Solar panels.

Solar panels.

In the gym.

Outdoor space for relaxing.

Outdoor space for relaxing.

Outdoor space for relaxing.

The kitchen.

In the gym.

In the gym.

The bike shop.

The bike shop.

The bike shop.

2012-07-25

Co.Exist

An Office Created For People Who Would Rather Be Outside

Imagine a kayak commute, or taking a break to try out the office climbing wall. At one Bay Area office of the company that includes The North Face, employees are kept happy by being kept active and outdoorsy.

What’s your dream office? Is it the one that doesn’t exist at all, or maybe the one that encourages you to work from home? If you fantasize about bouldering on your lunch break--and appreciate being in a zero-waste, net zero-energy environment--you might want to take a look at the soon-to-be-completed space in the slideshow above: the new Alameda, Calif. headquarters of VF Corporation's outdoor and action sports coalition brands, which include The North Face, Lucy, and Jansport.

These three brands currently house employees in a renovated warehouse elsewhere in the Bay Area; it’s a decent location, but one that doesn’t exactly encourage collaboration. It’s also inefficient, largely because of space under the two-story-high ceilings isn’t easy to heat and cool without expending huge amounts of energy. Now that VF’s outdoor brands are on good financial footing (especially The North Face), the corporation is working on a headquarters--set to be completed this summer--that was built with employee wish lists in mind. It shows.

Below, some of the amenities available at the new 160,000-square-foot complex (many of them suggested by an employee task force).

  • A large onsite garden that will grow things like kale, tomatoes, and basil. VF expects to grow so much that employees won’t even be able to consume all of it. Leftover will be donated to a local food bank. Employees will be encouraged to help out with the garden, but local volunteers will also pitch in. A side note: Originally, VF toyed with the idea of installing a volleyball court, but employees elected to grow a garden instead.
  • Lots of natural light. 90% of employees will have access to direct sunlight, and in many areas of the complex, the overhead lights can often be kept off. Bonus: All the windows in the complex open (this should be a given, but it isn’t always).
  • Opportunities for onsite fitness, including an indoor fitness area and yoga room, an outside training area for bootcamp, an outside bouldering space, and an outdoor gear rental and repair shop.
  • A cafe serving the vegetables grown in the garden, among other things.
  • Eventually, if employees are really lucky, the ability to kayak out into the water just outside the complex (VF would need to make sure this is feasible and legal first, but employees have been asking for it).
  • A convenient location for almost everyone. When VF first started thinking about the new complex, it "took employee addresses and mapped out where they were" to figure out an ideal spot, according to Steve Rendle, group president of VF’s Outdoor & Action Sports Americas.
  • The office space is inside out: executive offices are in the middle of the room, and other employees sit by the windows.

None of these perks were taken lightly; VF isn’t the kind of company to throw money around. "There was a lot of financial rigor involved," says Rendle. But VF’s outdoor business has grown in size dramatically over the past decade. That’s reason enough for employees to get an upgrade.

There’s at least one big money-saving tactic built into the headquarters: It was created with energy and waste efficiency. "It’s the right thing to do, but it also has to make business sense. It will save money," says Adam Mott, director of corporate sustainability at The North Face. To that end, VF is in the process of installing a series of solar systems (on the building roofs, on top of the carport, and on the building awnings) that will provide 100% of all energy needs. There is also a towering wind turbine that greets entrants to the site--but it’s mostly for show ("It’s a symbol of our commitment to sustainability," explains Mott).

Onsite EV charging stations and dedicated parking spaces look nice, but are mostly aspirational; Rendle admits that he’s not sure how many employees currently have an EV. Assuming the headquarters sticks around for awhile, those spots will eventually fill up.

The complex, built to achieve LEED Gold certification, will eventually have a recycling center that goes far beyond your average office. In addition to the soda cans and office paper that are normally recycled, VF will have the ability to take e-waste, lightbulbs, batteries, plastic bags, and even clothing (for recycling or donation). The ultimate goal: a zero-waste facility.

VF is far from the only corporation to have an environmentally and outdoors-friendly campus. New Belgium Brewing Company, for example, buys clean energy, powers itself partially with methane from an on-site water treatment plant--and it offers perks like free bicycles and volleyball.

But the idea of a company keeping employees active, innovating, and considering the environment shouldn’t be a novel one. We hope, in other words, that this becomes a trend well outside the outdoor apparel industry.

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8 Comments

  • Alex Fisher

    Nice to have a bike shop on site, and a location a short walk from bus service. But...yeah. I'm one of those "yeah, but..." guys) the exterior shows the same-old, car-centered style of exterior design. To get people out of their cars for the commute, an effective tool is leveling e playing field for those of us who bike to work. For example, moving e parking further from the doors by only 125 feet. J

  • rosie siman

    the campus looks so high tech - until the windows computers come into the picture. why are they such eye sores? 

  • Lance Kozlowski

    Lucky folks! Of course, this all works best in a temperate climate like the Bay Area. In many areas of the country, so many windows would be a real energy bite, and opening them only admits hot and muggy air or freezing cold. I love the idea that the employees would rather use space and energy on gardening rather than sports. Gardening has huge paybacks in mental health, let alone the fresh food. And how wonderful to invite in the community to help! Now, if they could only provide reasonably priced housing nearby, to save on commuting, the real culprit in unsustainable living. 

  • Joy

    nice office concept and a nice post too Ariel. However, I wonder if such a business work area can be implemented for every sector.