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What We Can Learn From Balboa Park’s LEED

Jessica Travis

The City of San Diego has positioned itself as a national leader by becoming the largest city in the U.S. to commit to 100 percent clean energy on the heels of the landmark agreement in Paris in 2015. With state goals set in

Paulina Lis

Assembly Bill 32 and a local Climate Action Plan calling for over 10,428,926 MT/CO2 (metric tons of carbon dioxide) reductions by 2035, California cities are in a time crunch to achieve these challenging targets.

Outside-the-box solutions that address carbon reduction goals while supporting innovation, education, stakeholder collaboration and workforce development will be necessary to set our city on the path to success.

San Diego’s cultural institutions are community-gathering places and therefore are well-positioned to help demonstrate the benefits of sustainable development. Last year, during its centennial celebration of the Panama-California Exposition, Balboa Park acquired six LEED certifications. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — LEED — is the pre-eminent program for the design, construction, maintenance and operations of high-performing buildings.

Certification is awarded based on the total number of points earned within six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation in design.

Success requires a truly multi-sector approach. Balboa Park’s LEED certifications would be a far greater undertaking for individual nonprofit tenants without the educational support from San Diego Green Building Council, financial support from corporate partners such as San Diego Gas & Electric Co., operational support from the City of San Diego, and community leadership from the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership.

Many Impacts

The partnership is fulfilling for all players involved:

• The volunteers and emerging professionals had the unique opportunity to learn-by-doing about LEED and sustainability.

• Corporate sponsors were able to multiply the impact of their contributions with ongoing benefits.

• The city reduced the environmental footprint of six buildings with tenants (a particularly difficult market).

• The cultural institutions reduced operating expenses (which frees up funding for core programs).

• The community now enjoys arts and culture programming (youth ballet, iMax films, Picasso sketches) in healthier buildings.

In addition, many of the program participants reported career advancement and growth opportunities thanks to newly gained skills.

More than 50 volunteers who participated in the Green Assistance Program (GAP) have accomplished three of the six LEED certifications. In addition to learning about green building practices and preparing for their professional accreditation exams, they also benefited from the opportunity to network with all project stakeholders and gain soft skills necessary for a successful career in the sustainability field: critical thinking, leadership, problem solving, and more. Knowledge of green practices is often value added to other career paths.

But inviting multiple stakeholders to the table isn’t the end of the story. When approaching community scale sustainability projects, teams should identify opportunities that advance impact in the framework of a triple bottom line — environment, economy, and society. Education plays a huge role in this process and is necessary to achieve transformative goals.

Power of Collaboration

Receiving third-party benchmarks such as LEED certification are important and can serve as significant milestones. LEED has been around for nearly 20 years, and we’ve learned it’s not just about engineering a sustainable building. It should also be used as an education tool that underscores success in managing high-performing buildings, and in Balboa Park’s case, that then supports our community through arts and culture programming and education open to the public.

Collaborative groups educate staff and internal stakeholders on sustainable business practices, operations, and energy efficiency, as well as use their individual and collective profiles to share the process so that others (the public and industry colleagues) may learn from it.

Educating the public is mission-specific for many Balboa Park institutions. It’s for that reason that Balboa Park’s certifications are so meaningful. These green buildings support the Climate Action Plan’s goals and objectives, while supporting our community’s advancement.

After all this, our advice? Collaborate, share and talk about failures, successes and everything in-between with anyone who will listen. Solutions come from all industries.

Jessica Travis is the Director, Sustainability and Community Relations at the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership; Paulina Lis is the Executive Director of the San Diego Green Building Council.


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