Award-Winning PacMutual: A Remarkable Shift

USGBC - Blog

Those of us spanning the now decades-long green building movement have been privy to many “firsts” –each of them representing an important step along the way towards the vision of a truly sustainable built environment. Most of these “firsts,” however, were obtained with new construction and/or development. While offering the obvious benefits of conserving embodied energy and materials, and preserving cultural resources, existing building projects lagged behind in terms of green building applications. The prospect of working with existing buildings – and in particular historic buildings — was considered too difficult, too expensive, and perhaps not as glamorous.

In receiving the highest attainable level in the LEED-EB System, the PacMutual Campus reflects a remarkable shift in the real estate development industry. At 1908 (with additions in the 1920s), PacMutual is the oldest building in Southern California, and the only historic building in Los Angeles to receive LEED Platinum Certification. Real Estate Developer Rising Realty Partners “wanted to show that a building’s age wasn’t a limiting factor towards achieving a high-level of sustainability,” according to its Chairman & CEO, Nelson Rising.

The project also makes a statement about the importance of urban re-development in the region. My colleague Mark Huppert, Senior Director of the Preservation Green Lab at the National Trust for Historic Preservation highlights the project as a “thoughtful reinvestment in downtown Los Angeles,” and part of the region’s “urban renaissance.” I concur.

The building’s extensive list of “green” achievements includes scoring 91 out of a possible 100 in the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, designing in a 32% reduction in indoor water use, offsetting 100% of the land use by the building through a land conservation program, and earning all four LEED credits identified as regional priorities for California: energy & water efficiency, purchase of renewable energy, and workspace access to outside views. There’s more, but probably the biggest lesson this building provides is its clear message that the preservation of existing buildings and in particularly historic buildings can advance sustainability. It happens that the LA Conservancy’s office is in the PacMutual building. Linda Dishman, Executive Director of the Conservancy says the group was “able to watch firsthand as the developers pursued both preservation and LEED Platinum certification.” How fitting.

The urban, historic project’s stellar performance gained it the US Green Building Council – LA Chapter’s 2014 Project of the Year Award. Presented at the group’s annual “Green Gala” this past month – the juried award represents one of the highest industry achievements a project can attain in the region. Representatives of RRP and Leading Edge Consulting Services (the LEED Management Consultant) were on board to receive the award.

Although technology and nifty new tools often gets the kudos, change science has revealed that lasting progress is actually obtained through significant shifts in mindset. We decide to apply the technology. We decide to pick up the tools. Why? We are inspired enough to do so and if we have the talent we succeed. Like other “firsts” in green building the PacMutual is so much more than bricks, mortar, and accounting reports. By exemplifying the vision, it offers up the challenge to others to do the same. Hear hear!

Kathleen O’Brien, LEED AP, CSBA, is a nationally recognized leader in the field of sustainability, working as a writer, educator, strategic planner, and project consultant for over 30 years. She now directs the EMERGE Leadership Project, a 501c3 non-profit with a mission to “accelerate life-sustaining solutions in the built environment” through leadership training. For information on the EMERGE Leadership Workshop coming up in LA, see