What qualities make a building green? Wise use of resources, conservation efforts and innovative design provides leadership by example. It also enables the new California Academy of Sciences to embody its vision to sustain and celebrate life in the natural world.
Interview with Dr. Gregory C. Farrington, Ph.D., Executive Director
What are the big-picture ideas that scientists must focus on?
“The Academy's mission is to explore, explain, and protect the natural world. This mission includes two of the most important issues of our time. First, how did life on Earth develop? How did we get here? Second, how will we find a way to stay? How will we sustain life on Earth?”
Isn't that controversial?
“Almost every issue that is important is controversial in some way and to some people. The scientific basis for life and its evolution becomes clearer every day. The technological options we have to sustain life on Earth continue to develop. What is really controversial has to do with the implications of the life sciences and sustainability choices for people, society, and governments. The evolution of life and its sustainability present major challenges to how we like to think of ourselves—our religious beliefs, our sense of uniqueness, and the economic choices we face for our future and the future of all people. These issues will not be easy to resolve, and yes, they will be very controversial.”
What role can the Academy play?
“We can serve as an honest broker in the debates that will have to occur around the choices society faces regarding sustainability. We can help provide education about the science surrounding these issues. We can spotlight important areas where further investigation is needed. But make no mistake: The California Academy stands for the central importance of scientific investigation and the scientific process in resolving critical questions.”
What activities might the Academy sponsor?
“The Academy can host symposia, sponsor discussions, and gather the best scientists from around the world and give them a venue to communicate to people their research and findings. The California Academy of Sciences—and natural history institutions in general—can play a valuable role in bringing together scientists, researchers, educators, and policy makers to discuss the critical issues that society faces regarding life and sustainability.”
What is one issue you'd like to focus on?
“To achieve effective, accurate, and engaging education for the public about life science and the critical choices we face in promoting the sustainability of life on Earth. Also, to create an experience at the Academy that inspires young people to choose careers in science!”
Are these issues important?
“They are more than important. They are essential for the survival of the miracle we know as life in all of its marvelous diversity.”
Tropical coral reefs are fragile, diverse habitats made of living rock. One-quarter of all marine life is sustained in these ecosystems, yet they rank as an endangered habitat. The new Academy will house one of the world's largest aquarium-based coral reefs. To build it, the Academy has established its own growing program, raising coral from fragments bred in tanks at the Howard Street facility. In addition, the Academy has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency to receive confiscated coral it captures as contraband.
The water in the saltwater aquarium comes straight from the Pacific Ocean, nearly three miles away. Beneath Ocean Beach, a network of pipes extends like fingers beneath the sand, drawing in saltwater. The sand acts as a natural filter, removing the largest impurities before the water fills the storage tanks in the building. The two original continuously running high-pressure pumps at the pumping station have been upgraded. Soon, with one new low-flow pump and another high-flow pump, the staff can deliver precisely the amount of water needed without spilling off large quantities of excess water into wastewater systems.
Rain and Run-off
The Academy will use reclaimed wastewater from the city of San Francisco for some of its internal plumbing needs and all of its public landscaping. The new system is intended to irrigate the entire park.
The 2.5 acres of Living Roof will absorb nearly two million gallons of rainwater per year that would otherwise go down the drain and tax the city's water treatment plant. During heavy downpours when the living rooftop is at maximum capacity, water will be siphoned off the roof to an underground water table recharge system. Filtered through sand and gravel, the rainwater will naturally percolate back into the water table of Golden Gate Park, and not into a storm drain.
Inspired by the energy efficiencies of the new building, the Academy’s staff formed a special Green Team. With a motto of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” the team recommended many new practices.
Plastic water bottles are now eliminated at all staff meetings. The teams at the loading dock re-use and recycle packing supplies. The purchasing department replenishes supplies with bulk orders only. Bathrooms don't carry anti-bacterial soap, which is harmful to marine life. Paper towels are banished from the Howard Street public floor bathrooms, replaced by electric hand dryers that are more cost-effective and less harmful to the environment.
The result has been the successful diversion of 76% of the Howard Street’s garbage into recycling during 2006. Plus, the Academy is on track to improve its rate of recycling in 2007. In contrast, California’s statewide offices have reported a diversion rate of 50%. In San Francisco, city officials report a diversion rate of 67%.
- EPA's regional 2006 Environmental Award
- North American winner of the silver Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction in September 2005
Reuse and Recycle
- California state offices: Diverted 50% of its garbage to recycling in 2006
- San Francisco city offices: Diverted 67% of its garbage to recycling in 2006
- The Academy: The Howard Street facility diverted 76% of its garbage to recycling and is on track to improve that figure in 2007
- The new Academy will consume 30% less energy than required by San Francisco's codes
- Sixty-thousand photovoltaic cells will provide 5% to 10% of electricity from solar energy
- The Living Roof will absorb nearly 2 million gallons of rainwater per year