Running on renewable energy and featuring blackwater recycling, the software company's towering San Francisco campus is one of the world's most sustainable office buildings, writes Terry Slavin

The bullet-shaped skyscraper that stands head and shoulders above all else on the San Francisco skyline is self-evidently the city’s tallest building. Less obvious is Salesforce Tower’s status as one of the most sustainable office towers in the world, having achieved top points in the most rigorous LEED V4 Platinum standard.

The software firm’s 61-storey urban campus, which opened last January, boasts 20% better energy performance than required by the city’s green building code, and is run on 100% renewable energy supplied by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

But it’s biggest claim to fame is its innovative blackwater recycling system, the largest in a North American high-rise building, which when it opens this year will collect wastewater from toilets, showers and sinks and the cooling tower, treat it, and then send it back through the building, supplying 76% of tenants’ water demand.

It’s an incredibly sustainable building, but we felt there was an opportunity to push it even further

And the innovation isn’t just in recycling technology, provided by AquaCell, but in the partnership model that allowed the system to be installed in a tenanted commercial building, helped by a grant of $250,000 from SFPUC.

Patrick Flynn, Salesforce’s vice president for sustainability, said: “It’s a first-of-its-kind partnership between [developer] Boston Properties, Salesforce and the City of San Francisco. We really think it provides a pathway for others to follow.”

He added: “Before we moved into the building we looked at its design. It’s an incredibly sustainable building, but we felt there was an opportunity to push it even further, especially in a region like this that experiences extreme drought. We know that drought can come back to this area and we know that blackwater can perform a very meaningful role in decreasing freshwater demand.”

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff (right) with B Team co-founder Richard Branson. (Credit: B Team)

He pointed out that Salesforce only occupies 60% of the building, but all tenants will benefit from the 7m gallons of fresh water the system will save every year. “There are also benefits to the local community. The water we don’t use could instead go to a farmer in the central valley.”

Flynn said the company, which is a founder member of the Cradle to Cradle Built Positive Owners and Developers Roundtable and the USGBC Building Health Initiative, has so far achieved or is seeking green building certification for 65% of its office space around the world.

Salesforce’s founder and chairman Marc Benioff is a member of the B Team’s Net-Zero 2050 Team of CEOs, who have signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative and have pledged to phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Salesforce is not a property developer, but it works with building owners and other tenants in the properties it occupies to try to achieve more sustainable building solutions, the company said.

Flynn said his department works with colleagues throughout the business to develop lease language and RFP (request for proposal) language “to make sure we have shared financial incentives between tenants and landlords so both when we seek out innovative opportunities in energy efficiency and in operating more intelligently, we are making sure we show a better path forward.”

Main picture credit: YouTube


This article is part the in-depth Built Environment Briefing. See also:

22 cities at vanguard of global drive to cut climate impact of buildings

Why the buildings sector needs a LED light bulb moment

Singapore leads way as Asia’s developers wake up to climate risk

Building sector takes concrete steps to address ‘hidden’ emissions

Getting to the bottom of the green buildings conundrum

Leading companies partner with London in zero-carbon push

Good for the planet, good for the people

The design standard with people at its heart

Salesforce  LEED Platinum  SBTs  Marc Benioff  B team 

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