San Francisco has joined a growing number of cities that have made the decision to “go green.” They are making policies that require municipal projects to gain Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the Washington-based U.S. Green Building Council. To date, of the total 1,555 LEED-certified projects in the country, 24 percent are owned by local governments.

LEED evaluates the “whole building” through five categories: water efficiency, indoor air quality, sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, and materials. Its principles require builders to create healthier work places, conserve energy and protect the environment more than traditional building methods.

With passage of its green ordinance in May, the Golden Gate City committed to build municipal facilities by LEED standards. Mark Palmer, green building coordinator for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, says the biggest learning curve has been dispelling the myth that building green costs too much. A 2003 report to California's Sustainable Building Task Force, revealed that LEED buildings require an extra 2 percent up-front design investment, but reap life savings of 20 percent of the total construction costs.

San Francisco is unique in that all six major departments each have independent contracting control. To bring the departments on board with the ordinance and employees up to speed on state-of-the-art green technology, the city held several meetings and trained the architecture and engineering bureaus.

To date, San Francisco has five city buildings registered for LEED ratings, at various stages of completion. They include the $370 million California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park scheduled for completion in 2008, which will feature a living roof of native and adaptive species to reduce HVAC costs.

In 2003, Dallas completed its first major green project, the $54 million Jack Evans Police Headquarters, and instituted requirements that city buildings larger than 10,000 square feet must be LEED certified. In the same year, the city also passed a bond issue for 30 new green buildings, including eight libraries, three recreation centers, three service centers and an animal shelter.

Because Dallas began work on the new police headquarters without a clear green vision, each system was priced separately. The building was built on a brownfield and incorporated innovative features, such as recycled storm water that was reused in an irrigation canal around the building, and the city's first waterless urinals. Because dry urinal technology had not yet been invented when Dallas' building code was written, the code had to be changed. Jill Jordan, assistant city manager, says once long-standing policies are modified to fit the new technologies, building green is easy.

Dallas also is encouraging the private sector by offering expedited building permits for LEED or Energy Star building projects throughout the city. By employing engineers, architects, designers and contractors to work on the 30 new LEED building projects, Jordan says the city is creating a market for green building in the private sector.

With natural resources and local government funds dwindling, building green seems to make sense to some cities who see the value of LEED for themselves and their communities. “We're trying to test all kinds of new technology so that when the private sector comes, we're ready,” Jordan says.