The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building rating system is a nationally recognized standard for sustainable building design. The standards incorporate a range of environmental and public health considerations, including energy efficiency, building site selection, indoor air quality, water use, and many others.
Whether planning a new building construction, a major renovation, or retrofitting your current building, consider pursuing LEED certification.
Ask your developers and architects about LEED, and contact the U.S. Green Building Council at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 82-USGBC for more information.
Visit the LEED-Accredited Professionals Directory to find qualified green building specialists near you.
LEED Certified Theatres and Venues
Several theatres have renovated, designed or retrofitted their facilities in efforts to achieve LEED certification. For example:
Henry Miller Theatre / Stephen Sondheim Theatre, LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors, 2009
Located within the LEED Platinum for Core & Shell Bank of America Tower in New York City, the Henry Miller Theatre (renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in 2010) was the first Broadway theatre to receive LEED certification.
Some of Henry Miller Theatre’s sustainability features:
- Reused the theatre façade and interior architectural components.
- More than 85% of construction waste was diverted for recycling or reuse.
- FSC wood was used throughout construction for more than half of rough and finish carpentry.
- 25% of materials were locally sourced, including marble flooring and countertops.
- 45% of materials were made from recycled-content materials, including high recycled-content wall panels and baseboards.
- An under-slab drainage system captures groundwater and recycles it into a graywater system used for flushing toilets, reducing potable water use in bathrooms.
- Waterless urinals in men’s bathrooms reduce potable water consumption by 30%.
- Interior spaces were finished with low-VOC materials, Green Label Plus carpeting, and Greenguard Indoor Air Quality certified furniture.
Claire Tow Theatre at Lincoln Center, LEED Silver registered for New Construction
The Claire Tow Theatre, home to LTC3 at the Lincoln Center Theatre in New York, was designed and constructed to achieve LEED Silver certification.
Some of the Claire Tow Theatre’s sustainability features:
- High efficiency fluorescent lighting fixtures use daylight sensors, occupancy sensors, and dimmers to reduce overlit spaces.
- Windows feature insulated glass that provides solar shielding (reducing heat gains) and improved temperature retention within the building.
- 45% of materials used in construction were made from recycled content.
- 77% of construction waste (728 tons) was diverted for recycling.
- The HVAC system uses demand-controlled ventilation, based on CO2 levels detected by occupancy sensors.
- The HVAC system uses an air-side economizer, which uses outside air to cool building (when it is a lower temperature than recirculated air) instead of running compressors.
- Variable speed drives are installed on HVAC fans and hot water pumps, allowing motor speeds to be adjusted based on demand (rather than fixed speed).
- An outdoor terrace at the theatre features a green roof.
Balzer Theatre at Herren’s, LEED Silver for New Construction, 2005
The Balzer Theatre at Herren’s in Atlanta, home of the Theatrical Outfit, was the first free-standing theatre to receive LEED certification in the southeast U.S..
Some of the Balzer Theatre’s sustainability features:
- HVAC system uses demand-controlled ventilation, using CO2 occupancy sensors throughout the theatre to control level of HVAC.
- Improved insulation and high-efficiency lighting retrofits resulted in a 25% reduction in energy use.
- A 7500-gallon rainwater collection tank on the theatre’s roof collects water that is reused for toilets and sewage systems, reducing their water bill by 70%. The theatre also uses low-flow toilets and waterless urinals.
- 33% of materials used in construction were made from recycled content, such as carpeting that was made from recycled glass.
- Interior finishes used low- or no-VOC adhesives, sealants, paints, coating, carpeting
- 75% of construction waste was diverted for recycling or reuse.
Gerding Theatre at the Armory, LEED Platinum for New Construction, 2006.
The Gerding Theatre at the Armory, home of the Portland Center Stage Company in Portland, OR, was the first building listed on the National Register of Historic Places (originally constructed in 1891) to receive LEED Platinum. The facility includes a 5000-seat main stage theatre, 200-seat black box theatre, rehearsal hall, community space, and offices.
Some of the Gerding Theatre’s sustainability features:
- The renovation reused the original building, including the existing roof and shell (brick, stone, and wood trusses).
- The building is located in proximity to public transit, bicycle and pedestrian routes
- Pervious pavers on the property filter stormwater and reduce runoff.
- Rainwater is captured on the roof and collected in a 10,000-gallon underground cistern, which reduces stormwater runoff. The collected water is used to flush toilets and urinals.
- The combination of a rainwater system, lack of irrigation system, dual-flush toilets and low-flow showers and faucets reduces water use by 88%.
