Decoding Design

Efficient by design, Transamerica Pyramid earns Platinum LEED

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San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid has ascended to the top two percent of energy-efficient buildings in the nation, thanks to efficiency retrofits as well as the building's design.

One of San Francisco's most iconic buildings is now also one of its greenest, but the news, when it was announced late last month, flew under the radar.

Just before Halloween, the covers were pulled off Transamerica Pyramid's new Platinum LEED rating, which put the Financial District building in the top two percent of energy-efficient buildings in the nation.

The building had already gained the U.S. Green Building Council's Gold LEED rating with a score of 77 in 2009. But then Transamerica Pyramid Properties, its building management team of Cushman & Wakefield, and LEED certification consultant BuildingWise partnered to improve on a good thing.

Among the improvements they made, which boosted its LEED points to 98, is an onsite cogeneration plant that produces, on average, 70 percent of the building's electricity and all of its heating and domestic hot water needs. This should lead to a $700,000 reduction in energy costs each year, on average.

Plus, the building's unique pyramid-like shape and light-colored facade help it conserve energy by limiting its cooling loads and the urban heat island effect.

Through energy efficiency gains it had made since 2009, when it reached Gold LEED, the building has reduced its combined expenses for gas, electricity, and water by more than $2.5 million.

It has also reached a waste diversion rate of 70 percent, thanks to a progressive recycling and compost program. This also lowered its  waste collection costs by 73 percent in the past three years.

Looking forward, Transamerica Pyramid is working with its tenants to limit their own environmental impact by using mass transit, carpooling, cycling and walking to commute to and from the building. Only 13 percent of the visits to the building are in single occupancy vehicles (though it seems this would largely be a function of its downtown location and costs associated with parking).

Images: Sailko / TheWB

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Mary Catherine O'Connor

Contributing Writer

Mary Catherine O'Connor has written for Outside, Fast Company, Wired.com, Smithsonian.com, Entrepreneur, Earth2Tech.com, Earth Island Journal and The Magazine. She is based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure