Studio earns LEED honors from green org

For Sony, being green didn’t come easily when it decided to build a trio of environmentally friendly structures. Three arduous years and millions of dollars after a much-ballyhooed groundbreaking ceremony, the Culver City brass are finally seeing the fruits of their labors.

The studio’s lot and office transformation project has earned the difficult-to-achieve distinction of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Spearheaded by studio chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton and touted by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the lot undertaking gives the studio bragging rights for reducing its carbon footprint. And even amid tough economic times that resulted in 750 pinkslips and job eliminations over the past two years — events unforeseen when the project was launched — the studio still says obtaining the LEED distinction was worth the trouble.

The studio is reluctant to provide a dollar figure for the effort, which included the construction of two 100,000-square-foot office buildings, named after Jack Cohn and Harry Cohn, and a new parking structure.

One insider says there’s no simple number or percentage that reflects the cost or future savings of having such eco-perks as an onsite filtration system for storm-water runoff, low-flow toilets, low-emitting materials or the installation of motion-detector lights and energy-efficient bulbs. “We committed to make this investment because it was the right thing to do,” the insider explains.

The challenges of going green in a big way were numerous.

“It was a complicated process,” says developer Marshall Rose, whose Georgetown Co. led the endeavor alongside Gensler Architecture and general contractor CW Driver. “We had to consider things like water consumption and drainage issues, but we still needed to be visually appealing. That can be a delicate task.”

Adding to the difficulty was the fact that the work had to be carried out without damaging any of the existing buildings that are registered as historical monuments.

And reflecting the change in the economic climate since the effort was begun three years ago, there’s increased scrutiny on how much bang for the buck Sony — or any business — can get from its eco approach.

Some architects, including Frank Gehry, question the value of chasing LEED certification. He said during a public Q&A on April 6 in Chicago that the cost often outweighs the benefits. On some projects, he notes, “the costs of incorporating those kind of things don’t pay back in your lifetime.”

But Rose says that in Sony’s case, the cost of pursuing the higher building standards was only incrementally more than traditional, more wasteful, construction.

“The pricetag is the same whether you are building an efficient and sustainable structure or not, with one exception: the solar component of the effort,” says Rose, whose Hollywood resume also includes a major overhaul of Paramount’s Melrose lot 20 years ago. “But we received state and federal tax credits to offset those extra costs.”

As a result, Sony is the first and only studio to achieve ISO 14001 certification, the international standard for managing an org’s impact on the environment.

And even amid tough economic times, the studio says that distinction was well worth the outlay.

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