- The building is connected to district-chilled-water plant and uses chilled beams to cool the building (or hot water to heat building). Displacement and underfloor ventilation is used in the lobby and main theatre.
- Windows feature advanced glazing, allowing for maximized daylighting and minimized heat loss and gains; skylights in administrative offices and lobbies provide natural light.
- Lighting is controlled by photosensors, occupancy sensors, and dimmers.
Theatre 101 at Virginia Tech, LEED Gold for New Construction, 2010
Theatre 101, home to the Department of Theatre Arts and Cinema at Virginia Tech, was the campus’s first LEED-certified building project.
Some of Theatre 101’s sustainability features:
- 90% of occupied spaces are daylit.
- A biorentention basin captures stormwater runoff from the property.
- Retrofits resulted in a 20% reduction in water use and 35% reduction in energy use.
- 79% of construction waste was diverted for reuse or recycling.
- 20% of construction materials were made from recycled content.
- 26% of construction materials were locally manufactured.
52nd Street Project, LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors, 2012
The interior fit-out of the 52nd Street Project’s new facility was designed and constructed to achieve LEED Gold for Commercial Interiors in 2012. The building features a black-box multi-use performance space as well as rehearsal, classroom and administrative spaces.
Some of the 52nd Street Project’s sustainability features:
- 30% of employees bike to work. Bike racks and showers are available at the facility.
- Bathrooms feature sensors on water faucets and dual-flush toilets.
- The facility space is divided into different HVAC zones (by use) with dedicated air handling units.
- 100% of staff offices have access to daylight.
Other LEED Buildings
- NRDC Santa Monica
- NRDC San Francisco
- NRDC New York
- The Chicago Center for Green Technology
- Alberici Office Headquarters
- Genzyme Center
- The Solaire/20 River Terrace
The materials, energy, and water used to construct buildings and keep them running smoothly and comfortably all have environmental impacts. Green buildings are designed to minimize these impacts on the environment by using environmentally preferable construction materials and techniques, including: reducing water and energy use, minimizing waste, and making better use of natural features like shade, daylight, and rainwater. In so doing, green buildings reduce their contribution to biodiversity loss, global warming, and many other environmental pressures.
Heating, cooling, and ventilation systems consume a lot of energy. Replacing a less efficient system with a more efficient model can yield energy and cost savings during the course of its use.
When purchasing a new HVAC system, consider purchasing the most efficient model that suits your needs. Visit the US EPA’s Energy Star products database for a list of the most efficient HVAC systems. In addition, consult the Energy Star Building Manual for Heating and Cooling to learn more about HVAC efficiency upgrades. For those products that are not rated by Energy Star, consult the Federal Energy Management Program.
For a list of additional available incentives and rebates in your state, visit the State Database of Renewables and Efficiency and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s Tax Incentives Assistance Project.
A zoning system that conditions spaces based on different use “zones” can also be an effective way to reduce HVAC energy use in your building, particularly if your building has spaces with very variant occupancy levels throughout different times of the day.
Energy Efficiency Saves Money
Replacing inefficient HVAC equipment with newer, more efficient, and better-designed equipment can yield operating cost reductions during the lifetime of a new or renovated facility. According to the EPA, replacing components of an older HVAC typically yield annual savings of around 20% below current energy costs.
When replacing HVAC equipment, keep the following in mind:
- Consider using the EPA’s Energy Star program
- If Energy Star does not rate the particular appliance, purchase the most efficient model feasible
- Look for other energy saving features such as programmability and power-saving functions
- Many products continue to use energy, even when they’re turned off. Look for products that use as little energy as possible while in “off” mode.
- When replacing lighting and appliances with more efficient models, heating loads can be reduced, sometimes enabling your facility to downsize HVAC systems.
Benefits Of Replacing HVAC Systems
Most energy consumed in the United States comes from coal, which contributes to smog, acid rain, and numerous negative heath impacts, while also adding significantly to human-derived global warming.
Investing in better HVAC systems also ensures a healthier environment for theatre staff, audiences, and cast and crew members. Improved filtration technology decreases the amount of particulates and bio contaminants (fungus, mold, viruses) in the workspace. Newer HVAC systems are also more adept at filtering and sealing out nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, and other air pollutants that can harm staff and visitors to your facility.
- Department of Energy Heating and Cooling Systems Web site
- Santa-Monica Green Buildings Program HVAC Systems
- Energy Star Building Upgrade Financial Value Calculator
- Energy Star Savings Calculators
A building’s envelope is the exterior surface of a building’s construction, including the building’s foundation, walls, roof, windows, and doors. A tighter building envelope lowers energy use, reduces heating and cooling bills, and potentially minimizes capital costs related to HVAC systems. An energy audit can help assess the thermal performance of your building and opportunities to improve your building’s envelope.
