Moscone Proves Green with LEED Gold

On Oct. 15, San Francisco's 30-year-old Moscone Center was awarded LEED Gold certification for an existing building. In order to gain the green designation, a number of sustainable processes were put in place as part of a recent $56 million renovation, during which 150 tons of demolition and construction materials were diverted. We got some more details from Ari Hoffman, right, manager, the West region, energy and sustainability services, for Jones Lang LaSalle, who worked with management company SMG to bring the Moscone Center up to LEED standards.

How did you feel taking on this project at a relatively old building?
The age of the center didn't bother me. For the LEED existing-building process, it's more a process of bringing management and procedures in line with what LEED requires. The biggest challenge was how big the center is, how much activity there is there.

You started working on updating the center in April of 2010. What was the first thing you did?

We did a "gap assessment," evaluating Moscone against the LEED criteria for existing buildings. We put together a roadmap of what we had to do to earn points to get certified.

What was the biggest project you had to take on?
One of the bigger ones we had to concentrate on was doing an energy modeling and evaluation of the facility, to show where there were opportunities for energy savings to make the building work better. We put variable speed drives on motors and pumps in the building, so they could ramp up and down instead of just on-off. We did a modernization of the building management and control systems to be more efficient. We also put in smart technology lighting in the lobbies that adjust for daylight and occupancy, dimming when not needed. And there was also what they call retro-commissioning, having engineers come in and point out issues to be corrected, to make sure the building worked the way it was built to, a sort of checkup of the building. A unique feature is that Moscone is mostly underground, so it uses less energy and heating than the buildings that have been built above ground. Energy usage vs. natural lighting, there's always a trade-off.

Where's another area you had to make changes?
We had to eliminate CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons, like freon, and the propellants that used to be used in hairsprays], and we discovered upon auditing every refrigeration system in the building that there were some fire-suppressions systems that used CFCs, and we had to replace them. That was a cost we didn't anticipate.
    Another place where the LEED process helped out was in evaluating materials and cleaning supplies. The center is now buying supplies that are Green Seal approved and are more environmentally friendly chemicals. After looking at our results for a few months, the center now has a 93 percent compliance rate for LEED purchasing.
    Another challenge was testing outside air and doing the calculations to show the ventilation system brings in adequate fresh air. The end goal there is to provide occupants and users of the building with adequate indoor air quality and to provide a better convention center environment.
    Luckily, Moscone already had 60,000 square feet of solar panels on the South building, generating 5 percent of their energy usage.

Is there part of the process that you're particularly proud of?
The fact that the center saved 40 percent of its water usage by upgrading plumbing fixtures was a really big step. Water has become one of our most precious resources, and that's a big savings area right there. We put in low-flow toilets, urinals and lavatory sinks.  

How hard is it to get an existing convention center into compliance?
It takes some work. It takes a number of people in operations to really reevaluate the way they do things and to track and quantify their operations. You have to look at hard numbers on what you're spending for a couple of months and quantify those numbers. It's an intense process that takes hundreds of hours. It's like a public company going through a financial audit and mapping out where the money is going, but it's not just money here -- we're talking about operations, putting into effect building policies about how things are done and how they are implemented. Even taking care of the facade and reworking the contract with your landscape management vendor is -- making sure they are using more environmental practices.

Did you have to work with people who were holding events?
We didn't look at every trade show coming in, but we quantified ongoing operations. We did look at trade shows in terms of recycling their materials and donating their food.