Levi's Stadium FAQ: What does it mean that the 49ers stadium could be LEED Gold certified?

The San Francisco 49ers are promoting Levi's Stadium as one of the most environmentally friendly facilities in America. They are applying for LEED Gold certification, but we don't really know what that means. Time to see what the United States Green Building Council has to say!

Fooch's Note: The 49ers will begin play at Levi's Stadium in August. To help prepare fans for the new facility, NN will put together a series of articles breaking down everything you need to know about the stadium. Today, we discuss the attempts at LEED Gold certification. If you have a question about a specific aspect of the stadium, drop the question in HERE.

Tuesday morning, the San Francisco 49ers announced that Levi's Stadium has officially been connected to the city’s recycled water system, making it the first stadium in California to utilize the "drought-proof water source". According to the 49ers, recycled water will account for 85 percent of all water used in the stadium. In doing so, the team announced they are "one step closer to a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification."

Most new stadiums these days have one or more features they like to promote as state of the art, or just really fancy. For Levi's Stadium, the 49ers have focused on the stadium's technological advantages, and environmentally friendly characteristics. The latter has them pushing to earn a LEED Gold certification for a new construction project from the United States Green Building Council. If they achieve this designation, they would be the first new NFL stadium to achieve Gold level certification.

What does it mean to have any kind of LEED certification?

In a nutshell, it is how faciltiies can declare themselves a "green" facility.

To achieve LEED certification, a facility must reach a certain number of points. Points are earned based on achieving certain milestones related to the project. Points are earned across seven areas:

  • Sustainable Sites (SS)
  • Water Efficiency (WE)
  • Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
  • Materials and Resources (MR)
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
  • Innovation in Design (ID)
  • Regional Priority (RP)

Each area has a prerequisite, and then you earn points by hitting on certain credits. I'll go into some detail, but the full rundown is in this PDF. Points are earned for everything from where you select your site to water efficient landscaping to increased ventilation to use of recycled content. There is a checklist of ways to earn points, with the ability to earn anywhere from 1 to 19 points for a given aspect of construction. You can earn as many as 110 points.

What are the levels of LEED certification and how are they earned?

There are four levels of certification: 1) Certified, 2) Silver, 3) Gold, 4) Platinum. Certified is the most basic level, while platinum requires the most extensive checklist. The points required for each are broken down as follows:

  • Certified: 40-49 points
  • Silver: 50-59 points
  • Gold: 60-79 points
  • Platinum: 80+ points

What have the 49ers done to earn points?

The process to become LEED certified is a fairly complex one, and takes time. As Levi's Stadium is still under construction, there is not a publicly-available list of every single area in which the 49ers have earned points. Down below I've provided a general breakdown of how they can earn points, but first, I figured I'd point out some construction features that will earn them points:

1. Bicycle plan
2. Solar panels
3. Recycled water mentioned above
4. More efficient grass
5. Recycled wood material for luxury suites
6. Locally produced food to cut down on impact of transportation from around the country
7. Extensive public transportation available
8. LED bulbs in 40 percent of stadium lighting

This is just a short list of environmentally positive projects for the new stadium. At some point down the road there will be a full list, but that gives you an idea of a few things the 49ers are working on.

What are the formal ways points are earned?

The seven categories mentioned above each have their own set of requirements available. You have to reach achieve at least one prerequisite for each of the first five categoies. You can read through the PDF to see the full rundown of ways to earn points, but I thought I would break down some of the broader topics. Among the 49ers specific projects I mentioned above, I've included some in the details below.

Sustainable Sites (26 possible points)

In order to earn points under this category, the site has to meet a prerequisite related to pollution prevention of construction activity. This requires they create and implement an erosion and sedimentation control plan for all construction activities associated with
the project. The intent of this prerequisite is to reduce pollution from construction activities by controlling soil erosion, waterway sedimentation and airborne dust generation.

The sustainable site category is about cutting down the environmental impact based on where the facility is located. Among other things, it looks for facilities to channel development in urban areas with existing infrastructure. Levi's Stadium is being built next to Great America, in an area that was previously developed.