New constructions provide the opportunity to address the building envelope in the design phase. Often high performance building envelopes can result in a downsizing of mechanical equipment. As a result, higher upfront envelope costs can be offset by lower operational costs.
Renovations to existing buildings also provide opportunities for increased efficiency. Upgrading to high performance windows or adding extra insulation to the roof membrane or building exterior can improve the seal of your building.
For a list of energy efficiency incentives and rebates in your state, visit the State Database of Renewables and Efficiency.
Efficient Building Envelopes Save Money
As the interface between building interiors and the outdoors, building envelopes play an important role in the energy efficiency of a building. By incorporating building envelope improvements into the design or redesign process early on, your theatre can reduce heating and cooling requirements, thereby reducing energy bills and potentially reducing the high capital costs associated with larger HVAC systems.
According to the Department of Energy, 40% of the energy used to cool and heat typical buildings is lost due to air leaks in the building envelope. Most energy consumed in the United States comes from coal, which contributes to smog, soot, and numerous negative health and ecological impacts, including global warming. In addition, coal mining – especially surface mining and mountaintop removal – is devastating some of the world’s most biologically important habitats and ecosystems. Improving your facility’s building envelope may reduce energy loss and cut energy consumption and related impacts.
- Department of Energy Information Building Envelope Technologies Research
- EPA – Ventilation and Air Quality in Offices
Water Recycling and Reuse
Recycled wastewater systems disinfect water collected from showers and baths, laundry, and bathroom sinks for non-potable water uses including irrigation and toilets. Although treating greywater requires an initial capital investment, doing so conserves water and can yield savings in annual water bills. Review the examples below and consider installing a water recycling system when building a new facility or renovating an existing building.
Wastewater Recycling Can Save Money
Unilever, which produces over 400 brands of home, personal care, and food products, performed a water audit of a laundry detergent factory in Georgia in 1995 and then embarked upon a program of increased efficiency efforts, including rainwater collection, wastewater reuse, and educating employees on the economic and environmental importance of water conservation. These improvements save the company over $100,000 a year.
Solaire Apartments, located in Battery Park in New York City, was built in 2003 and contains 250 units. Water from irrigation, cooling towers, and toilets is collected, treated, and reused again for those purposes. The system reduces the building’s freshwater use by 75%.
Collecting rainwater off roofs for reuse can be an environmentally preferable and a potentially economical approach to fulfilling a portion of your facility’s water needs. Rainwater catchment systems, which can include cisterns, rain barrels, and other simple devices to capture and reuse rainwater, can be designed and installed on a small scale as well as at larger scales.
Review the examples below, and consider installing a rainwater catchment system when embarking upon new construction or renovation.
Rainwater catchment examples
- Balzer Theatre at Herren’s
- United Nations Environmental Program international examples
- NRDC’s Santa Monica Office
- Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
- This venue for the 2006 FIFA Soccer World Cup uses a rainwater harvesting system that diverts rainwater into one of the largest cisterns in Europe, capable of storing over 49,000 cubic feet of water. The cistern supplies non-potable water for uses such as irrigating the soccer field.
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology Stata Center
- Stormwater/rainwater catchment system provides water for non-potable uses such as toilets. Case Study
Almost half the world’s population lives without a reliable supply of clean drinking water. In the United States, many sources of freshwater are being depleted faster than they can be recharged by natural processes. This is especially true in the Southwest. The Colorado River, for example, which supplies water to 30 million people in seven states and Mexico, is at its lowest level since water flow records began being kept about 100 years ago. It often runs dry before it reaches the sea, adversely impacting farmers, residents, and aquatic life. Water conservation is especially important in light of the looming pressures of global warming, which threaten to significantly increase evaporation as well as instances of severe drought. Water scarcity will rival sea level rise as one of the consequences of global climate disruption.
Recycling wastewater helps reduce pressure on drinking water resources. Harvesting rainwater helps preserve natural water resources and stream and river ecosystems. Rainwater catchment systems also can reduce the need to transport water from distant locations, thereby reducing energy use and infrastructure requirements. Water conservation measures can help to ensure that future generations have access to the water they need.
- Environmental Protection Administration Region 9 Water Recycling and Reuse webpage
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection Water Reuse website
- Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting
- United Nations Environmental Program Rainwater Harvesting and Utilisation
- American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association
- The Nine Mile Run Rain Barrel Initiative
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international agency that tracks and certifies sustainably-harvested wood and wood products. The amount of FSC-certified wood available in the market is growing every year. When conducting a renovation or new construction project, consult with your theatre’s architects, contractors, and suppliers and try to use FSC-certified products.
