10 of America’s Best: Sustainable Buildings According to Instagram

Love it or hate it, Instagram is one of the core means of communication these days. Merging photos and videos with actual location data, Instagram has become one of the trend-setting arenas where “the youths”, or anyone really, get their information about where to be and what to see.

As Instagram has become so powerful in telling us what’s cool, and what’s not, it has also become a huge platform for sustainability, environmental and climate change awareness, and many other important issues. Say what you will about Millennials and Gen Z, but they have really brought our climate and the future of Earth to light - and we want to celebrate that!

We decided to look through Instagram hashtag data, from users around the US, to see which buildings, skyscrapers, national treasures have come out on top as the most frequently visited attractions that are sustainable and eco-friendly. 

Top 10 of USA’s Favourite Eco-Friendly Buildings

1. Exploratorium - San Francisco, California

Located on Pier 15 in San Francisco, California, the Exploratorium is a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception. We’ve not surprised that San Francisco came out on top as the city has been pushing for increasing eco-friendly infrastructure.

The Exploratorium incorporates some of the most advanced design concepts in eco-friendly architecture and design and has been was awarded a LEED Platinum rating in 2013. Since then, the beloved institution has received numerous awards for maintaining the highest standards of sustainable architecture and design, becoming the largest net-zero energy use museum in the U.S.

The Exploratorium’s 5,874 solar panels take up 78,712 sq. ft. of roof space, and produce over 2 million kWh per year from the sun: this covers approximately 75% of all energy used at Pier 15, including the museum's restaurant, store, building systems, and exhibits.

2. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Established by philanthropist Henry W. Phipps in 1893, The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens have allowed visitors to explore the beauty and importance of nature while contributing to advances in the fields of education, outreach and sustainable innovation. 

The conservatory is home to the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL). Built in 2015, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes is one of the most advanced eco-friendly buildings in the US, and is the first to meet six of the highest green certifications including:

  • LEED Platinum Rating
  • Living Building Challenge
  • Well Institute Platinum Rating
  • Fitwel 3 Star Rating
  • SITES Platinum Project Award
  •  BREEAM Outstanding In-Use Building Award 

3. California Academy of Sciences - San Francisco, California

Designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano, the Academy’s structure includes a rather iconic looking Living Roof. The gorgeous roof has a dual purpose - to please the eye and to serve the building as part of the heating and A/C cooling system. 

The six inches of soil substrate on the roof acts as natural insulation and prevents stormwater runoff from carrying pollutants into the atmosphere. Populated with native plants, the roof also serves as a habitat for local birds and butterflies as San Francisco fights against the concrete jungle.

A variety of innovative, eco-friendly materials were used in the construction of the new Academy building to maximize water and energy efficiency while minimizing environmental impact. When work began, 12 buildings were demolished on the site to make room for the Academy, however, 90% of demolition materials were recycled - making this a huge eco-friendly project!

4. Bank of America - New York, New York

This one might surprise quite a few! The New York skyline is full of truly iconic buildings, and taxi fumes, but the Bank of America building is incredibly unique. Completed back in 2009, it was the first skyscraper to receive the prestigious LEED Platinum Rating starting a change in how NYC builds. 

This New York building utilises a number of green building designs. Its distinct sloped walls face the sky and sun, allowing the surface to admit more sunlight into the interior spaces. It’s also an effective way to capture rainwater for collection, which is captured, cleaned, and reused throughout the building, saving 8 million gallons of water per year alone! Its onsite natural gas-fueled power plant can provide 70% of annual electrical power needs and about 30% of peak demand. 

With a height of 1,200 feet (370 m), it’s currently ranked as the eighth tallest building in New York City and the tenth tallest building in the United States.

5. Hearst Tower - New York, New York

It might not surprise you to learn that the Heart Tower is home to Hearst, one of the most well-known media conglomerates in the country. But what might actually surprise you is how eco-friendly this skyscraper is.

Located at the southwest corner of 57th Street and Eight Avenue in Midtown, the original 1928 building was commissioned by the Hearst Organization, however, in early 2001, Hearst appointed architect Norman Foster to design a new headquarters with the ambitious goal of creating one of the country's leading examples of green building and design. 

Today the building uses 26% less energy than the minimum requirements for the city of New York and incorporates many efficient features. During its construction the tower used 20% less steel than a conventional moment frame structure and overall, 85% of the building’s structural steel contains recycled material. 

