The Los Angeles Better Buildings Challenge celebrated its seventh annual Innovation Awards to a virtual audience of nearly 200, presenting the city’s most prestigious sustainability prizes to Los Angeles’ “Best Buildings” of 2020.
While dozens of nominees submitted compelling case studies, a distinguished panel of judges from the commercial real estate, academic and environmental policy spheres selected just one winner for each of six categories.
The judges were tasked with identifying those demonstrating exceptional ingenuity in energy and water efficiency and commitment to environmental, social and governance goals for their buildings, all while navigating the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19.
Challenge Executive Director David Hodgins noted that the organization’s annual awards event is about much more than energy efficiency.
“A lot of times we think of ‘innovation’ in terms of technological advancement, but this is also about people. Innovation is a human concept. We’re talking about innovation in process: the way that we partner, the way we develop projects, the way we think about what’s possible and the way we engage with our communities,” Hodgins said.
“All of today’s finalists are leading by example. They’re showing it’s possible to do what is necessary. They’re not just innovating in terms of energy and water performance, they’re also enhancing measures to protect health and wellness and instituting new policies and programs to advance diversity, equity and inclusion within their organizations and throughout their communities.”
The energy and water use reductions achieved by this year’s participants bring Los Angeles closer to achieving the goals set forth by LA’s Green New Deal, which seeks to put Los Angeles on a course to reach the science-based targets laid out in the Paris Climate Accord.
In a keynote address, Lauren Faber O’Connor, Los Angeles’ chief sustainability officer, commended the field of finalists for their work. She noted that their work complements findings in the city’s recently completed LA100 study, which indicates that a 100% renewable grid is achievable by 2045 or even sooner.
“What the study reinforces for us is the critical nature of energy efficiency and the extraordinary value that electrifying buildings and transportation brings to the overall system and to the economy. It brings down system costs and vastly increases the health benefits to society — efficiency is the key to reaching our 100% clean energy goal,” she said.
LA City Councilmember Kevin De Leon and Senior Program Adviser at the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for the U.S. Department of Energy Maria Varga also spoke at the event.
“Los Angeles was one of the original partners in the Better Buildings Challenge in 2011 and continues to lead the way,” Vargas said.
“The work you’re doing in Los Angeles continues to serve as a model for others, not only in California but across the country. Our challenge is huge, but our ambition is bigger, and I know together we can make this work.”
De Leon added: “The people on the front lines of sustainable buildings are in effect our modern-day pioneers. These are the people and the teams that will make our cities healthier and, by virtue of their work, improve the quality of life for everyone so we can all breathe clean air into our lungs.”
The LABBC presented awards in six categories to the following winners.
Industry Leadership (Private Sector): Hudson Pacific Properties
Despite challenges posed by a global pandemic, the company seized the opportunity provided by reduced occupancy to ramp up efficiency efforts and achieved 100% carbon neutrality across all operations through a combination of energy efficiency, on-site renewables, renewable energy certificates and verified reduction credits. Hudson also introduced its proprietary “Better Blueprint” platform to serve as the basis for setting and tracking ESG goals, including committing to expanding its diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Industry Leadership (Public Sector): Los Angeles Community College District
Since 2014, LACCD has completed 51 state-funded energy-efficiency projects, reducing energy costs by nearly $1 million per year. The district doubled down on its commitments in 2020, passing its Clean Energy & Sustainability Resolution in July 2020 to establish the most aggressive and comprehensive sustainability goals in the California community college system.
Energy Performance: CommonWealth Partners
City National Plaza, the 3.7 million-square-foot office property in Downtown Los Angeles, saw a 19.1% reduction in energy use in 2020, with a 38.1% reduction at the property since 2013. This progress remarkably put owner CommonWealth Partners 80% of the way toward its 2050 emissions goal.
Water Performance: Barings LLC & Transwestern
The 25-story Downtown LA office building known as 801 Tower realized a 26.9% reduction in water use in 2020 by implementing software that allowed tenants to request HVAC on demand. That built on a long-running effort that has driven water use down 65.8% since 2015. Measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also proved beneficial to the building’s overall performance.
Hometown Hero: Vallarta Food Enterprises Inc.
A growing Southern California grocery store chain with more than 50 locations, Vallarta’s 2020 renovation of a new 59,837-square-foot store in Madera yielded a 21% reduction in water use and a 0.5% reduction in energy use (during increased operating hours), as well as a 33% drop in waste going to landfills, representing some 4,800 tons.
Affordable Multifamily Performance: Jonathan Rose Companies
When construction completes this year, Miramar Tower will be the first high-rise residential building to successfully electrify its existing gas-fired central hot water system. Carbon emissions are expected to decrease by 53%, and water use is already 16% below a 2016 baseline.
After naming award winners, the LABBC announced the launch of a new initiative called Low Carbon Leaders, a joint effort with the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to support LABBC partners’ work to demonstrate real-world pathways to zero net carbon.
“Today’s winners and finalists prove that it’s possible to meet and exceed sustainability targets while also navigating a pandemic and engaging on important social issues,” Hodgins said. “They are leading the way as we step into this new reality — and the work is just beginning. Low Carbon Leaders is the start of a new phase, a new platform to facilitate the sort of radical collaboration that will be necessary in order to effectively address the climate crisis."