JPL B180 exterior

It seems like USGBC has certified LEED buildings everywhere these days! Luckily, you don’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to see outstanding building performance.

For example, Building 180 is the Administration building for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) campus in Pasadena, California, and a cornerstone of JPL’s state-of-the-art research facility. The building showcases JPL’s commitment to sustainability, energy efficiency and advanced building management through practices such as retro-commissioning. The nine-story building, originally built in 1964, is JPL’s fourth project to achieve LEED Gold certification.


  • Rating system: LEED v4.1 O+M: EB
  • Certification level, point total, certification date: GOLD (66 points) certified 6/9/2022
  • Gross floor area: 105,568 sf
  • Construction type (low-rise, mixed-use, etc.): Commercial office
  • Credit highlights:
    • Location & Transportation: hybrid on-lab/teleworking approach to cut down on emissions
    • Water Efficiency: utilizing drought-tolerant and native plants with drip irrigation
    • Energy & Atmosphere: progressive retro-commissioning and ongoing improvements leading to cost-effective and dramatic reductions in energy use over the past five years
    • Materials & Resources: diverting 50 percent of waste from landfill throughout the building
    • Indoor Environmental Quality: taking occupants’ comfort levels into consideration


Besides creating an otherworldly facility, JPL was striving to meet a goal to certify one LEED building each year when they engaged VCA Green’s services. As Building 180 was constructed in 1964, , JPL needed to pursue Existing Building Operations + Maintenance LEED certification rather than LEED New Construction.

“Building 180 is JPL’s main Administration building and has a high profile,” said Kenneth Wang, JPL’s Energy Manager. “We therefore felt that it was a good choice for LEED certification.”

Wang said JPL targeted Gold-level certification after reviewing the state of each building on campus and analyzing the return on investment of their maintenance and operations practices.

JPL B180 landscape


Location and Transportation

As the highest-scoring category, one of the main aspects of this project’s approach to location and transportation credits was issuing an alternative transportation survey. Respondents conveyed that a hybrid on-lab and teleworking arrangement served as a preferable alternative to a daily commute.

Energy and Atmosphere

This building has benefited from a systematic retro-commissioning work program over the last five years that has cut energy use nearly in half. Many updates were low- or no-cost commissioning measures, like addressing deferred maintenance and updating core system scheduling. The FY20 Retro-Commissioning plan created a roadmap for the following year with Energy Conservation Measures (ECM) that would save $61,000 annually. Half of these savings were from ECMs with a cumulative ROI of 150 percent. Because JPL plans to operate this building for years to come, they also identified larger investments that will continue providing cost savings long after the ECMs have paid for themselves.

Water Efficiency

This category’s score is based on total water usage, and the LEED Gold certification recognizes both indoor and outdoor water savings achieved at B180. The entire building interior features updated plumbing fixtures that produced dramatic savings compared to the original fixtures. The drought tolerant landscape boasts native and adaptive species and is irrigated with a weather-sensing irrigation controller.

Indoor Environmental Quality

JPL and VCA engaged employees for this credit through an occupant comfort survey and air testing, which highlighted the building’s outstanding air quality. Wang said employee comprehension about LEED, as well as sustainable workspaces in general, was a goal throughout the project. He added that employees will continue to be educated about the certification through the JPL newsletter and in-person events, like Earth Day celebrations.

JPL B180 interior

Materials and Resources

This building features dedicated recycling of mixed paper, corrugated cardboard, metals, plastics and glass. During a waste audit, each waste stream was collected and weighed to provide a verified and precise diversion rate. The audit showed that 44 percent of waste generated by building occupants was diverted from the landfill.



Overall, B180’s commitment to continuous improvement and leadership demonstrates that addressing utility consumption in existing buildings can propel the built environment into a low-carbon future without breaking the bank. Wang said JPL aimed for the highest-possible caliber of energy, water and indoor environmental quality performance for the building. Sure enough, VCA led the project to achieve almost every credit under the IEQ credit category as well as 100 percent of the credits under Location and Transportation.

VCA Project Manager David Magarian also guided the JPL team through issues with the energy and water consumption credit categories, including attribution of energy consumption from a district chilled water system. VCA worked with JPL and the U.S. Green Building Council to accurately determine the data set to utilize for this certification.

Though we will leave navigating the stars and planets to JPL, VCA Green is the tried-and-true consulting firm to steer your project through LEED certification. Contact us if you’re looking to certify your building, campus or neighborhood!



Moe Fakih, VCA Green Principal
David Magarian, Lead VCA Green Project Manager for Building 180
Dani Grace, Contributing Writer for this Case Study