California’s Sonoma Academy: Sustainability Built from the Ground Up

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Project wins multiple awards with Red List free materials

Located in southeastern Santa Rosa, Calif., the Sonoma Academy Janet Durgin Guild & Commons is a testament to the future of sustainability. The privately-owned college preparatory campus achieved three leading sustainability benchmarks: LEED v3 Platinum, Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal Certified and WELL Building Standard Education Pilot, one of only a few nationwide to simultaneously reach these benchmarks.

The educational campus is setting precedence for sustainability in commercial new construction. It’s the first project to achieve both LBC Petal and Zero Carbon Certification by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). It is also the first Zero Carbon Certification in California and the fourth Petal Certification in the state.


Stunning sightlines
The 19,500 square-foot project included digital media creation studios, student support services, indoor/outdoor dining, a commercial kitchen and a teaching kitchen/meeting room with views of the gardens and patio areas. The gardens produce over 1,500 pounds of organic fruits, vegetables and spices used in the Commons food program. Solar energy produces half of the building’s electricity. The campus rainwater catchment system captures, stores and recycles water.  Approximately 800 gallons of graywater per day is recycled onsite.

According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Sonoma Academy, which was recognized as a 2018 COTE® Top Ten project, came in at a cost of $17 million. Sonoma Academy has received countless other awards—the 2020 AIA Redwood Empire Merit Award; 2020 AIA East Bay Design Awards; Fast Company 2020 Innovation by Design Awards; and 2019 USGBC Building Health Leadership Award as well as others.

“The project goal was to make sustainable strategies and innovation evident to the students and the community,” said Meghan Cole, Sustainability Coordinator, WRNS Studio, San Francisco, the project’s architect of record.

“We used the LBC Materials Petal Imperative to pull ourselves out of our comfort zone. In the process, we encountered some of the most rigorous building design requirements but were able to meet its goals in products, including door openings and hardware.”

One Imperative was to avoid all Red List ingredients/chemicals. To accomplish this, every single product and material used in construction had to be vetted and often, alternatives found, according to Cole.

Materials Petals
Cole said Sonoma Academy owners wanted to expose and educate students on the importance of sustainability. “What better way to do that than in the building itself? The materials vetting process was difficult, as it involved many different classes of products. We used doors and hardware with LBC Declare labels which are hard to come by and require a lot of work to reach that level. ASSA ABLOY was a leading participant in that program and an active contributor that met a challenge with a clear solution and compatible products.”

living building challenge project
©Celso Rojas 2021

Manufacturer’s contributions
Amy Musanti, Director of Sustainable Building Solutions for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions said designing for sustainability has a larger impact on the built environment and the company is dedicated to the advocacy, education and outreach necessary for projects to attain green building goals. 

“Meeting these requirements is a testament that every product can be healthier and more responsible,” Musanti said. “Being able to help this notable project achieve this level of sustainability is rewarding, and proof that doors and hardware are also appropriate, contributing elements in design-build.”

Declare labels and other documentation help facilitate LBC certification by listing the materials and ingredients of the products. Finding doors and frames with Declare labels at the time was hard to come by, stated Cole, but ASSA ABLOY had many compliant products. “This was the first time WRNS Studio worked on a Materials Petal project and its requirements are quite rigorous,” Cole said.

ASSA ABLOY products
ASSA ABLOY’s doors, frames and hardware were used in the Guild & Commons facility and Cole said its participation in the Declare Program made procuring ingredient-transparent materials simple. “The project was pleased to have found ASSA ABLOY an ally in creating healthier materials and spaces,” she said.

ASSA ABLOY products that met Red List free criteria included doors and frames, door hardware (hinges and electrified hardware), door closers, locksets, stops, sweeps, kickplates, wall stops and other opening components. Products from McKinney, Ceco, Rockwood, Corbin Russwin, Norton, Pemko, Rixson and Yale were represented in the project.

“Every project can be sustainable in some shape or form and have an impact on the client’s life or the industry at large,” Cole continued. “Our firm is forward-thinking in sustainable design but this will become the norm in the future. Sustainable and green design never takes away from a building—it really only adds to a project. Once you experience a building like Sonoma Academy, it has a lasting effect; when you experience its spaces you want more of this type of design.”

Sonoma Academy Project Team

Architect and Interiors: WRNS Studio

Contractor: XL Construction

Design Landscape and Garden Architect: RHAA Landscape Architects

Engineer - Civil: Sherwood Design

Engineer - Electrical, PV Design, Daylighting: Integral Group

Engineer - MEP: Interface Engineering

Engineer - Structural: Mar Structural  

Green Roof: Rana Creek

Kitchen Design: Vision Builders

Specification Door Opening Consultant: Jeff Mulvihill, ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions

Living Building Challenge

The LBC, a program of ILFI, is the world’s most rigorous and comprehensive green building standard. The LBC focuses on Declare, the label for building products committed to materials health and transparency and Red List free ingredients. The Red List represents materials, chemicals and elements known to pose serious risk to human health and the ecosystem that are commonly prevalent in building products.

LBC Intent

The intent of the LBC Materials Petal is to help create a materials economy that is non-toxic, ecologically restorative, transparent and socially equitable. Building materials are responsible for many adverse environmental issues throughout their life cycle, including personal illness, habitat and species loss, pollution, and resource depletion. The aim, according to LBC, is to remove the worst-known offending materials and practices and drive business toward a truly responsible materials economy.