While many companies focus sustainability efforts on their products and other consumer touch points, two of tech’s largest companies are including large facility construction and remodel projects as a foundation to their efforts having a ‘nature-positive’ approach.
Large organizations have large facilities; and large facility construction uses a lot of resources. A strong sustainability program aims to increase positive impacts while making the operational efforts part of the organization's internal and external story, inspiring stakeholders and creating brand value. The intersection of large facilities and a strong sustainability program can have far-reaching and long-lasting positive effects — especially in our forests and natural environment.
Thanks to COP15 and the resulting Global Biodiversity Agreement signed by over 190 countries, the critical issue of biodiversity loss has been catapulted into the spotlight and many corporate and financial plans. The World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Report identifies biodiversity loss as the third most severe risk on a global scale over the next 10 years. Healthy, responsibly managed forests support biodiversity, maintain water quality, sequester carbon for long periods of time, and produce vast quantities of oxygen.
A peer-reviewed study by Ecotrust and the University of Washington showed that forests managed to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards are globally significant in their ability to store large quantities of carbon, which is key to mitigating the effects of climate change. The range of additional carbon storage extended from 13 percent to 69 percent more in FSC-certified forests, with an average of approximately 30 percent more than legal management practices alone.
While many companies focus sustainability efforts on their products and the point where the brand meets the consumer, two of tech’s largest companies are including large facility construction and remodel projects as a foundation to their efforts having a “nature-positive” approach. When it comes to wood and forest products, responsible sourcing is of utmost importance.
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Within Meta's global real estate portfolio of commercial office space and data centers, the inclusion of FSC-certified wood has been a component of sustainable design and construction standards for over five years. For data centers owned and constructed by Meta, project specifications require 100 percent FSC certification for all new, permanently installed wood. As of 2017, the company’s data center projects averaged 94 percent FSC-certified wood, totaling 16.9 million square feet globally.
To achieve these goals, Meta has integrated the requirement for FSC wood into its project-delivery process, coordinating with design and construction partners on every site to support compliance. When complications and project-specific constraints arise, such as long lead times or supply chain issues (especially during the pandemic), the sustainability team troubleshoots with their general contractors and timber suppliers to exhaust all options before relaxing requirements. Additionally, its data center portfolio of in-flight projects is also on target to comply with this FSC requirement.
Meta’s design standards for office spaces also include 100 percent FSC-certified criteria for all permanently installed wood products. Since including FSC within its workplace Healthy and Sustainable Materials Standards for office spaces in 2015, it is estimated that at least 50 percent of permanently installed wood procured across the portfolio is FSC-certified, with multiple offices exceeding this baseline and hitting over 95 percent compliance. Meta’s recently completed, 440,000-square-foot construction project on the West Coast successfully procured 98 percent FSC-certified wood. Similar to the implementation process for data centers, a sustainability subject matter expert on all office developments educates and supports global design and construction teams in meeting office space standards.
With over 180 offices across 40 countries, Meta faces challenges with market availability and cost premium associated with FSC-certified wood. Steps to meet compliance wherever feasible include educating local project teams and timber suppliers on the preference for FSC-certified products. This hands-on approach of supporting suppliers has resulted in several instances of wood vendors and fabricators earning FSC certification to comply with Meta requirements and uphold the chain of custody of their inventory. Many of these companies were open to achieving certification; and the motivation and education from the building-owner side was a key component sometimes lacking in their regional industry.
“These accomplishments are both beneficial to our sustainability goals and create a lasting, positive impact on local markets and supply chains,” says Amruta Sudhalkar, Senior Sustainability Program Manager at Meta. “We remain committed to increased market transformation by leveraging our buying power and holding our development teams accountable in supporting robust, sustainable forestry standards.”
Google's Bay View campus | Image credit: Google
At Google, sustainability was a central tenet of design and development of its Bay View and Charleston East campuses. As Google’s first-ever ground-up development projects, Bay View and Charleston East provided an opportunity to design places that embody Google’s values of building and operating sustainably, being a helpful neighbor, and creating the best places to work.
Both projects pursued LEED-NC v4 Platinum certifications, as well as Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal certifications — Water Petal at Bay View and Materials Petal at Charleston East. These certifications served as strong drivers for the project teams in their pursuit of sustainable design and performance, while also offering Google highly credible platforms to tell the story of their work advancing sustainability in the building material industry.
From day one, Bay View and Charleston East prioritized building materials that advanced Google's sustainability goals, from selecting salvaged products to materials with healthy chemistry. Much of the sustainable-materials effort was about enabling the entire team — from designers to engineers to the construction team — to rethink long-held conventions about building materials by aligning everyone on a shared vision for sustainable and human-centric buildings.
One major pillar of Charleston East and Bay View's sustainable material goals was sourcing as much lumber as possible from FSC-certified responsibly managed forests. Over 96 percent of all new wood used in the Bay View campus is FSC-certified, supporting Google's goals to build and operate sustainably while delivering healthy, biophilic workplaces. One example is the FSC-certified Birch plywood that serves as the cladding for conference rooms. This material not only helped with wayfinding in the building, but also added elements of biophilia into the space by introducing natural patterns of wood.
Charleston East — which is currently under construction — is striving to achieve 100 percent FSC-certified wood for both temporary construction uses and permanent building fixtures. This goal, supported by the project's LBC Materials Petal certification pursuit, has challenged the project team to prioritize responsible sourcing from the outset of construction for uses such as concrete formwork and temporary lagging. FSC wood also features prominently in the design of the building itself: The structural system is clad in FSC-certified CLT (cross-laminated timber).
Between Bay View and Charleston East, sourcing FSC lumber has not only served to minimize the developments' impact on global forests — it also advances Google's vision to create places where architecture, nature and people can co-exist in harmony for decades to come. Beyond these two sites, the sustainability innovations at Charleston East and Bay View inspired systems and strategies that are now helping teams achieve Google’s ambitious corporate sustainability commitments in projects across the company’s global real estate portfolio.
Due to excellence in their support of responsible forestry, both Meta and Google’s Bay View and Charleston East projects are 2022 FSC Leadership Award Winners.