LEED or Not, Parking Garages Are Not Green

de ruiter garage sustainable photo
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In Leiden, the Netherlands, Paul de Ruiter Architects are building a parking structure. It is made of "recyclable" materials so that it can be taken down in ten or twenty years when the land is redeveloped. The architect writes at Designboom: "given that our current way of life is largely dependent on mobility (by car), it is important that the issue is resolved in a way that is as sustainable as possible."


Can a parking garage ever be green? Hardly; when you build more parking, you get more cars; If you want people to get rid of cars, get rid of parking spaces. Make it tougher to park. De Ruiter says:

The Mors Gate garage provides considerable energy saving by using natural ventilation instead of mechanical. Even more energy is saved through the climate system in the porter's cabin, which uses a heat recovery system and heat pump. The ramps are never steeper than 10%, which means that ramp heating is not necessary and driving is easier for the user and that there is less risk of damage.

How much energy is saved in the heat-pump cooled porters cabin compared to the gas consumed in one air-conditioned car? But De Ruiter is not alone, people are peddling green parking garages all over, and even going for LEED certification.

Contradiction in Terms Dept: Sustainable Parking Structure

santa monica parking garage

In Santa Monica, they built a garage with ocean views; I wrote "hey are going for LEED certification, which should be a challenge for an above grade parking garage, even if it was made from site-grown bamboo and ventilated by flapping butterfly wings. "

I was wrong; there are quite a number of these contradictions in terms, LEED certified garages.

Sony Parking Garage, San Diego, California

sony leed parking lot photo

The new parking garage

was designed both with Sony's employees and the environment in mind. Built to match the new office building it neighbors, the garage is connected to the building by more than just their matching stone and glass facades. A glass-railed bridge provides employees with direct access not only to the parking structure, but to the fitness center, activity deck and basketball court atop it. In addition, the garage was built to LEED Silver certification specifications by incorporating solar panels, preferred parking for carpools and energy efficient vehicles, covered bicycle parking, natural storm water filtration and native, drought tolerant landscaping.

Really; a glass bridge so they don't have to walk outside to their car and fitness center. Solar panels.

sony parking lot location photo

And look where it is, in an office development near a big highway surrounded by low density residential, what percentage of the workers there have any choice but to drive?

University of Florida Southwest University of Florida Southwest Parking Garage Complex, Gainesville, Florida

florida university parking garage photo

Southwest University of Florida Southwest Parking Garage Complex

The parking garage and facilities offer several environmentally-friendly features. The builders took advantage of density by building vertically to add 650 parking spaces in addition to the 300 spaces in the original site. The site is also more biker-friendly than the original. Additional bicycles racks and spaces as well as secure storage for bicycles and mopeds have been provided. There are also changing rooms and showers for added convenience for those who park in the garage and then use their bicycle or moped to get around campus. Public transportation is easy to access, with the parking transportation offices located right next to a main bus transit hub, Phillips adds.

OK, at least this one has bike and moped storage.

Duke University Parking Garage, Durham, North Carolina

duke parking garage photo
The Sands Parking Garage by the corner of Erwin Road and Research Drive is expected to open spaces in nearby PG-II, LaSalle Street, Hock Plaza and Circuit Drive - parking lots that are currently sold out.
With more than 1,800 people on waiting lists to gain access to the lots, the addition of the new parking garage can potentially allow many employees on waiting lists to gain access to a parking garage near the medical campus, said Melissa Harden, assistant director of Parking and Transportation Services.
"Parking anywhere at Duke is in high demand and in short supply," Harden said. "The most highly demanded parking is in the research sector of campus, where the garage is being built. This is going to help relieve some parking congestion."

One could, of course, point out that when parking is in high demand and short supply, people look for alternatives. Building a parking garage puts more cars on the road, on the campus, and probably doesn't ease congestion one bit.

  • In an effort to make the garage LEED certified, the garage will include unusual "green" aspects such as:
    Two 10,000 gallon cisterns that collect rainwater and re-use it for watering landscaping
  • Overhead canopies that can grow plants to provide shade on the roof
  • Parking spaces with electrical outlets for re-charging hybrid vehicles

"It would be quite an honor to achieve a LEED certification since no parking garage in the United States has achieved the goal to date," said Dudley Willis, project manager for the construction. Willis added that Duke is installing a LED lighting system in the garage that would use less power than commonly used overhead fixtures seen around campus.

LED lighting. That will make such a difference in the carbon footprint.

Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois

rush parking garage photo

At least the Rush University Medical Center works hard to justify its garage by stating:

So we all know that cars are bad for the environment. U.S. autos emit more than 333 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, more than one-fifth of the nation's total carbon dioxide emissions. At Rush, we encourage alternative transportation; the CTA runs right through the middle of campus, and several bus lines service Rush. Plus, Rush has set up bicycle racks all over campus and showers are available to employees. But our society loves our cars, so Rush built a "green" garage.

It has energy efficient elevators, rainwater diversion, recyled materials and not a few apologies.

"It would have been a lot easier if we did not include preferred parking and the other environmentally sustainable features, but Rush is taking the idea of turning our campus 'green' very seriously," said Joseph DeVoss, assistant vice president, Office of Transformation. "The new garage shows how we can find more environmentally sustainable solutions for everything we do here."

But you can only make so many rationalizations before admitting that anything that makes it easier and more convenient to drive is going to lead to more carbon emissions and is ultimately counterproductive.