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Greening Orchestra Hall

Orchestra Hall at night with Minneapolis skyline in the background

In 2016 a newly-formed Minnesota Orchestra meeting group assembled for the first time. Called the Green Committee, they were a dedicated band of Orchestra staff and musicians who wanted to explore simple ways in which the organization could adopt more sustainable practices. Their early conversations focused on issues like composting, but within months—spurred on by an in-development strategic plan that called for establishing sustainability programs—the Committee set its sights even higher.   

What if the Minnesota Orchestra were to seek LEED certification for Orchestra Hall?

“It was initially a daunting thought,” recalls Director of Facilities Dan Kupfer. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a points-based system established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to set common standards and certify environmentally-friendly buildings.

Kupfer and his Green Committee colleagues knew that achieving LEED status was an uphill process, but the team pushed forward with their investigations by connecting with Peter Dahl, Principal of Sustainable Operations at HGA. Dahl and his associate Corinne Wichser offered the encouraging advice that LEED certification was within the Orchestra’s reach—and budget.

“The Orchestra set its goal to approach LEED certification by implementing best practices in sustainability that limited the upfront capital costs and maximized the return on investment,” says Dahl. “It was an approach that factored in both cost savings and health and environmental benefits.”

In April 2018, the Minnesota Orchestra Board approved the Green Committee’s LEED proposal. Seventeen months later, a time period involving trash audits, mechanical engineering studies, energy optimization and many more steps, Orchestra Hall was awarded LEED v4 O+M (Building Operations and Maintenance) Silver certification.

It is the first performing arts center in the nation to achieve the ranking.

The certification brings with it a host of benefits—namely that the building is greener, cleaner and more energy-efficient than before. Dahl notes that the venue’s indoor air quality has improved due to increased outside air being used for ventilation with high-efficiency filtration. Exclusively green products are now used to clean the Hall, and the Orchestra runs a highly effective recycling program, diverting 60 percent of its waste to commingled and organics recycling programs.

By implementing the strategies of an energy consumption study, the Orchestra will further reduce its energy usage in the Hall annually by 13.5 percent—an improvement that also controls operating costs. Overall, Orchestra Hall is 34 percent more energy-efficient than the average performing arts center in Minnesota, according to HGA data.

Other sustainable highlights include a stormwater retention tank, installing low-flow plumbing fixtures and LED lighting, native landscaping and optimized mechanical systems.

“The initial 2014 renovation of Orchestra Hall was transformative in how it allowed the Orchestra to engage with audiences in our lobby spaces and fundamentally change their concert-going experience,” says Orchestra President and CEO Michelle Miller Burns. “Now the LEED certification is a game-changer in terms of optimizing Orchestra Hall’s energy use and environmental impact.”

From Kupfer’s perspective, the process has ultimately been rewarding. “There is a sense of accomplishment in this,” he says. “We are thinking differently about how we are using water and energy and how we can continue to become more sustainable.”