eorge Denise, Cushman & Wakefield's on-site general manager for Adobe Systems Incorporated
in San Jose, Calif., says that just three years ago, Silicon Valley had one LEED-certified building: the library. Today there are 18 certified structures, and 118 registered and working toward certification.
"Virtually every one of those 118 has come to tour Adobe," he says. "We've toured over 200 groups over the past three years, to show what we've done with sustainability."
What the publishing software giant has done is without parallel: LEED-Platinum certification no fewer than three times at its headquarters in San Jose and once in San Francisco, with further elite certifications being pursued for complexes in California, Massachusetts, China and India. the San Jose campus, which is home to approximately 2,100 employees spread out over more than 1 million sq. ft. (92,900 sq. m.)
"Jurisdictions look to us for guidance and leadership," says Randy Knox, Adobe's senior director of workplace solutions. "San Jose wants to be known as the greenest city in the U.S., maybe the world. They have held us up as a torch as to how companies can go green. San Jose is streamlining the permit process if you're building to a certain level of USGBC certification, putting you at the front of the queue. More municipalities will be doing that – in lieu of financial incentives, they'll do it with process. Process equates to money."
That statement captures Adobe's way of doing things the green way. Facilities leaders refer to the company's "Green Team," headed by the company's facility manager in Ottawa, Ont., Paula Fitzgerald, who reports directly to the company's office of corporate responsibility. But that team seems to encompass everybody, setting the stage for serendipity, one project at a time.
"A representative from a local utility was giving me a presentation on computer virtualization," recounts Denise. "We had no sooner finished than my phone rang, and it was Randy Knox, who had the head of IT in his office and wanted to know if I knew anything about virtualization."
A pilot project was born, with a limited number of servers. Both the eventual scope and savings from the virtualization project are difficult to estimate this early in the process. But with a rebate from the California Public Utilities Commission for each server changed out, plus the benefit of pure electricity conservation, Adobe may reap a result that, like many of its projects, outshines projections.
Such stories are legion in the green annals of Adobe. Denise and Knox credit Fitzgerald for such measures as default double-sided printing on full-floor printers, which has reduced copy paper usage by 45 percent, and getting fax machines to talk directly to computers. One of the most recent projects was designed to significantly reduce the company's bottled water use, which already has gone down dramatically; Knox says the move already has saved the company $270,000 a year, in addition to taking the plastic out of the recycling stream. The sense of engagement is deep and wide.
"I saw employees in the hall yesterday, talking about how great it is to work at a company that walks the talk," says Knox. "We have a formal green team. But that's not been enough for the employees. They've built internal green teams, and they just had their first green fair."
Denise, who's worked on site at Adobe for eight years, just gave his 80th presentation on the company's efforts to an audience at Yale University. He says the team is analyzing another 25 projects today, including the server virtualization project, solar power and the possibility of a 2.4-MW natural-gas-fired fuel cell installation, which he says would offset close to two-thirds of the campus's total electricity use.
"We're trying to figure out how to incorporate a three-story fuel cell into our existing structure," says Knox of the fuel cell prospect at headquarters. "I'd love to be the first major corporation to say we're running a third of our operation on a fuel cell."
Power usage was one of the initial targets when Adobe began this work in the late 1990s. Knox mentions the installation of real-time electrical meters.
"As soon as we got them hooked up and started monitoring them, we saw all sorts of power spikes," he says. "With utility companies, you pay for whatever that spike is – that's your day rate. All the building systems were turning on at the same second every day. We've now phased it to come on over a period of time, and so eliminated all of those spikes."
Because of its focus on efficiency and cost savings, by the time the company started formally pursuing LEED certifications in 2005, it found it already had a couple dozen marks in its favor.
"From 2001 up to the point we had registered for certification, we completed 30 projects at a cost of $889,000, received rebates of $277,000, and realized annual savings of about $647,500," says Denise. "We then registered around June 2005, and from that point forward we've had 34 more projects, spent $473,500 on them, realized another $112,000 in rebates, and realized further savings of $534,000 annually. That's a 148-percent return on investment. That's better than my 401(k) was doing even before the economy took this downturn. In fact, it's probably the best investment out there."
Nothing to Lose but Inefficiency
Overall, between 2001 and December 2006, the company's green projects saw an average ROI of 121 percent and an average payback time of nine and a half months.
Which is why it's so frustrating to Randy Knox that resistance persists at other companies.
"The thing that bugs me the most is there is resistance to making investments in projects that don't have a two- to three-year payback," he says incredulously. "At times I'm talking to companies with billions of dollars in the bank. I just don't understand the reluctance to do a project that has four-year payback when you're going to be in the building for 20 years."
Knox and Denise counsel professionals working in that type of environment to go after low-hanging fruit. Knox points to parking garage fans at Adobe as the perfect example. They were running 24/7, when they only needed to be running 15 minutes an hour. The fans were reprogrammed to be triggered by carbon monoxide levels, reducing operating costs by $90,000 a year.
“We've chosen to continue sharing our results, in an effort to encourage other companies to do what we've done.”
Since certification, the company has spent $625,000 on 20 more projects, which have yielded rebates of $80,000 and annual savings of $210,000.
The more you talk to Adobe's green leaders, the more you learn. The main reason? They're not hiding anything.
"It's funny how some owners will decide that because numbers are involved, it's proprietary," says Denise. "We're proud to share that information."
"When we were first getting involved in this, there was more sharing," says Knox. "I see companies now holding things closer to the vest. We've chosen to continue sharing our results, in an effort to encourage other companies to do what we've done."
The evangelizing and action extends beyond fellow end users to Adobe's own real estate partners. In Waltham, Mass., the company is working with Normandy Real Estate Partners, which will complete construction of an office building shell and core totaling approximately 108,500 sq. ft. (10,080 sq. m.) of space, a parking structure and site improvements, then sell the complex to Adobe. The transaction, valued at $44.7 million, is expected to close by May 2009. The companies are jointly pursuing LEED certification for the exterior shell and interior. Adobe currently employs approximately 200 people at a leased office in nearby Newton.
Denise says his direct employer, Cushman & Wakefield, has 18 LEED-certified properties within its portfolio, but has signed up 52 properties in a pilot portfolio. (Another 32 dropped out because they wanted to move faster, he says.) "Adobe has been a catalyst for most of Cushman & Wakefield's managers, and for our entire industry," he says.
Altogether, Adobe has just over 80 sites around the world, many of them small sales offices and R&D sites. Consequently, says Knox, the LEED-CI (commercial interiors) certification will come more into play. "We're trying to look at how to roll that out in new sales offices we build," he says.
Even leased properties are fair game for the green treatment. In Seattle, where it occupies an entire building, Adobe just signed a 10-year lease.
"We asked our LEED consultants to go in and look at the facility," says Knox. "I've asked them to look at what it takes to retrofit it ourselves. In San Jose, there were less than two-year paybacks. Why not invest? Now that we're doing that, the property managers are coming around and saying, 'Maybe we would like to participate.'"
Knox says Adobe's green path really began with the principles promulgated by company founders Charles Geschke and John Warnock when they launched the firm in 1982.
"It's been in our DNA as the company has grown," he says. Asked to appraise sustainability alongside his other responsibilities, he says it's hard to rank them. Then again, it's easy.
"Obviously, reporting into the CFO, cost control is paramount," he says. "But what we've found is that going green is cost effective. They almost go hand in hand at this point. We continue to look at things that do both."
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