Top 10: Sustainable HQs of the World’s Largest Companies

From Amazon to Adobe, Nvidia to Salesforce, some of the world’s largest companies are leading the way with headquarters that are sustainable and innovative

Back in 2014, CEO Tim Cook declared Apple was constructing the greenest building on the planet.

Opened in 2016, with 100% renewable energy, 9,000 newly planted trees, and a recycling system to support the water needs of the nearby city, the Apple campus in Cupertino, California, certainly ranks as one of the world’s greenest company headquarters among a growing list of sustainable corporate HQs

As you might expect, that growing list features many of the world’s largest (and most innovative) companies, many technology companies, with headquarters that deliver impressive green initiatives.

A food hall that is the largest all-electric kitchen in North America. A herd of goats that graze and fertilise company grounds. Green areas with 40,000 plants from 50 different countries. Just to name a few.

These are just some of the green credentials held by ten of the world’s largest companies leading the charge on sustainable innovation, according to a report by the global leader in green buildings, the US Green Building Council, in collaboration with real estate software company ProptechOS.

Each of these company headquarters have a documented LEED rating – highlighting their commitment to sustainability, innovation, and environmental responsibility – and are leading by example, setting a standard – and inspiring others to follow.

“Green buildings are good for the environment and good for people but also make a lot of business and economic sense,” says Melissa Baker, Senior Vice President at the US Green Building Council. “This is why major corporations worldwide have adopted green building certification for their headquarters and beyond. By supporting certified buildings, companies can save money, improve efficiency, lower carbon emissions, and create healthier places for people.”

Here, ten of the world's largest companies whose headquarters are among the world’s most sustainable and innovative.

10

Company: Amazon

Market cap: US$1.511 trillion

HQ: The Spheres, Seattle, Washington

LEED rating: Gold

Dubbed Seattle’s Green Giant, The Spheres is not just beautiful to look at – think a three-domed jungle – but delivers on inner values too with its nature-inspired design. 

The office’s stunning four-storey ‘living wall’ and green areas feature 40,000 plants from 50 countries — a monumental task that required a full-time horticulturalist to manage the growth over a period of three years. Today, there are 70 people operationally who work to support The Spheres specifically.

Beneath the greenery in the office is a smart water irrigation system that circulates water throughout each area of the wall that requires it and reroutes any remaining water to a central reservoir. There is a waterfall too and plenty of natural sunlight.

Biophilic architecture like this allows workers to reap some of the benefits that spending time in nature brings, despite The Spheres being located among the thriving urban landscape of Seattle. Research shows that working among greenery and in natural light increases productivity and reduces stress.

Not only that, The Spheres’ choice of construction materials and processes saved more than 400 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, according to building materials manufacturer Holcim.

9

Company: Abbott Laboratories

Market cap: US$181.16 billion

HQ: Abbott Park, Chicago, Illinois

LEED rating: Gold – 52

Abbott Park was awarded Gold LEED certification in 2010

Abbott is an American multinational medical devices and healthcare company that is recognised globally for its responsible and sustainable business. Not only was Abbott recognised as one of America’s Most Responsible Companies in 2023 by Newsweek, ranking 12 of 500 companies, but it has been listed as one of the World’s Most Admired Companies by Fortune magazine every year since 1984.

As the global corporate headquarters of Abbott Laboratories, and a centre for research and development, the Abbott Park campus in North Chicago is a reflection of this award-winning sustainable approach – incorporating energy-efficient technologies, green building practices, and eco-friendly landscaping.

This has resulted in the building being awarded Gold LEED certification in 2010.

Among certification highlights, the HQ is especially highlighted for its management of indoor air quality, which includes increased air ventilation, reduced particulates in air distribution, occupant-controlled lighting, and a high-performance cleaning programme.

The materials and resources used to construct buildings play a considerable role when assessing the sustainable credentials of a building. In Abbott Park, the spend on durable goods, ongoing consumables and solid waste management all scored well when assessing the site.

8

Company: Morgan Stanley

Market cap: US$131.58 billion

HQ: Morgan Stanley Building, New York City

LEED rating: Gold – 60

Morgan Stanley has achieved carbon neutrality across its global operations including its HQ in New York City / Credit: Morgan Stanley

For more than a decade, Morgan Stanley has been committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions through strategic energy efficiency in its buildings and has achieved carbon neutrality across its global operations with 100% of its energy from renewables.

Its headquarters since 1995, the 42-storey Morgan Stanley Building at 1585 Broadway stands in the heart of Times Square and has earned a Gold LEED certification for its energy efficient features.

The building’s indoor environmental quality scores favourably in areas such as the reduction of indoor air particulates, a high-performance green cleaning programme that includes purchasing of sustainable products and materials, and excellent use of daylight and views.

The use of sustainable materials and resources not only relates to the building itself but to the objects within, from sustainable electric-powered equipment, to reduced mercury in lamps.

