853 Feet of Green Love

San Francisco's Transamerica Pyramid wins a prestigious green award

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Friday, Dec 11, 2009  |  Updated 2:19 PM PDT
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853 Feet of Green Love

Big, tall, and green: The Transamerica Pyramid is the Incredible Hulk of environmentally friendliness.

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The tall, pointy beacon in San Francisco’s skyline is sporting a new color -- green.

The U.S. Green Building council awarded its prestigious LEED Gold Certification to the Transamerica Pyramid Friday. The council says only a handful of U.S. buildings have qualified for the high honor. And at 853 feet, few are higher.

The award is given to buildings that show a long standing commitment to energy efficiency. The building’s Dutch owners, Aegon, have undertaken programs to cut water use, energy use and convinced the majority of workers to ditch their cars.

In the last year, the building has cut water usage by 50 percent. 70 percent of its garbage is diverted from landfill. The building even has its own co-generation plant that generates 70 percent of its electricity.

“Utilities, quite frankly, is one-third of your bills running a building,” said Steven Ring of Cushman & Wakefield, which manages the building. “And if you can cut that down it makes financial sense all the way around.”

Ring said the generator saved the building owners $600,000 in utility costs last year.

Mayor Gavin Newsom was in the crowd of building owners this morning as the council presented its large green certification plaque. The award also comes with some bragging rights for San Francisco. The Transamerica Tower finished its upgrades before New York’s Empire State Building, and Chicago’s Willis Tower.

“San Francisco is a small 47 and-a-half square mile city that has more LEED certified buildings than any city in the United States,” said Newsom. “More than New York City, more than and Los Angeles -- two cities that are always out front talking about everything they’re doing in terms of green buildings. “

Ah yes, what born-and-raised San Franciscan would miss a chance to poke its big-city rivals? The Transamerica Tower is the 88th LEED certified building in the city by the Bay, and San Francisco showed up at a respectable No. 6 in a green-building ranking last year.

Newsom says the building, which shows up on postcards mailed around the world, should stand as an example to other building owners of what can be done. It’s certainly a lesson that’s hard to miss.

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