Sustainability Certification Granted to City of Santa Fe, New Mexico

27 July 2020 by Ashley Matthews
blog author

Earlier this year, the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico achieved an LEED Gold rating, according to the standards of the LEED v4.1 system. According to BDC Network’s report on the news, this made Santa Fe only the second city in the entire world to achieve this distinction (though more than 100 cities have gained LEED certification under earlier versions of the system). The report went on to state that Santa Fe achieved the distinction due to “resilience planning activities” that strengthen its ability to handle climate change, man-made hazard, and extreme events.

It’s an admirable achievement for the city, and one that sets it up as one of the U.S. leaders in sustainability. For those who are less familiar with the significance of recognition like this though, we thought we’d delve into what LEED certification is, how it applies to cities, and what this means more broadly for Santa Fe and the United States.

What is LEED?

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” and it is considered the most widely used green rating system for buildings around the world. It was established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), essentially as a means of providing a worldwide incentive for more sustainability in design.

The original idea was to shape building design, and by extension the sustainability of communities. LEED certification is meant to help incentivise and define the specific steps building companies take to establish more environmentally responsible properties. Over time, however, LEED has expanded with broader initiatives, and is now meant to perform a similar function for entire cities. Specifically, this has occurred through the establishment of the LEED for Cities and Communities program.

What is LEED for Cities and Communities?

LEED for Cities and Communities actually came about thanks to a grant awarded by Bank of America — which is known primarily for personal financial services provided to Americans. BoA is the everyday bank for many in the United States, many of whom see it as a more favourable option than its competitors. Case in point, Marcus’ high-yield savings interest calculator shows that while many U.S. banks actually provide quite poor interest, BoA’s 0.06% APY beats out those of other major American banks like Chase, Citibank, and Wells Fargo.

This is all to say essentially that Bank of America is a fairly trusted option as large banks go. Individuals have positive associations with the bank, which makes it a natural partner for
forward-looking efforts that go beyond financial services. The LEED for Cities and Communities has emerged as perhaps the most interesting of these efforts. Through the program, Bank of America provided funding to USGBC to support LEED-related efforts in 15 cities and communities.

Santa Fe’s recent certification validates BoA and USGBC’s efforts to establish this program for cities and help them to address climate change and sustainability efforts.

Why Does This Matter for Santa Fe?

Clearly, the primary benefit of Santa Fe achieving an LEED Gold rating is that the steps taken to get to that point prepare the city to effectively address climate change moving forward. A city working toward a goal like this is by definition one that is preparing to prioritise the health and wellness of its environment and citizens.

That said, it’s likely that there will be economic benefits as well. An article on ‘Big Investors’ Sustainability Push’ that we published earlier this year alluded to this idea more generally, making clear that sustainability efforts are now relevant to employees and investors alike. Consideration for environmentally responsible practices is now considered to be a valuable trait in job seekers, while at the same time large corporations are continually announcing climate-related initiatives in an effort to attract both employees and funding. Thus, there’s a logical argument to be made that Santa Fe’s new certification might boost its economy. Climate-conscious companies, investors, and workers may all be drawn to the area.

Why Does This Matter for the U.S.?

To some extent, the significance of this development for the U.S. is an extension of why it matters for Santa Fe. Every major city that successfully prioritises sustainability initiatives makes the U.S. as a whole that much better prepared to address climate change. Beyond this, however, there’s also something to be said for the example being set.

Right now, the U.S. government remains polarised regarding sustainability efforts. One of the two major political parties habitually questions climate science, and Forbes reports that the country is lagging well behind Europe when it comes to renewable energy. A single city’s positive momentum doesn’t change all of this, but Santa Fe’s LEED Gold rating may well set a helpful example. Between good press, a healthy environment, and potential new business, Santa Fe could demonstrate to the rest of the U.S. that strong sustainability efforts pay off.

To find out more about how to bolster your sustainability and environmental team, please contact Catherine Harris, our Head of Sustainability Recruitment in the US, at

Prepared by Ashley Matthews

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay