The Transamerica Pyramid has achieved LEED Gold Certification, the U.S. Green Building Council's second highest energy efficiency rating.
Only a handful of skyscrapers across the country meet the standards for LEED, which stands for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, according to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office.
The iconic Transamerica Pyramid building now generates 70 percent of its own electricity, and it recycles or composts 70 percent of its waste products, according to the building's management.
A water-use reduction program has cut water consumption by 50 percent, and the building produces 20 percent less carbon dioxide overall.
At an award ceremony this morning, Newsom praised the example set by the building's owners and managers.
"We're proving to others it can be done, and setting an example for other cities," he said.
Other iconic high rises such as the Empire State Building in New York City and Willis Tower in Chicago are still trying to achieve gold ratings, he said.
Newsom said the Transamerica building is San Francisco's 88th gold-certified building, which is more than any other city in the country.
He added that although San Francisco already has some of the country's strictest environmental standards for new buildings and remodeling jobs, it's also essential for old buildings to increase their energy efficiency.
During the next 60 years, less than half the structures in San Francisco will fall into the new building or remodeling category, Newsom said.
Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of carbon emissions, and they use significant amounts of water, according to Dan Geiger, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council's Northern California chapter.
Meeting LEED standards therefore makes environmental and economic sense, Geiger said.
The Transamerica building's management agreed, saying environmental upgrades reduced their utility bills by 30 percent and will generate savings of about $600,000 annually.
Steven King, director of Transamerica's management company, Cushman and Wakefield, said about $5 million of private capital had gone into the Transamerica Pyramid's environmental upgrades during the past 10 years.
Most of the money went into the creation of a cogeneration plant, which recycles energy by capturing heat from the building and converting it into electricity, King said.
The heat from that conversion process is then used to heat the building's water, which saves natural gas, chief building engineer Doug Peterson said.
Overall, the Transamerica building produces about 70 percent of the 1.88 megawatts of electricity it uses daily, Peterson said.
At this morning's ceremony, Newsom also announced that a report has been released by the Existing Buildings Task Force, a group of 19 representatives from the city's business, architecture, utility and construction sectors who were asked to make recommendations for making old buildings more environmentally friendly.
Newsom said he would be introducing legislation based upon the recommendations soon.
The task force set a goal of cutting total energy use by 50 percent by 2030, which the mayor's office said is equivalent to permanently taking 17,500 vehicles off the road each year.
Their suggestions include requiring building owners to conduct audits to identify cost-effective ways to reduce energy use and making the data available to the public so tenants and buyers can patronize energy efficient buildings.
"This is really exciting," Newsom said of the task force's proposals. "It gets us to another level."