San Francisco is constructing a greener path 

This week, thousands of building professionals from around the world will be in San Francisco for the Greenbuild conference to share ideas about sustainable design and construction practices. They picked the right spot.

Nine years ago, The City adopted the Green Building Ordinance aimed at reducing water and energy use, diverting waste from the landfill and improving indoor air quality. Even before that, we began leading by example.

Whether I visit Laguna Honda Hospital or the Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center, the Visitacion Valley branch library or the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s new headquarters, I am reminded that The City embraced the principles of sustainable building and has led the way ever since.

Windows open to let in fresh air, solar and wind power generate electricity, carpets and tiles are made out of salvaged materials, lights turn off automatically when rooms are not in use, food waste from lunch rooms becomes rich compost, water is recycled, and rooftop gardens and old blue jeans provide insulation.  

Some projects, such as the Moscone Convention Center, proved quite challenging and, ultimately, all the more satisfying. We had to work within the constraints of an existing facility and yet still achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council. And today at the Greenbuild conference, I will announce that eight existing historic buildings in Civic Center have filed for LEED certification, including our historic City Hall, as part of our commitment to create the first model Civic Center sustainability district in the country.

The commitment to sustainability runs deep within city government. Take the Department of Public Works, for example. There, nearly half the professional staff members are LEED certified, an important distinction given the department’s role in designing and managing many of The City’s civic construction projects.

When city departments construct new buildings or fix up old ones, sustainability is key. We’ve seen that with projects already built or in the pipeline involving the San Francisco Public Library, Recreation and Park Department, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Police Department, Department of Public Health, San Francisco International Airport and others. The Department of the Environment, Bureau of Building Inspection and the Real Estate Division play key roles, too.

A neat offshoot of these public projects is that we’ve become a model for private developers. The City’s construction projects have opened pipelines when it comes to making green building materials more readily available and affordable. Our projects also have helped deepen the pool of qualified tradesmen and tradeswomen, architects, landscape architects and engineers here in town who have the skills needed to design and build sustainable buildings.

San Francisco may only encompass 47 square miles and have just over 800,000 residents, but we have a big impact when it comes to pioneering innovation and sustainability. Next time you visit a renovated rec center or new neighborhood library, fly out of Terminal 2 at SFO or visit the rainforest at the California Academy of Sciences, you’ll see firsthand the progress we’ve made.

Ed Lee is the mayor of San Francisco.

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