By Kate Snyder
With the firm dedicated to eliminating all of its net carbon emissions within the next 10 years, Gensler’s new office in San Francisco is designed to help meet that goal.
In December 2022, Gensler, a global architectural and design firm, announced that it signed a new long-term office lease with The Swig Company at The Mills Building in San Francisco’s Financial District. The company had previously announced The Gensler Cities Climate Challenge, which was a goal to not only help its clients reach their carbon targets but also make every building in the firm’s portfolio net zero carbon by 2030.
Achieving carbon neutrality means eliminating or offsetting all CO2 emissions from the built environment. To that end, Gensler’s climate challenge, or the GC3, is focused on minimizing two primary sources: emissions related to using buildings, or operating carbon, and emissions related to making buildings, or embodied carbon.
“We have over 50 offices around the world,” said Randy Howder, co-managing director of Gensler’s San Francisco office. “I think this notion that the climate is changing is more palpable and part of people’s daily lives, so it’s definitely on peoples’ minds when we meet with clients. I think as our clients work through strategies to bring people back to the office, or realign their real estate portfolios for a future that is different than the one they had before COVID, that wellness and carbon reduction are more of a focus.”
Howder also pointed out that he believes part of the reason why companies are considering their impact on the climate so carefully is because they’re not “under pressure to roll out tons of space.”
“A lot of our clients before were building several million square feet of office space around the world and obviously that’s not necessarily what people are doing right now,” he said. “But they are being more deliberate and intentional in thinking through what they’re building.”
The Mills Building is located at 220 Montgomery St., and Gensler is taking up 45,500 square feet on the building’s second floor. The property is both LEED Platinum and WELL Health-Safety rated and a number of renovation plans are underway to help support the firm’s decarbonization goals. The new office will have 10-foot operable windows as well as a skylight that will reduce the use of electric lighting as well as create a connection to the outdoors. A variable refrigerant flow system will also increase efficiency by capturing what would have been wasted energy from one space and returning it to another, which would make it possible to heat and cool different zones on a single refrigerant piping system at any given time.
“The beauty of the [Mills Building] space, not only did it have those architectural features… it was possible to go to all electric utilities,” Howder said. “For us in our own space, having the option to have all electric utilities right off the bat reduces our operational carbon by at least 20 percent every year, if not more.”
After construction on the building finishes, the firm plans to move in during this coming summer.
In a separate step toward the firm’s goal, Gensler also joined the Science Based Targets initiative, which is a program designed to drive ambitious climate action in the private sector by enabling organizations to set science-based emissions reduction targets, according to the group’s website. The program uses science-based targets to provide companies with a clearly-defined path to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, an international treaty to reduce climate change that was adopted by much of the world in 2015. More than 4,000 businesses around the world are already working with the initiative.
Targets are considered science-based if they are in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.
“As we’ve been through so many almost traumatic events as a society over the past three or four years, I think most companies are being more responsible for their impact on the world,” Howder said. “Including us.”