Packard Foundation: Do As We Do


Forty-eight years after its founding, the Packard Foundation recommits to its mission


By Mary Ann Azevedo

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the David and Lucile Packard Foundation unveiled its 49,000-square-foot Los Altos headquarters in June, it fulfilled the mission of its founders in a way few could have conceived in 1964.

Designed by San Francisco-based EHDD Architecture and built by Redwood City’s DPR Construction, the structure has the distinction of being the largest private office zero-net-energy building of its kind in California, putting back onto the electrical grid annually as much electricity as it consumes.

[pullquote_right]“We had to step up and change the way we were doing business. We wanted to show that ‘if you care and want to do it, you can.’” Susan Packard Orr, chair, board of trustees, David and Lucile Packard Foundation[/pullquote_right]“We’re not only getting an incredible, comfortable new building to work and convene in, we’re getting a chance to walk our talk,” said Carol Larson, the foundation’s president and chief executive.

In 1964, the Packards started their foundation with the same prescient mission with which it operates today: “to support organizations and leaders working to protect and restore ecosystems for a world where all families can plan for their children and all children reach their potential.”

120830_Registry_Q4_2092BLEND-EditIn the 1990s, it began working with China to help that country become more energy efficient. In 2007, it was one of six founding organizations of The ClimateWorks Foundation, which supports public policies to prevent dangerous climate change and promote global prosperity.

The building’s creators aim to reduce energy use by 65 percent with the help of energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems, features such as rooftop photovoltaic panels and data-feedback channels to allow occupants to monitor their usage. They began by salvaging or recycling 96 percent of the deconstruction waste from existing development on the 1.5-acre site. “For decades, the foundation has focused on conserving and preserving the earth’s ecosystems by promoting renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions and through energy efficiency. This new building sets a new mark for that,” Larson said.

Designing a net-zero building is very different from a traditional building or even building to meet the highest certification of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, EHDD Senior Associate Brad Jacobson said. “Once you start thinking about net zero, you’re not just thinking about a building as a static object. It’s really a living goal. It has a much more complex ecosystem because the way the building is used by its occupants, the way that it is managed and the way the purchasing happens are just as important as its design.”

In the past decade, Packard Foundation officials became increasingly aware that they needed to integrate their organization’s mission more fully. To achieve the goal, they decided to build a headquarters that would in of itself make a statement. Completing construction of the building at 343 Second St. in June was the beginning. “The foundation realized that time is of the essence. We had to step up and change the way we were doing business. We wanted to show that ‘if you care and want to do it, you can.’ And hopefully other people will want to do it, too,” said Susan Packard Orr, chair of the foundation’s board of trustees.


To help the foundation meet its goal, EHDD will conduct a year long, post-occupancy study. Jacobson expects to spend a lot of time at the headquarters “to help make sure the building functions according to design. The experience marks the first time that EHDD has entered into such an elaborate contractual post-construction relationship. “We’re blessed with a client that sees the value of keeping a design team around,” he said. “We will drill down into what people like and don’t like. We’ll see where we can educate the staff better.”

The foundation’s headquarters represent the largest net-zero project for EHDD to date. It is now designing The Exploratorium in San Francisco, which at 330,000 square feet, aims to be the nation’s largest net-zero museum.

120830_Registry_Q4_1895-EditEHDD has developed a step-by-step guide for Packard employees. It outlines activities such as identifying the most energy-efficient 19-inch computer monitor by going to the EnergyStar Web site and purchasing that model. “If an organization consistently buys the top 5 percent most energy-efficient electronics, they will see a difference. There is an incredible amount of variation of energy use in office and kitchen equipment for the same performance in terms of what a user will experience,” Jacobson said.

Other ways the architects hope to modify users’ behavior is through a monitor accessible via a computer, which advises when it’s a good time to open windows, for instance. EHDD’s attention will extend to plug loads—the energy used by products connected to an ordinary wall plug. “This can make or break a net-zero energy goal,” Jacobson said.

The building cost about $37.2 million to build, not including the land. That is about 15 percent more than a traditional building, estimates Packard Foundation Chief Financial Officer Craig Neyman. The organization expects to recover that investment through utility savings over about 10 years’ time. “After that, we’ve got free energy, which also means more money for our grantees,” he said. The foundation is not recycling its wastewater.

Choosing downtown Los Altos was a no-brainer. The foundation’s previous offices are nearby, and it retains a second location a few blocks away at 300 Second St. The new building will hold about 80 of the foundation’s 100 or so employees. The remainder—its accounting and investment staff—will work at 300 Second St.

In designing the facility, EHDD helped save $8 million that would have gone toward the construction of a parking garage. The team was able to reduce parking from 160 spaces to 67. The foundation is helping staff find alternative commutes by providing shuttles to, and free passes for, Caltrain. It also provides bike racks to employees at its staff lounge entrance and for visitors next to the visitor parking lot.

The organization invested in advanced teleconferencing equipment so that more meetings could be conducted by video rather than having staff drive or fly to meet clients or other organizations.

For Larson, the building is a victory for the foundation and a model for other organizations worldwide. The foundation estimates it would cost $477 a square foot to recreate its headquarters. To some, that may seem expensive but for foundation officials, it’s a small price for leading the net-zero energy movement. “One needs to understand that the costs of investing are likely to be higher in the beginning,” Neyman said. “It’s just like technology: When a new device is invented, it costs a lot at first and then over time, the costs drop as market forces take over.”

For Mike Humphrey, the San Francisco regional manager for DPR Construction, the foundation’s commitment to sustainability is unrivaled. “Some organizations will install solar panels, others might use innovative gutters, toilets and irrigation systems. Very few employ all the technologies that are available. These guys used it all,” Humphrey said.

The foundation didn’t add sustainability features to explicitly increase worker productivity. “We instead aimed to meet our sustainability goals while at the same time investing in a building designed for comfort and beauty,” Larson said.

Overall, Larson said it was most important for the foundation to lead by example and build something that would be replicable: “The ways in which we carry on, and embody, our mission are definitely evolving to adapt to the world around us. So our new building brings us into alignment with our work on environmental and conservation issues, and we believe it has the added benefit of being a model for what can be done to promote green buildings around the world.”

Photography by Chad Ziemendorf


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