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San Francisco debuts North America's 'greenest urban office building'

San Francisco debuts North America's 'greenest urban office building'

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The new San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Building boasts new Living Machine technology, as well as LEED Platinum standards.

Last week,  the city of San Francisco announced the grand opening of the Greenest Urban Office Building in North America. The new San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Building (SFPUC) boasts new Living Machine technology, as well as LEED Platinum standards.

The 13-floor building can hold around 900 people, but consumes 60 percent less water and 32 percent less energy than most buildings of its kind. The building can achieve these high levels of conservation due it its on-site grey and black water treatment.

The technology for this treatment, The Living Machine, reclaims and treats all of the building's wastewater-- meeting the demand for all of the buildings toilets. The Living Machine can treat 5,000 gallons of water daily, reducing per-person water use from 12 to five gallons. The building also has a rainwater harvesting system that can store up to 250,000 gallons of water annually for use in the building's irrigation systems.

As far as power goes, the building uses a greenhouse gas-free  power from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but also has an integrated hybrid solar array as well as a wind turbine that can generation about seven percent of the building's annual energy needs.

The building was designed with a raised flooring system to house its data and ventilation infrastructure that also reduces heating, cooling and ventilation costs by over half. They also plan to do the more simple things, like automatically shut off workstation power after business hours, use more sustainable building materials, and limit parking to encourage alternative transportation among employees.

“The unique hybrid wind-solar installation combined with the use of onsite, recycled wastewater makes 525 Golden Gate one of the most self-sustaining buildings anywhere in the world,” said SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington as part of the announcement. “We did not spare any detail to demonstrate the water-saving and energy efficiency revolution that all of us must start to embrace.”

However, the building cost the city a whopping $146.5 million-- which brings back the argument between building new energy efficient buildings, or spending the money to make the ones we already have perform better. There isn't a right answer, what's probably best is for there to be a combination of the two-- a new building should be built to high energy standards, but some time and resources should be taken to reboot the clunky power-wasters that remain in every city.

Employees are set to move in to their new space in July and August, and the building is set to be on track for its Platinum LEED ranking within a year of operation. The SFPUC estimates that building and owning its new headquarters will allow the department to save residents around $3.7 billion over the expected 100 year life of the building.

For more information, please visit: www.sfwater.org/HQ
Photo Credits: Exterior entrance: Living Machine Systems, L3C
Full building photo: San Francisco PUC

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Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure