Leading by Example

By Barbra Murray

StopWaste adds to its list of firsts with LEED v4 Platinum certification.


StopWaste—a public agency responsible for reducing waste in Alameda County, California—is green by nature, and its staff is always conscious of the need to “walk the talk.” The agency, which works on behalf of the 14 cities in Alameda County, the county itself, and two sanitary

Nathan Greene and Wes Sullens of StopWaste.

districts, tries to lead by example, and one of its latest accomplishments may well draw the attention of building owners and building professionals around the globe. The organization’s 14,000-square-foot headquarters in downtown Oakland recently became the first building to earn Platinum certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v4 Building Operations and Maintenance..

“There’s been a lot of angst around v4, so getting the project out there and showcasing it—especially it being a public sector project—will help everyone realize that v4 is not scary,” says Wes Sullens, manager of Green Building Policy and Advocacy at StopWaste. Sullens also worked with U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) on the development of v4.

If it can be achieved in the public sector, where the purse strings are short and pulled tight, and with a structure that was originally erected in 1926, then private-sector building owners of both new and existing structures can certainly embrace LEED v4.

StopWaste was already ahead of the game when it decided to seek LEED O+M v4 certification. In 2007, its headquarters building earned the title of the nation’s first renovation project to earn LEED-New Construction v. 2.2 Platinum certification. The project cost, including the acquisition of the building and all renovations was approximately $6 million.

“At the time we had been promoting LEED to our cities and county as a low-cost green thing you could do,” Sullens recalls. “There was a lot of talk back then from citizens saying ‘That is so expensive, 10 to 15 percent more expensive,’ but we’d been proving, with public buildings, that you could do it for a lot less than that. LEED Silver for no additional cost—that was our mantra. We wanted to prove that we could do it on time and on budget—no additional costs.”

Cisterns affixed to the building collect rainwater.

And StopWaste was doing it on time and on budget early in 2006 when it became clear that LEED Platinum certification was within reach, so they went for it with the assistance of Komorous-Towey Architects (KTA). In came the photovoltaic solar panels, a shower, and a unique rain catchment system. Faced with a roof that sloped in an inconvenient direction, the team conceived a plan to attach the rain barrel to the side of the building to collect rainwater from the solar panels. “It was a really nice synergy that happened at the last minute,” Thomas J. Towey, CEO of KTA, notes. “It was low-cost way to feed that system. We had some really fun things like that happen.”

Salvaging played a large role in ratcheting up to the Platinum level, and dovetailed with the organization’s waste reduction mission. Among the great finds were metal panels that now adorn the façade of the building. Those panels were leftovers from a sign company, so with letters and words cut out of the metal here and there, KTA had to choose its words carefully. “‘LOVE’ appears many times,” Towey says, laughing at the thought.

And the price tag on going Platinum: less than $100,000.


Architectural firm Komorous-Towey Architects stepped in to help StopWaste achieve LEEDv4 Platinum certification. Daylighting is one way StopWaste wins points.
All photos: © Emily Hagopian. www.emilyhagopian.com

While its original LEED certification gave StopWaste a head start in its LEED O+M v4 pursuit—“We were set up for success,” Sullens says—the agency was well aware that the new LEED edition took requirements up a notch—or five. BuildingWise, a San Francisco-based green building consulting firm, was on hand to shepherd StopWaste through the guideline alterations, additions and the like. In some cases, what seemed like a small issue on the surface, turned out to be a challenge.

“For a small building, it had lots of cool little green bells and whistles,” says Levi Jimenez, project manager at BuildingWise. “They had a shower on site, they had indoor bike racks, they monitored their own waste which was really helpful. All of the service providers were very happy to oblige the specific criteria-per-credit, so getting service vendors on board was quite easy.” But not everything was easy. Even with StopWaste being, as Jimenez notes, “very conscious of how they purchase things,” ongoing consumables were out of reach at this time. And some measures that had been achieved relatively easily in the past version of LEED, such as outdoor maintenance and landscaping measures, were more difficult on tight urban sites like StopWaste. “Because they are small—only 14,000 square feet with about 2,000 square feet of landscaping—it was difficult to maximize some points,” says Jimenez.

Despite the occasional hurdles, BuildingWise found advantages to v4. Some of the credits have been consolidated, creating a more efficient program in general in Jimenez’s opinion. But perhaps the big takeaway from v4 is serving as a positive example. Jiminez and his BuildingWise colleagues hope that others will follow StopWaste’s lead. “I think there’s enough friendly competition in the marketplace that people do want to stay on

top of the game and stay ahead of their neighbors,” Jiminez says. “It’s easy for anybody to say ‘I have a green building’ or ‘I have a high-efficiency building’ but without some sort of proof or label saying somebody else verified this, then all you have is a building. To have that verification is critical and it seems like the market is moving toward stronger competition with LEED certified buildings.”

“Things like not earning the consumables credit leaves us with room for improvement,” says Nathan Greene, facilities manager at StopWaste. “We view earning LEED O+M v4 Platinum as a validation and snapshot on how we have been doing, but that doesn’t mean we are finished. We still have to operate our building every day and make the right choices consistently—finding innovative ways to walk our talk.”

StopWaste plans to continue innovating. As part of their Platinum certification, and with the help of Virtually Green, the team earned an Innovation credit for monitoring and gamifying plug-load energy use in cubicle workstations. Furthermore, StopWaste plans to set up a LEED Dynamic Plaque, a continuous evaluation of the building’s performance. “The Dynamic Plaque is not without controversy,” says Sullens, “but my hope is that, as an industry, existing building owners can add more and better metrics to the Dynamic Plaque platform so that it gets enhanced significantly over time.”

StopWaste is developing an ongoing waste tracking app for the Dynamic Plaque that utilizes wifi-enabled scales to track waste in real time. Scales will be placed under the recycling, composting, and garbage bins in the building and will link to a central dashboard that plugs into the Dynamic Plaque. “We are excited to test pilot this new waste tracking system,” says Greene, “and to make it an open application programming interface for others that want to track waste in real time as well.”

At the end of October, USGBC announced that it would extend the closing date for LEED 2009 registration from June 15, 2015 to October 2016, thereby giving the building industry some breathing room for easing into LEED v4, which USGBC acknowledges is more rigorous.

“The bar has been raised,” Sullens says of LEED O+M v4. “Yet it is still achievable and has real value. With v4, the USGBC has redefined what it means to build and operate green buildings and that definition continues to be an internationally recognized sign of leadership.” By becoming the first v4 Platinum project in the world, StopWaste has become an international symbol of leadership as well.