LEED operations team on the Living Roof.

SAN FRANCISCO (September 27, 2011)—On September 27, 2008, the California Academy of Sciences unveiled the world's greenest museum—an eco-friendly new home featuring a hilly living roof, recycled denim insulation, and many other green innovations. Three years and more than five million visitors later, the museum celebrates another symbolic color: platinum. Today, the U.S. Green Building Council presented the Academy with its second LEED Platinum award, making the California Academy of Sciences the world's first "Double Platinum" museum and the world's largest Double Platinum building. Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Academy building houses an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum, and world-class research and education programs under one living roof, standing as an embodiment of its 158-year-old mission to explore, explain, and protect the natural world.

"We couldn't be more proud of the Academy for its commitment to high levels of environmental performance, and for setting the example as a leader in the San Francisco green building community and around the world," said San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee. "Their Double Platinum rating is truly a remarkable achievement for our City."

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system is a voluntary, consensus-based standard for evaluating high-performance, sustainable buildings. By earning points across a variety of sustainability categories, buildings can earn a basic certification, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating. In October 2008, the Academy received its first LEED Platinum rating under the "New Construction" category, which focused on the building's design and construction process. In August 2011, the Academy received its second LEED Platinum rating under the "Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance" category, which certifies that its day-to-day operations and business practices also meet the highest standards of sustainability.

The Academy's operations and maintenance practices were evaluated and earned points across six different categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. Based on a wide range of green practices and performance metrics, including transportation, purchasing decisions, and waste disposal, it was awarded a total of 82 points, exceeding the threshold for a Platinum certification (80 points).

Founded in 1853, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the world's preeminent natural history museums and is an international leader in scientific research about the natural world. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the Academy's original home in Golden Gate Park, but also provided a silver lining: the opportunity to reinvent the facility from the ground up. After nearly a decade of planning and the largest cultural fundraising effort in San Francisco history, the new Academy opened to the public in 2008. This major new initiative built on the Academy's distinguished history and deepened its commitment to advancing scientific literacy, engaging the public, and documenting and conserving Earth's natural resources.

"Our LEED Platinum building is a marvelous example of sustainable architecture that has wowed millions of visitors since we opened three years ago," said Dr. Gregory Farrington, Executive Director of the Academy. "However, it is more than just a building. It is also a stage?one that has allowed us to host a wide variety of programs and exhibits about the history and future of life on Earth. Delivering these programs as sustainably as possible helps us inspire our visitors to make sustainable choices in their own lives."
Green Operations & Maintenance

A wide range of business practices and performance metrics earned the Academy LEED points for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance.

Choice of Materials

  • The Academy incorporates sustainability into its office-related purchasing decisions:
    - 100% of the Academy's computers are Energy Star rated.
    - 100% of Academy's printer paper is composed entirely of post-consumer recycled content.
    - Nearly all of the Academy's cleaning products are green-seal certified, and all custodial paper products have recycled content.
  • Materials used for facility renovations and alterations (e.g., upgrades to aquarium and museum exhibits) contain low or no amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
  • The Academy uses low-emission and ozone-friendly substances for refrigeration, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and fire suppression.
  • The Academy employs a prevention-based pest control program that is EcoWise Certified and minimizes the use of pesticides.

Recycling and Waste Disposal 

  • 60-65% of the Academy's waste is diverted from the landfill into recycling or compost. This includes waste from approximately 1.5 million visitors per year.
  • Electronic waste (e.g., batteries and computers) is handled by GreenCitizen, a Bay Area company that helps individuals and businesses repair, reuse, and recycle electronics.

Waste and Energy 

  • 70% of staff use alternative transportation (public transit, biking, walking) to commute to work.
  • The Academy's data center reduced the number of its physical servers by 41%, while simultaneously increasing the use of virtual machines. This restructuring results in energy savings of 166,000 kWh per year despite a 52% increase in computing capacity.
  • Water use is 32% below the LEED baseline thanks to waterless urinals and low-flow faucets, toilets, and shower heads.
  • Nearly 100% of the Academy's electricity comes from clean energy sources (Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric plant plus an on-site solar array).

Living Roof 

  • Nearly 100% of the living roof's plants and 80% of the surrounding landscaping consist of native vegetation.
  • 100% of excess stormwater from the roof is drained into an underground chamber where it percolates back into the water table, preventing runoff from entering the city's stormwater system.
  • 87% of the roof's surface area is vegetated, reducing the urban heat island effect.

Indoor Environment 

  • The Academy has implemented an ongoing commissioning plan for continually optimizing the indoor environmental quality.
  • Outdoor views are available in 98% of regularly occupied spaces.
  • Staff can control lighting in 93% of the workspaces.
  • The Academy has installed CO2 sensors, airflow monitoring, and demand-based ventilation systems.


  • The Academy provides green building education through a variety of channels:
    - On the public floor, the Building Green exhibit highlights the sustainable aspects of the Academy building, including recycled building materials, radiant floor heating, and solar cells.
    - Staff and docents provide regular behind-the-scenes tours.
    - The Academy's Teacher Institute on Science and Sustainability, a professional development program for Bay Area teachers, includes green building in its curriculum.
    - The Education Division offers lesson plans and teacher workshops focusing on home energy, green buildings around the world, classroom energy audits, and the living roof.
    - The living roof is used for weekly public programs, citizen science projects, and research studies by high school and university students.


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