Los Angeles' sustainability chief talks going green in SoCal

Los Angeles' sustainability chief talks going green in SoCal

Sustainability is a top concern for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Neil Kremer / Flickr)
Sustainability is a top concern for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. (Neil Kremer/Flickr)

Thanks in no small part to the local AEC industry, Los Angeles is a leader in sustainability in several areas, notably green building. But there is still room for improvement, said Matt Petersen, former president and CEO of Global Green USA. Petersen would know: he’s the city’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti as part of a broader administrative overhaul. “The mandate the mayor gave me was to build on the great things Los Angeles is already doing, and to put forward a vision for sustainability in the city,” explained Petersen.

Drought-tolerant landscaping and absorptive surfaces contribute to water conservation efforts. (Jeremy Levine/Flickr)

Petersen, who will represent the city at Facades+ LA in early February, has spent the last year preparing Los Angeles’ first ever comprehensive sustainability plan. “We’re headed toward the finish line as we speak,” said Petersen, who expects to deliver the plan to the mayor’s office within the next several weeks. “It’s been an extensive process of engagement both internally and externally.”

Water conservation is one of Petersen’s top concerns, especially in light of the ongoing drought. In an executive directive released last year, Mayor Garcetti set the ambitious goal of reducing water usage by 20 percent. “The biggest source of water use is outdoor landscaping,” noted Petersen. “How do we get Angelenos to replace ornamental lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping?” Architects and landscape architects can play a critical role in encouraging the shift, he said. “Landscape architects have a rich history [of working with drought-tolerant landscaping] in Los Angeles—they’ve done a lot already.” As for non-residential projects, said Petersen, “we’re really thinking about how to reuse water or divert it before it goes into a storm drain. How do we start to break from the tradition of moving water as quickly as possible from the building site?”

Energy efficiency is another area in which Petersen’s priorities overlap with AEC industry goals. “Los Angeles was a little behind for about a decade, because the utility was historically not investing in energy efficiency,” admitted Petersen. His office has set a goal that the utility meets 15 percent of its needs through efficiency measures—the highest such standard in the country. On the positive side, Los Angeles already boasts both more Energy Star buildings and more installed solar than any other city. “Can we build on our leadership and expand the number of LEED-certified buildings, not just to have plaques on the wall, but to encourage an integrated design process?” asked Petersen. “An integrated design process, when done right, can deliver so many benefits. We hope that the design and construction community helps us [get there].”

To hear more from Petersen, join the movers and shakers of high performance building envelope design and construction at Facades+ LA. For more information and to register, visit the conference website.

The local AEC industry is playing a leading role in the ongoing LA River revitalization project. (USACE Los Angeles District/Flickr)