To find suppliers of FSC-certified wood products, submit a product inquiry through the FSC website, or visit the Forest Stewardship Council Certificate Database. Be sure to search for FSC products, and not those certified through the industry vehicle SFI.
If you are unable to find FSC-certified wood, at minimum, ensure that any wood products are guaranteed to be legally harvested. Consult the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species to confirm that you’re not buying an illegally traded species and inadvertently contributing to the destruction of a dwindling resource.
Environmentally preferable alternatives to virgin wood products include repurposed wood or recycled content plastic lumber. For additional environmental considerations when purchasing wood-based products, visit the NRDC Consumer’s Guide to Buying Wood.
Wood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council has been harvested in a more sustainable manner with fewer habitat and cultural impacts. Forests create oxygen, protect biodiversity, filter pollutants from the air, and help mitigate global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse gas. They also play an essential role in water purification and can help mitigate floods and erosion.
By purchasing FSC-certified wood, your organization is supporting more responsible forestry practices that help protect forest ecosystems. FSC is the only certification system acknowledged by the world’s leading environmental organizations, including NRDC, to provide adequate protection for the world’s forests.
Green Roofs and Reflective Roofs
The roofs of most buildings are black and absorb sunlight, warming the building and increasing the need for cooling during the summer. By coating your theatre’s roof with a light reflective surface, your venue can reduce its energy use, saving both money and natural resources. Green roofs go a step further. By planting vegetation on the roof of your theatre, you reduce summer cooling loads, absorb greenhouse gases, and reduce water runoff.
When considering new construction or a renovation, ask your architects, suppliers, and contractors about green and reflective roof options.
Green Roof Examples
The Wild Project Theatre in New York City installed a 1,500-square-foot green roof in 2007. The system uses modular drainage mats to house the 4″ thick lightweight soil medium bed, composed of organic compost from Long Island and expanded shale. They achieve savings of $4.50 per square roof in energy reduction each year over a typical black tar roof. The roof uses drought-resistant plants like low Green and Gold, Wild Columbine, Blue Eyed Grass, Wild Ginger, Chives, Native Geranium, prickly pear cacti, and native asters, along with reclaimed wood decking.
At 2.5 acres, the green roof atop the Target Center, home to the Minnesota Timberwolves, captures about a million gallons of stormwater per year, saving $10,000 annually in stormwater charges, as well as helping to prevent runoff into the Mississippi River and alleviate the urban heat island effect. Read more about the Timberwolves’ greening efforts.
Citi Field, home to the New York Mets since 2009, boasts a 15,000 square foot green roof, which reduces energy demand by acting as extra insulation, retaining cool air in the summer and heat in the winter. The green roof also reduces water consumption and diverts approximately 80% of stormwater runoff. Read more about the Mets’ greening efforts.
- City of Philadelphia Green Roofs
- NRDC’s Santa Monica office
- Jefferson-Houston Elementary School, Alexandria, Virginia
Green and reflective roofs reduce energy consumption, mitigate air pollution, and help to lessen urban heat island effects. Less energy consumption means less global warming emissions less pollution, less acid rain, and fewer negative health and ecological effects associated with air pollution. Decreased stormwater runoff helps preserve stream habitats and prevent sewage overflows.
- Energy Star Roof Products website
- EPA Green Roofs
- NRDC-From Rooftops to Rivers: Green Strategies for Controlling Stormwater and Combined Sewer Overflows
On-site Renewable Energy Generation
On-site renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, is a way to supply some of the power for your facility while reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and minimizing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Many major companies, educational institutions, and governmental facilities now use some type of on-site renewable energy to provide power to their facilities.
Visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency for a list of available incentives and rebates in your state.
NYSERDA offers funding for the installation of solar electric PV systems, solar thermal hot water systems, wind turbines, and geothermal heating and cooling systems. Visit their Renewable Energy site for details on eligible models and available installers.
On-Site Renewables Can Be Cost-Effective
On-site renewables, such as wind and solar power, can help keep the cost of your electricity stable, improve the fuel diversity of your system, promote your facility’s energy independence, and generate positive publicity by visibly demonstrating a civic commitment to reduce fossil fuel use. They also offer the potential to feed excess energy that is generated on-site back into the grid (called “net-metering,” which can turn your meter backwards), a potential source of income. In addition, there are incentives available that can reduce the initial capital cost.
