Good, Better, Best

Bay Area companies lead California Best Buildings Challenge


By Robert Celaschi

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n initiative by the U.S. Green Building Council to raise expectations for corporate energy efficiency and waste reduction is being led by Bay Area companies. Over the next two years, thirteen enterprises have pledged to find a 20 percent reduction in their energy and water consumption and waste output in association with more than six million square feet of Bay Area offices.

“We wanted to get to the place where the sweat was forming on people’s brows. Something that is aggressive but can really be a game-changer,” said Ashleigh Talberth, who is directing the effort for the Northern California Chapter of the USGBC.

Besides sweaty brows, the participating companies also should get long-term payback in the form of lower utility bills, bragging rights and a list of best practices gleaned from other participants across a variety of building types and occupants. “Why do we have these goals? Because it saves us money, it demonstrates to our employees that we care and to contribute to Roche’s corporate commitments,” said Genentech Sustainability Manager Katie Excoffier.

Besides Roche Group’s Genentech, other participating companies are Adobe Systems Inc., Google Inc., Integral Group, Method Inc., Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc., Webcor Builders, XL Construction Corp. and Zynga Inc.—all Bay Area-based—as well as Bayer HealthCare, Lockheed Martin Corp., SAP AG and Prudential Real Estate Investors, which have operations here.

The California Best Buildings Challenge was directly inspired by the Better Buildings Challenge run by the U.S Department of Energy and introduced by President Obama in late 2011. In June, the Clinton Global Initiative America, at a Chicago meeting focused on finding ways to promote U.S. economic recovery, also endorsed the exercise.

[pullquote_right] “We are pushing the boundary.” Kevin Hydes, chief executive, Integral Group[/pullquote_right]“It is not going to be easy; it will be difficult for everyone,” said Kevin Hydes, chief executive of the Bay Area’s Integral Group, mechanical, electrical and plumbing consulting engineers. Integral has committed its San Jose and Oakland offices to the challenge. Both have the top Platinum ranking in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The San Jose building was certified a net-zero-energy building in May after a yearlong demonstration, producing more energy than it consumes. “It is about proving that really advanced buildings can get better,” Hydes said.

Both of his offices are relatively small compared to the huge portfolios that some companies have offered, Hydes said. His goal is to use his buildings as test cases for cutting edge technology that he can then share with his clients. “We are pushing the boundary,” he said.

Genentech is focused on 783,000 square feet in five South San Francisco buildings. The founding company of the biotechnology industry, Genentech had goals for its 50-plus building campus, the headquarters for Roche’s U.S. pharmaceutical operations representing 18 percent of Roche’s total energy use. From a 2009 baseline, the biotechnology company wanted to reduce energy use by 15 percent, water use by 10 percent and landfill waste by half by 2014.

The five target buildings in the Best Buildings Challenge will be something of a laboratory for the rest of the campus, Excoffier said. The company wants to “road-test” initiatives that could then be rolled out widely. The five buildings account for about 14 percent of the campus and around 10 percent of the total water use, energy use and landfill waste. “Focusing on five buildings at our South San Francisco campus really enables us to delve deep in terms of investigating trends in energy, water and waste,” Excoffier said. “In general, we prioritize projects that have the quickest payback, but as we get all the low-hanging fruit, we are considering projects with longer payback.”

Genentech claims to be the first company in its sector to set public energy and water reduction goals, to publish a sustainability report and to submit data on its greenhouse gas emissions to the California Climate Action Registry. “In the area of energy use where we currently have the most detailed plans for reduction, every energy project is evaluated for [return on investment]. The projects with less than a five-year ROI are implemented,” Excoffier said. “Average ROI for all projects is about three years.”

The participating companies set baseline measurements using any 12-month period from the start of 2011 to the end of 2012. They then get one year to make improvements and one year to measure performance. “You can keep making improvements in the performance year, but if you do it toward the end it will be harder to measure the impact,” Talberth said. There’s no target number of participating companies. The plan is to keep the list small but diverse, taking in companies of various sizes and across business sectors.

“Google was the first company that we started talking to. They have been one of the key drivers behind this,” Talberth said. Google is focused on 1.22 million square feet in 12 Mountain View buildings. Adobe starts the challenge with buildings that have an Energy Star rating of 100, putting them in the top 1 percent of building operating efficiency. SAP is focused on 428,000 square feet in one San Francisco building. Bayer HealthCare, a subsidiary of Bayer AG, is focused on its U.S. Innovation Center in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, which opened in January 2011.

PREI is working on nearly a million square feet in 20 Redwood City buildings. It took a strategic approach in picking its target properties. The 20 buildings in Bayshore Technology Park all look the same, are all about the same size and all have similar mechanical systems.

Prudential isn’t trying to run a controlled experiment. It wants to see how different products and practices yield different results before a particular choice is rolled out to all 20 buildings. “It’s not only going to be an approach where we look at building systems, but how occupiers can change building performance,” said David DeVoss, global director of sustainability for Prudential, the real estate investment management business of New Jersey-based Prudential Financial Inc. Prudential’s buildings were all built between 1999 and 2003.

Even before joining the challenge, Adobe had set ambitious goals for itself. By 2015 at its buildings in San Jose, San Francisco and Boston, the company hopes to achieve net-zero-energy consumption. In 2009 Adobe installed wind turbines atop its San Jose headquarters. The following year it added fuel cells that now provide about 30 percent of the power used by the three headquarters towers. Early this year, it installed fuel cells at its San Francisco office buildings, and they are now providing 55 percent of their power. Both the San Francisco and San Jose buildings are entered in the California challenge.

Adobe says it still can find ways to improve performance. At the San Jose headquarters, Adobe has started experimenting with an open-space configuration on one floor rather than personal offices. It already claims a 65 percent decrease in electricity use for that floor.

At its 670,000-square-foot San Francisco headquarters, Zynga is adopting automated controls for lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, shifting start-times for the building chillers to better match building occupancy and moving to 100 percent compostable service-ware in its café, the company said.

Companies won’t be penalized if results fall short of the 20 percent goal. “We are really trying to tell stories about what worked. It’s about education and best practices,” Talberth said.

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