The site itself does not score as highly as possible for its overall sustainability — 15 points out of a possible 16. However, within the category of ‘sustainable sites’, the office scores highly in its building exterior and hardscape management plan, as well as its integrated pest management, erosion control and landscape management.

Read Morgan Stanley’s latest Sustainability Report

7

Company: Nvidia

Market cap: US$1.15 trillion

HQ: Endeavor and Voyager, Santa Clara, California

LEED rating: Gold – 64

A shining example of sustainable design and innovation, AI chipmaker Nvidia’s impressive Silicon Valley headquarters includes two major construction projects — Endeavour, completed in 2018, and Voyager which opened in 2022.

In its 2022 sustainability report, Nvidia describes how both projects were built to LEED gold certification standards. The 500,000-square-foot Endeavour building was designed with high levels of energy efficiency at its heart. Among features, underfloor air distribution, air and waterside economisers and smart lighting systems all contribute to its acclaimed sustainability.

The walkway from the AI chipmaker’s Endeavor building to the newer Voyager (75,000-square-feet) is lined with trees and shaded by solar panels on aerial structures called the ‘trellis’ – this houses 390 KW of solar panels. And the towering glass front of the Voyager building the reflects the ‘trellis’ outdoors that provides shade to the front of the building.

The Voyager site incorporates biophilic design and includes Green Walls covered with native plants that freshen the air and absorb sound. The main light source throughout the day is natural light, reducing reliance on electric lighting by an estimated 40%.

The heat of Santa Clara summers is taken into account and the surrounding green areas (there are four acres of garden that separate the building) are filled with drought-tolerant trees and connected to a reclaimed water feed.

6

Company: Adobe

Market cap: US$ 274.19 billion

HQ: Founders Tower, San Jose, California

LEED rating: Gold – 66

Adobe Founders Tower is the first all-electric building of its scale in Silicon Valley

San Jose has been home to design software giant Adobe since 1996 and with the opening of Founders Tower this year, it adds 18 stories and 1.25 million square feet to Adobe’s corporate HQ. It also opened to a Gold LEED certification.

As the first all-electric building of its scale in Silicon Valley, Founders Tower embodies the company’s commitment to creativity, sustainability and inclusivity. Power is generated entirely by solar and wind energy.

The company describes this office as the “physical manifestation of what we believe the future of the workplace will be — sustainably built and run, optimised for hybrid, designed for community, adaptable, and resilient to change.” The space prioritises community and collaboration.

This commitment to sustainability also shows up in other parts of the building. The food hall here is the largest all-electric kitchen in North America, which helps contribute to more than 70% of Adobe’s total electricity needs being met by renewable energy. The company is confident that this will increase to 100% across all of its operations by 2025. Som 90% of daily waste is recycled or otherwise diverted from landfills.

The Founders Tower sits in good company alongside Adobe’s three other corporate towers that have also been LEED certified, including Adobe West, which was credited with platinum certification in 2009 for its high level of sustainability.

5

Company: Wells Fargo

Market cap: US$ 161.57 billion

HQ: Wells Fargo Tower, San Francisco, California

LEED rating: Gold – 71

With a goal of net zero by 2050, financial services giant Wells Fargo is working to help drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

The San Francisco HQ of Wells Fargo was awarded a Gold LEED certification in 2018, with the office’s sustainable innovation in design and green power scoring maximum points.

Among other features, the office was credited with a good score in Energy and Atmosphere, which includes optimisation of lighting power and lighting controls, and the process and tools by which they measure and verify their energy performance.

This isn’t the first LEED certified building for Wells Fargo. In 2011, its 250,000-square-feet site in Norfolk, Virginia was awarded gold standard. Both its innovation in design and efficient use of water and landscaping scored highly as part of the building’s recognition.

Wells Fargo Tower, San Francisco, California

With a goal of net zero by 2050, financial services giant Wells Fargo is working to help drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

The San Francisco HQ of Wells Fargo was awarded a Gold LEED certification in 2018, with the office’s sustainable innovation in design and green power scoring maximum points.

Among other features, the office was credited with a good score in Energy and Atmosphere, which includes optimisation of lighting power and lighting controls, and the process and tools by which they measure and verify their energy performance.

This isn’t the first LEED certified building for Wells Fargo. In 2011, its 250,000-square-feet site in Norfolk, Virginia was awarded gold standard. Both its innovation in design and efficient use of water and landscaping scored highly as part of the building’s recognition.

4

Company: Google

Market cap: US$1.65 trillion

HQ: Googleplex and Bay View, California

LEED rating: Platinum v4

Google has a commitment, to operate every hour of every day on carbon-free energy by 2030 and as such is prioritising renewable energy and maximising the solar potential of its buildings.

