How Green Is My Parking Garage?

Is it just us, or did green building just jump the shark?

A few weeks back, we were poking around the parking garage of a building whose architect pointed with pride to how few of the spaces in it were occupied.

The Philadelphia zoning code adopted in 2012 dramatically reduced the parking-space-to-dwelling-unit requirements for multi-unit developments.

Millennials are driving less, and they own fewer cars relative to the generations that preceded them.

So we’re not sure whether it’s the bandwagon effect or fear that led to the announcement than landed in our inbox earlier this week.

It came from an outfit called the Green Parking Council, an affiliate of the International Parking Institute, the leading trade group for parking garage operators.

The press release touted the development of the Green Garage Certification Program, a set of guidelines for environmentally sustainable parking garage design.

Modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program, the Green Garage program offers garage builders and operators a checklist of management, program, and design and technology items that will be used to assess the sustainability of a parking facility.

The council hasn’t yet revealed whether there will be levels of certification like those in the LEED program or what the exact criteria will be for Green Garage certification, and the first list of assessors trained to certify structures comes out this Monday, June 9. But the release did say that the program was developed “over several years and honed by external reviewers and a beta phase which included more than 40 facilities in the U.S. and Canada.”

One of those 40 is located at Juniper and Sansom streets. What’s more, it’s a recycled structure: The Lift is an elevator parking garage built in the 1950s, closed in the 1990s and renovated a little over a year ago. It looks more like an apartment building than a garage, which leads us to suspect that good disguises are one of the elements that make garages green.

We can, however, see where this garage has others beat on the sustainability front. It has a very small footprint. Cars emit no exhaust fumes on their way from the entrance to their parking space, for the building’s elevators transport them. There’s no idling while waiting to pay and exit – the driver pays at the garage door and starts the car once it’s delivered by the elevator.

The elements listed on the Green Garage program website are all admirable. Yet we still wonder just how sustainable a building designed to store hundreds of cars can be, even if all of them are electric Zipcars and it’s buried beneath a park.  The USGBC apparently agrees: it states flatly that parking garages are ineligible for LEED certification. But to be fair, the Green Parking Council is a USGBC member and drew from other members’ expertise in developing its program, and since cars aren’t going away completely, it’s probably a good idea to build places to store them that live lightly on the earth.