Santa Monica sets a New Standard for Sustainability

Triple Net-Zero Municipal Building Raises the Bar, Then Tops It

A new stand-alone addition to Santa Monica’s City Hall (City Hall East, formerly known as the City Services Building), is heralded as one of the most sustainable and green structures in the world. It is the only government building in the U.S. to be slated for Living Building Challenge (LBC) Certification.

The triple net-zero status refers to the building’s achievement of net-zero* energy; net-zero water; and net-zero waste. The construction project focused on delivering sustainability in all building products, resulting in a structure that ultimately will pay for itself in the future.

The LBC is the world’s most rigorous and comprehensive green building standard, embodied in a program administered by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Specified building products should not have any materials that appear in the ILFI Red List and many materials also feature a Declare Label, or a label that shows the product’s ingredients, manufacturing, and end of life information.

The Red List represents the “worst-in-class” materials, chemicals, and elements known to pose serious risks to human health and the greater ecosystem that are prevalent in the building products industry, according to ILFI. The program and labeling process promotes transparency among building products. Project teams can make better-informed decisions about what products are specified in a building while manufacturers can optimize their products once armed with this information.


The Search for Qualifying Products
Amber Richane LEED-AP, WELL-AP, cSBA, FitWel, Lean Green Belt was the city’s Senior Project Manager for the building. “Sustainability is part of our ethos,” she said, adding that the city’s first sustainable plan was instated some 25 years ago.

“It’s all been leading up to this building. We have some very lofty citywide goals: water self-sufficiency by 2023 and carbon neutrality before 2050. We’ve instituted 100 percent clean, green power for residents and businesses through the Clean Power Alliances and the City Hall East is the next commitment to continued sustainability. It’s the greenest municipal building in the world and unlike other buildings it will pay for itself in roughly 15 years,” she said. 


Product Procurement Process
One of the most challenging aspects of sustainable projects in line with LBC is the procurement of building products and materials. In this project, all materials passed the ILFI Red List Free designation and are without known chemicals that could harm the built environment or present health risks to its occupants.

“The building is not fussy,” Richane continued, “so it has concrete floors and unwrapped columns for example. Some of that was because of the Red List but also because the city chose to invest in systems that would make the building sustainable and comfortable – for its 100-year planned lifespan. The building sustains itself, lives within the means of its site and doesn’t use resources offsite.” Jessie Buckmaster, LFA, LEED AP BD+C, Sustainability Manager for general contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction Co., San Francisco, had the task of vetting products. Every product was researched by Buckmaster and her team, working closely with subcontractors who provided materials lists. Those products were reviewed for Declare, Red List Free and other sustainability aspects.

“This was our first LBC design-build project,” said Buckmaster. “We were pleasantly surprised to find that many of the products weren’t super expensive or hard to find. We took the time to do the research, but it was good to know that manufacturers were also taking sustainability seriously.”

Buckmaster said for some manufacturers it was an education process and they were unaware of what exactly is contained in their products. “We found manufacturers were overwhelmingly willing to work with us.”

ASSA ABLOY’s Contributions
Among the products selected for the building were 24 different door, hardware and entrance products from ASSA ABLOY Group brands. These products have Declare labels and are Red List free or LBC compliant. With Declare labels, manufacturers voluntarily disclose product information on easy-to-read Declare labels. These labels report all product ingredients and use a simple color code system to flag chemicals of concern. Further information is provided on the product’s final assembly locations, life expectancy, end-of-life options and overall compliance with relevant requirements of the LBC.

“Sustainability is a key component of the ASSA ABLOY product development process,” said Amy Musanti, Director of Sustainable Building Solutions for ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions. “This type of collaboration, advocacy and education is critical to projects that ultimately push the envelope of sustainability and take into account a product’s overall impact on human health and the environment.”

Musanti said ASSA ABLOY was an enthusiastic partner in the research and information requests initiated on behalf of the city. “We were collaborative and involved in the vetting and it was a good learning process for us as well. This project has not only prepared Santa Monica for a more responsible future but provides a great blueprint for just what’s attainable in sustainable initiatives.”

While the LBC is one of the most challenging and stringent of all the certifications, long term it will save the city money. The building’s costs came in at about $1,500 per square foot; typical building construction costs are $150 to $250 per square foot.

Richane said that overall, costs were not central to the procurement of products, but instead quality and longevity mattered most.

“ASSA ABLOY has beautiful hardware that functions well and looks good. On a building of this scale, size and longevity, you don’t want to pull on a door handle and have it not function. When you find those vendors that are willing participants in LBC, it just makes the process so much easier.”

Once fully occupied, City Hall East will house 245 staff members, the majority of them were in leased spaces prior to the building being built, a real one-stop-hub for the community.

“The biggest part of this project was bringing awareness and education and outreach about a living building and what it means,” Richane added. “I’m not going to downplay that this certification is very hard to achieve – that’s why it’s called a challenge, but it can be done. Our goal, my goal, is that every building should be a living building.”

*  A net zero building is simply a building that has no net carbon emissions during its construction and operation. Emissions are reduced and what remains is balanced by renewable energy or carbon offsets.


All Photos: Undine Pröhl