On-site solar generation at theatres:
Broadway Stages partnered with Solar Energy Systems, Greenpoint Energy Partners and NYSERDA to install a 50,000-square-foot solar PV system on their roof, intended to provide power to their seven Brooklyn studios. The system is projected to cover 32% of their power needs annually, producing 500,000 kWh of energy each year. This adds up to as much as $100,000 in avoided energy costs, and 822,000 pounds of avoided carbon dioxide emissions.
The Wharf, home of Sydney Theatre Company in Australia installed a 384-kW solar PV system on their roof in November 2010, which was at the time the second largest rooftop installation in Australia. The 1906-panel system uses Suntechpluto monocrystalline cells technology which was co-developed by the University of New South Wales. The system provides approximately 70% of the theatre’s energy use.
For more examples of onsite solar generation, visit On-site Renewables at EPA Offices.
Fossil fuel energy generation – for electricity, transportation, and industrial uses – is the principal cause of air pollution and global warming. By generating electricity from on-site solar, your organization can reduce its demand for fossil fuel energy and also reduce its contributions to smog, acid rain, pollution-related illness, and global warming.
- EPA Green Power Purchasing Guide
- Green Power Locator
- Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency
- Solar Electric Guide for Your Stadium or Arena
Daylighting means using natural light instead of artificial lighting fixtures for interior lighting. Because daylighting reduces the need for electric lighting, it saves money while reducing impacts to the environment. Skylights, clerestory windows, light reflectors, light shelves, light tubes, and other techniques help draw light into your building. Using building orientation to your advantage can also help bring natural light into your building. Review the daylighting examples below, and consider opportunities to incorporate daylighting in offices and in your facility when making major renovations.
Daylighting Saves Money
Daylighting can reduce a building’s lighting requirements. In addition, some studies suggest that natural light improves employee morale and productivity. If designed properly, daylighting can also decrease the need for more costly space heating.
For more information, visit the Department of Energy’s Daylighting webpage.
- NRDC San Francisco
- NRDC: New York
- Appleton School District case study
- Daylighting.org’s Virtual Tours
Daylighting can reduce the amount of energy your theatre needs for lighting, heating, and cooling, reducing costs and emissions related to energy production. Energy use is one of the largest environmental impacts in any facility, and also one of the greatest costs. Most energy consumed in the United States comes from coal, which contributes to smog, acid rain, and negative health and ecological impacts, and also contributes significantly to human-derived global warming. In addition, coal mining – especially surface mining and mountaintop removal – is devastating many of the world’s most biologically important habitats and ecosystems. Reducing energy use can have a positive impact on all of these factors and should also save your theatre money.
- U.S. Department of Energy Daylighting webpage
- New York City – Manual for Quality, Energy-Efficient Lighting
Interiors and Décor
Décor items such as furniture, carpet, plants, and paint can have a range of environmental and health impacts based on their production, transportation, use, and disposal. By purchasing products produced locally and in a more sustainable manner, your venue can reduce its contribution to global warming, water pollution, habitat destruction, and many other negative impacts. When designing interiors or décor items, give preference to products that can be reused, contain recycled or bio-based content, are non-toxic, and are locally grown.
When purchasing set pieces, furniture, floor coverings, and construction materials, look for wood products that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified wherever possible, and at minimum ensure that any wood products are guaranteed to be legally harvested. See the FSC Wood section for details.
Environmentally preferable alternatives to virgin wood products include repurposed wood or recycled content plastic lumber. For additional environmental considerations when purchasing wood-based products, visit The NRDC Consumer’s Guide to Buying Wood.
Whenever possible, reuse set pieces and furniture and store them for later events. When disposing of these items, consider donating furniture to senior centers or other charitable organizations for reuse, and recycle construction materials (ask your waste hauler for assistance).
When purchasing carpet, choose carpet that is reusable, non-toxic, and contains recycled content, and ensure these products do not contain PVC and are low-VOC emitters. Where possible, look for Green Label/Green Label Plus products. Instead of purchasing carpeting for an event, where feasible rent carpeting that can be returned to the manufacturer afterwards for reuse, and ultimately recycled.
When purchasing paints, finishes, or wood preservatives, choose low-VOC emitting products. See the Low-VOC Products section for more information.
When decorating, give priority to live plants rather than cut flowers. Choose plants that are locally and organically grown when possible. If you plan to use plants as décor for an individual event, consider renting plants that can be returned to the vendor for reuse. If you use cut flowers or plants that require disposal, consider donating them afterwards to charitable organizations, give them to event attendees, or compost them. When choosing plants for landscaping, select plants that are drought-resistant and native to the climate and location of your facility. See the Landscaping section for more information on water-efficient irrigation practices and drought-tolerant plant species.