energy benchmarking, auditing and reporting. It is part of a larger nationwide effort, which includes the USGBC, the Institute for Market Transformation and the Clinton Climate Initiative, to improve the energy efficiency of commercial buildings.

Buildings account for about 40 percent of energy consumption and the carbon emissions in the U.S. And as Capital-E noted in its recent report “building energy efficiency is the single largest, low-cost opportunity for CO2 reductions.”

San Francisco’s ordinance covers commercial buildings of 10,000 square feet and up. It affects some 2,700 buildings in town, according to Barry Hooper of the Private Sector Green Building Program in city’s Department of the Environment. Starting this month, buildings of 50,000 square feet or more must submit energy performance benchmarks to the city. That provision applies to about 850 buildings and they encompass about 75 percent of the commercial building square footage in town, said Hooper.

The Transamerica Pyramid is among the 125 big buildings that have submitted its benchmarks to the city.

As shown with the Transamerica Pyramid, “the story behind this policy is that there is an opportunity for any building to improve,” said Hooper. And the greater aim of energy reporting is for building owners and operators acquire information about how their properties are performance, realize the value of that data and take action on it, he said.

“The goal is market transformation,” Hooper said. “Energy is often a mystery to building owners and operators. The people who pay the bills are not always the people who manage the building.”