Public transportation options are a big aspect of this, and one in which the 49ers are actively facilitating. The stadium will feature a renovated station for the VTA light rail that brings people to and from Mountain View. The stadium is also walking distance from Amtrak and other trains to the Central Valley and Sacramento. The 49ers have also created a bike plan so people can ride their bikes to and from the stadium, and will provide charging stations for electric cars.

Water Efficiency (10 possible points)

In order to earn points under this category, the site has to meet a prerequisite related to reducing water usage. It requires the 49ers employ strategies that in aggregate use 20 percent less water than the water use baseline calculated for the building (not including irrigation). The baseline is calculated based on estimated occupant usage of the following: water closets, urinals, lavatory faucets, showers, kitchen sink faucets and prerinse spray valves. The document mentioned above lists the specific numbers to be met.

If that is met, the stadium can earn points through efficient landscaping, reduction of wastewater, and generally using even less water than the 20 percent mark mentioned above. The 49ers announcement about their extensive use of recycled water will go toward meeting these requirements. The field will be watered with recycled water, and the toilets will use recycled water for flushing. Finally, the green space on top of the suite tower will go toward helping in more efficiency.

Energy & Atmosphere (35 possible points)

In order to earn points under this category, the site has to meet three prerequisites. There must be a fundamental commissioning of the energy systems in place, a minimum energy performance, and management of their refrigerant system. That requires no CFCs in new systems, and a phase-out conversion process for reusing existing systems. The options for credits involve optimizing energy performance, boosting the use of renewable energy, and generally trying to implement green power solutions throughout the facility.

Materials & Resources (14 possible points)

In order to earn points under this category, the site has to meet a prerequisite related to storage and collection of recyclable materials. The prerequisite requires the facility provide an easily-accessible dedicated area or areas for the collection and storage of materials for recycling for the entire building.

The credits available for this section deal with using as many renewable materials as possible. An example would be that the stadium's luxury suites will feature recycled wood from the area. This covers several bases, incuding the use of recycled materials, and also sticking with regional materials to decrease the impact of transportation required to ship materials to the stadium.

Indoor Environmental Quality (15 possible points)

In order to earn points under this category, the site has to meet a pair of prerequisites related to establishing minimum indoor air quality performance, and smoking. The former requires some specific ventilation equipment, and the latter basically requires either prohibiting smoking entirely, or limiting to very specific rules.

Once the facility gets past the prerequisite, credits are available for things like low-emitting materials that reduce indoor air contaminants. Additionally, it covers improved thermal comfort, and providing natural lighting and views.

Innovation in Design (6 possible points)

This is a bit of a more general option. The facility can acquire up to five points for various innovations that are not included in the above sections. It also includes an option to take part in the pilot credit program. The USGBC offers various pilot programs if the facility does not create their own. Finally, the facility can earn a point if at least one of the principal participants of the project team is a LEED Accredited Professional.

Regional Priority (4 possible points)

The facility can earn up to 4 points based on those having a regional geographic importance. Basically, every region in the country is a little different, and there might be environmental factors not considered by a broad group like the USGBC. This provides a chance for the facility to earn some extra points because of its specific regional location.

Do other stadiums in America have LEED certification?

Yes, there are other such stadiums, although the levels of certification vary. You can review some examples of LEED certified sports facilities around the country. Some interesting points from that link:

  • The Chicago Bears renovation of Soldier Field set them up to become the first LEED certified stadium in the NFL. They received LEED for Existing Buildings.
  • The Baltimore Ravens stadium earned LEED Gold certification for its existing facility (M&T Bank Stadium)
  • Sites with Gold certification include Consol Energy Center (Pittsburgh Penguins), Marlins Park (Miami Marlins), Rose Garden Arena (Portland Trailblazers), Salt River Fields (spring training facility for Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies)

TL;DR

The 49ers are building what amounts to a "green" stadium that will attempt to reduce its environmental footprint. The 49ers believe they can create an energy neutral facility. It remains to be seen if that will work out perfectly, but they're putting in the effort to try and make it happen.

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