One of the main reasons Hearst Tower might appear on a list of Instagrammable eco-buildings is Icefall, the building's iconic three-story indoor waterfall that forms a distinct part of Hearst’s atrium and lobby. That’s right - a waterfall. 

Not only does it look cool, but it also circulates recycled rainwater collected from the roof. The rainwater collected saves an estimated  1.7 million gallons of water annually that would otherwise be runoff waste. The waterfall also helps to cool and humidify the lobby and atrium space which saves additional power. 

6. EpiCenter Artists for Humanity - Boston, Massachusetts 

Located in Boston, Artists for Humanity is a non-profit organisation that provides underprivileged teens with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design. In building its headquarters, the organisation wanted to make green energy and sustainability the focus of its design, and man does it deliver. 

From the outside, a tight building envelope with operable openings regulates heating and ventilation. A south-facing glass wall provides a passive heating system and maximizes natural daylight. High-performance windows reduce heating and cooling loads and roof panels provide over 50% of the electricity requirements. The roof also incorporates a rainwater harvesting system. 

Inside, material choices include low VOC finishes, energy-efficient lighting, ceiling fans, natural cooling, and heat recovery ventilation systems. These features, among others, allow the organization to save over $66,000 in electricity and natural gas costs annually. The Epicenter is also available for hire and is an equally popular choice among environmentalists and wedding planners. 

7. The Bullitt Center - Seattle, Washington

Fittingly opened on Earth Day 2013, The Bullitt Center is the home of the Bullitt Foundation, an institution dedicated to safeguarding the natural environment and promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

The 52,000-square-foot urban office complex is the largest "Living Building" certified by the Living Building Challenge and is considered one of the most outstanding and efficient examples of green building design in the United States. 

Its 575 rooftop solar panels generate more energy than the building requires, selling any surplus power back to the municipal grid in a process known as net metering. Other stand out features include air-tight construction, triple-paned windows, and advanced insulation, energy-efficient lighting, digital lighting/ power controls, high-performance appliances, and a state-of-the-art HVAC.

8. Visionaire - New York, New York

The Visionaire is the first LEED Platinum condominium building in New York and serves as a leading example of how eco-friendly practices can be used in residential construction. 

The building design incorporates a number of eco-friendly design features - including green building materials, green roofs, a building integrated photovoltaic, grey and black water systems, and advanced controls and operations on a residential and maintenance level. 

Its unique curved design, known as a curtainwall, minimizes cold bridges, optimizes insulation, and consists of a combination of reflective, low-emissivity glazing and insulated spandrel with a terracotta rainscreen. This helps to reduce heating and cooling energy consumption while also allowing a pleasant amount of daylight into the building for residents to enjoy. 

9. Helios House Gas Station - Los Angeles, California

Don’t worry. We were as surprised as you to see, of all things, a gas station make this list. But once you see the Helios House Gas Station, you’ll see why it might be popular on Instagram - it’s definitely one of the quirkiest buildings on the list.  

Located on Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles this real, functional gas station was built to be the “gas station of the future”. The station's angular design is made from recycled stainless steel and its roof is made up of 90 solar panels, and some local cacti. The power the panels collect reduces the station's energy consumption by 16%. It also boasts bamboo panelled bathroom stalls, motion-sensitive lighting, and a rainwater collection and irrigation system.

It’s a popular meetup spot for car fans and serves as a great backdrop for Insta-worthy snapshots.

10. Brock Environmental Center - Virginia Beach, Virginia

Located on the banks of the Lynnhaven River in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center was built from the ground up to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and the Living Building Challenge. 

Its rooftop photo-voltaic panels produce approximately 60% of the building's energy needs and two residential-scale 10-kilowatt wind turbines provide the additional 40% needed, putting renewable energy at the heart of the building's infrastructure.  

It also uses geothermal wells to take advantage of the earth's constant 54-degree temperature which is used to warm the building air in the winter and cool the building air in the summer. The treated air is circulated through the building with a high-efficiency HVAC. Additionally, two 1,600-gallon (6,056-liter) rain cisterns allow the building to keep its water completely within its own system, making it water independent. 

What is Your Favorite Green Building?

Although this is the top 10 list according to Instagram - we know that every state, and almost every city, has an eco-friendly building to be proud of. We want to hear from you to see what other buildings around the US are worthy of making American’s Most Instagrammable Sustainable Buildings.

Share on Instagram, reach out to us, let us know which green building represents your state. And if you’re looking for ways to change how you live, take a look at some of our insulation materials and how you can use them to increase the energy efficiency of your home.