Rochester First in State to Gold Standard of Efficiency

by Anna Richey,
Southern MN Regional Manager

Last month, Rochester became the first Minnesota city to be awarded LEED Gold status. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is the most commonly used standard in the world for rating buildings for their “greenness” in areas of energy consumption, water management and overall health to occupants by reduction of waste and consideration of life cycle costs. It’s also the preferred metric used by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). The director of the USGBC, Mahesh Ramanujam, presented the award to the mayor of Rochester, Kim Norton attended by members of the local building community, other elected officials and community stakeholders.

To achieve Silver, Gold and Platinum status, projects or entities are graded on items related to efficiency, water management and overall sustainability. The Gold designation is awarded to those scoring 60 to 79 points.

For the past few years, Rochester has been working on implementing the Destination Medical Center (DMC) Initiative, which combines millions of dollars in local investment with millions of dollars of State funding to achieve economic growth to support the ongoing work of the Mayo Clinic. But with great wealth comes great responsibility, as they say, and the architects of the plan have struggled to achieve growth on the scale proposed, while still keeping an eye on sustainability of resources—existing and new.

The DMC has its own Master Plan and it calls for efficiency standards to be met by all new projects in the DMC-identified zone. That zone, however, doesn’t encompass all of the immediate area of the clinic and much of the premium development area is outside of that rule. That’s why it was so important earlier this year when the City Council voted to pass a sustainable building policy that would pertain to all new development and go into effect for any project seeking $200,000 or more in public funding such as TIF (Tax Increment Financing) or other city-funded incentives. The Rochester Energy Commission introduced the policy that was heavily modeled after the City of Saint Paul’s Policy. There will be two concurrent resolutions introduced this month to extend those standards to City-owned buildings. While it’s the verbal policy of the City to model sustainability, there is no current policy that mandates it in a way that makes clear the guidelines for City staff and facilities managers.

Rochester has made huge strides in the last few years. When I first started working with Conservation Minnesota five years ago, we were fighting to insert the term “sustainability” into the conversations that were happening around the DMC plan and subsequent development. Since then, there has been the addition of a Sustainability Director for the DMC and City, and a second position has been added. The electric utility has come along as a partner and proponent. And the idea of efficiency and green building has been slowly incorporated into the community’s definition of “smart growth.” There is still a long way to go, but had you told me even two years ago that we’d be receiving Minnesota’s first LEED Gold award as a city, I would’ve been skeptical. I hope to see this trend continue and I look forward to all of the opportunities to build on and expand the way we address sustainability and growth. Onward to Platinum!

If you have questions or would like more information on LEED or the ongoing work in the City of Rochester, please contact Anna at