Three High-Rise Towers Make Green a Reality

Oct. 1, 2007
Greener Facilities Grand Prize: Adobe Towers, San Jose, CA

A tireless effort to maximize building efficiencies has transformed the Adobe Towers into a model for sustainable operations.

The San Jose, CA, headquarters of Adobe Systems Inc. consists of three commercial high-rise office buildings: West Tower, East Tower, and Almaden Tower, completed in 1996, 1998, and 2003, respectively. They total 989,358 square feet and rest atop 938,473 square feet of parking garage. The architects weren't thinking in terms of sustainability when they designed the Adobe Towers. Instead, they looked for the best ways to make sure they were high-quality, long-lasting buildings. "It was important to make sure [Adobe] had great facilities that people would really love to work in," explains Bill Valentine, HOK, lead architect on the first two towers.

Adobe has consistently taken a proactive approach toward resource conservation and sustainability. In 2001, when California was experiencing rolling blackouts and spikes in energy prices, commercial users were asked to reduce energy usage by 10 percent. Adobe and its facilities management partner, Cushman & Wakefield, developed a strategy to address the issue in the two existing towers. In the process, they discovered that current implementation of some of their energy-saving initiatives had already reduced energy usage, and that they had the capability to exceed the minimum reduction. Non-critical lighting fixtures had been removed and high-pressure sodium lamps had already been exchanged for fluorescent tubes. Each desk was equipped with a motion-activated power strip that shut down the computer monitor and task lighting if the desk was unoccupied. "That's kind of when it started turning into a formal program to see how much we could accomplish and how far we could take it," says George Denise, general manager of facilities for Cushman & Wakefield at Adobe. "We decided to raise the bar, see how far we could go, and how much we could do; the more we did, the more we raised the bar."

All three towers had earned ENERGY STAR® labels, so Randy Knox, global director of real estate at Adobe, suggested applying for LEED certification as another way to mark energy-efficiency achievements. As the project team worked to meet LEED-EB benchmarks, they identified problems, found solutions, and created new ways to maximize building efficiency.

To date, the team has completed 64 energy-saving initiatives (referred to as "projects"). Twenty-eight (28) of those fall into the category of "load management." When Adobe decided to begin the LEED certification process, sustainability experts and team members examined building systems and operations to find places where excess energy was being used. For example, exhaust fans in the parking garage were running 24/7. After analysis, it was determined that the fans could run for just 3 hours during the morning commute and 3 hours during the evening commute to keep air quality above minimum standards. Determining appropriate settings for temperature and motion-sensor timers increased building efficiency and provided a more comfortable environment for occupants.

It's important to understand where energy is going and to meter as often as possible, explains Celia Hammond, CTG Energetics, LEED consultant for the Adobe Towers project. "Then you can see where you're having issues, you can notice trends, and then use the data." One of the project's highlights was the development of a Web-based building monitoring and control system. The Intelligent Building Interface System (IBIS) allows Adobe staff to monitor and operate many different building controls with a single program. It also displays electricity, water, gas, UPS systems, data centers, and standby generators in real time. The staff has used the system to identify and correct problems, resulting in annual savings of $98,000.

The IBIS uses Adobe products to present information. When the program is opened, it displays a detailed, 3-D image of the towers. The user first clicks on a tower to bring it to the foreground. Then, the user can select a single floor within the building and the image will rotate so that the floorplan, complete with office numbers, is visible. Through the IBIS, staff can make lighting or temperature adjustments for different zones, building floors, an entire tower, or globally.

New products and technologies have also improved restroom facilities. The project team was interested in installing waterless urinals, but building codes did not clearly address their use. Cushman & Wakefield made a presentation to the City of San Jose's Building Department and, as a result, the Adobe Towers were the first buildings in the city to receive approval for installing waterless urinals. Automated flush valves, faucets, and soap and paper-towel dispensers conserve water, minimize waste, and provide a safe, touch-free restroom experience.

Outdoors, sub-surface drip irrigation has been retrofitted in almost all landscaping. It is approximately 90-percent effective when compared to spray irrigation systems (which are only 50- to 70-percent effective). Adobe uses two satellite-based evapo-transpiration (eT) controllers to regulate irrigation. The eT controllers communicate with local weather stations through wireless technology and adjust water flow according to local weather, even postponing irrigation if rain is in the forecast. To minimize the need for irrigation, drought-tolerant dwarf tall fescue was chosen for certain spaces; "no-mow" red creeping fescue was also planted.

Adobe has spent $1.4 million on upgrades, renovations, and new installations; received $389,000 in rebates; and realized a savings of $1.2 million per year, translating to an average project payback period of 9.5 months and a ROI of 121 percent. Domestic water usage has been reduced by 22 percent, CO2 emissions by 22.3 percent, electricity by 37 percent, natural gas by 41 percent, and landscape irrigation by 76 percent. Eighty-seven (87) percent of solid waste is diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting.

Denise explains that the Adobe Towers project stands out for two reasons: 1) The team has completed so many energy-saving projects, and 2) the team has documented the projects carefully so that others in the industry can see what Adobe has accomplished and decide if it's right for them. More than 40 organizations have toured the Adobe Towers to learn about the initiatives. Adobe developed a documentary of its experience titled "The Road to Platinum." More than 800 copies have been distributed, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) uses the video in its LEED-EB workshops. The Adobe Towers have also earned 33 awards and recognitions. In July 2006, the West Tower became the world's first commercial office building to be awarded the LEED Platinum certification. Less than 1 year later, the East and Almaden Towers, completed in 1998 and 2003, respectively, were also awarded Platinum certifications - the USGBC's highest recognition.

Maureen Orsborn is a contributing editor at Buildings magazine.

Judges' Comments

"Adobe Towers stand as a role model for sustainable building and sustainable philosophies for the future - particularly for those skeptics who suggest that green building practices aren't cost effective. Such an enormous
undertaking is best accomplished by looking at the details individually and tackling those first. It's amazing what can be accomplished. By communicating effectively and taking a back-to-basics approach to good management practices, the Cushman & Wakefield and Adobe team have made it clear that greening a building isn't only good for the environment, it's also good for business."

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