Google has previously claimed that 4.5 million square feet of its offices globally have been re-designed to meet LEED certification standards, and the tech giant has committed US$1.8 billion towards renewable energy projects.

As far back as 2007, the company installed more than 9,000 solar panels with an energy capacity of 1.6 megawatts on the Googleplex site. In 2017, Google also announced that its entire operations ran on 100% renewable energy.

Situated in the northeast corner of the complex, Google’s Bay View extension campus spans 1.1 million square feet, making it one of the world’s largest buildings to achieve LEED v4 Platinum certification.

This all-electric, net water positive campus comes with North America’s largest geothermal installation and an on-site recycling and stormwater management system. The campus incorporates biophilic design principles — like greenery, natural daylight and outdoor views from every desk — to improve the health and wellbeing of those inside. The ventilation system uses 100% outside air — a remarkable achievement when you consider that a typical system only uses around 20-30% of outside air

Other notable green features of the Googleplex include the choice of sustainable, durable building materials and a herd of goats that roam the site’s green areas to graze and fertilise the grounds — an approach that is just as efficient and more carbon friendly than lawn mowing.

The site’s green credentials also apply to how Google’s on-campus employees consume food. Along with a vegetable garden, many of the offerings on the cafe’s food menus make use of local organic foods. Café 150 also sources all of their ingredients within a 150-mile radius.

3

Company: Microsoft

Market cap: US$2.77 trillion

HQ: Esterra Park, Redmond, Washington

LEED rating: Platinum – 81

Nestled within a 175-acre Overlake Village neighbourhood in the Overlake area of Redmond, One Esterra Park is home to Microsoft headquarters.

In 2022, on the Redmond campus, Microsoft opened its first all-electric kitchen, a 12,200-square-feet food hall that runs nine foods stations and supports 1,000 meals a day and uses 100% renewable hydro power.

In its 2022 Sustainability Report, Microsoft says it intends “to construct all new kitchens with all-electric equipment and are developing retrofit plans for existing operations”.

The tech giant even released a new Dining All-Electric white paper to share lessons learned, technical details, and decision making.

Under its Energy and Atmosphere scoring by the LEED (2022), Microsoft’s foodhall earns 22 out of 25 on “optimizing energy performance”, and also earns a maximum score for its use of “low-emitting materials”.

Jodi Smith Westwater, senior services manager for Microsoft dining operations, told GeekWire that she hopes this office innovation will have “a ripple effect on culinary, restaurants, chefs, on the industry as a whole… Because if we can do it here with 1,000 transactions a day there’s really no reason anyone couldn’t do the same thing.”

2

Company: Apple

Market cap: US$3.01 trillion

HQ: Park Main Building, Cupertino, California

LEED rating: Platinum – 87

It was in 2017 when Apple went green with the opening of Apple Park, the main building of the tech giant’s California HQ.

So convinced was CEO Tim Cook of the building’s green credentials, prior to its opening, he said during New York Climate Week that it could be “the greenest building in the world”.

Dubbed the Spaceship, the U$5 billion project is the world’s largest naturally ventilated building and doesn’t require AC for nine months of the year. It contains some 4,300 hollow concrete slabs that help the building stay cool.

Accredited by LEED in 2019, the 175-acre headquarters is powered by 100% renewable energy, thanks to its 14 megawatt rooftop solar installation and 4 megawatts of biogas fuel cells.

The site is nourished with 9,000 drought-tolerant trees, with fruit and veg from some of the trees and plants served in the employee café, and the water that the office recycles helps to replace over 30 million gallons of what would be potable water used for everyday needs such as irrigation and toilet flushing. This even extends to support the water use of the nearby City of Cupertino.

Among other notable green features, the landscaping, which was designed with a leading Stanford University arborist to help restore a significant level of the area’s native plant life.

1

Company: Salesforce

Market cap: US$245.50 billion

HQ: Salesforce Tower, San Francisco, California

LEED rating: Platinum – 89

Since its completion in 2017, the 61-storey Salesforce Tower has been the tallest and one of the most iconic fixtures on San Francisco’s skyline. With a platinum LEED certification, the building combines an impressive stature with a deep commitment to sustainability and wellbeing.

LEED Core and Shell Certified Platinum, the tower uses 50% less energy per square foot than the median US office building and sources 100% renewable electricity.

This ecocentric design scores maximum LEED points for its innovation in design and water efficiency. It boasts America’s largest onsite water recycling system within any commercial high-rise – which reduces portable water usage by 7.8 million galleons — equivalent to 62.4 million water bottles.

The building’s innovative HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system allows employees on every floor to breathe in 100% outdoor air. Also, workers have personal thermal comfort control at their workstations and experience minimal noise disturbance from the under-floor air distribution due to the low-energy, low-velocity air supply.

On the Ohana Floor (Ohana means “intentional family” in Hawaiian), a sense of wellbeing prevails through the use biophilic design, including 128 different plant species fixed to columns.

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