Microsoft, Google, Etsy retrofits raise scale of Petal certifications

Etsy, Brooklyn, Petal certification, Garrett Rowland, Gensler

Two record-setting Petal certified renovations and an even bigger one announced last month at the Living Future 2017 unConference represent a significant increase in scale for the Living Building Challenge.

All three are sleek office retrofits by technology companies focused on creating healthy, productive workplaces. In April, Etsy’s nearly 200,000-square-foot Brooklyn headquarters became the largest LBC Petal certified project. Then, in May, Google’s seven-story, 237,000-square-foot Midwest office in Chicago was Petal certified — making it the largest. And finally, at the conference, International Living Future Institute CEO Amanda Sturgeon announced that Microsoft is going for Petal certification of a 640,000-square-foot Silicon Valley campus comprised mostly of existing buildings.

Petal certification requires a project to attain at least three of the seven Petals in the Living Building Challenge, which is operated by ILFI. Fully certified Living Buildings must attain all seven Petals.

In an interview after the conference, Sturgeon said the three tech-company projects are at the leading edge in a new stage for the decade-old Living Building Challenge.

“We started off with these 6,000-square-foot projects. Since the (52,000-square-foot) Buillitt Center there’s been a real change in scale,” she said. “In this third wave, there’s more interest from corporations.”

That interest is being driven by a variety of building sector trends, including the plummeting cost of solar and the healthy building movement, as well as the emphasis that many high-tech companies place on sustainability.

But Sturgeon also credits the Obama administration for “setting in motion a new sustainability movement that’s just getting up on it’s legs.” Since the change of administrations in Washington, she says, business leaders concerned about such issues as climate change have doubled down on their sustainability commitments. At the same time, ILFI has placed more of an emphasis on marketing attracted large companies to the LBC standard.

“I think we’ll get more and more of the for-profits in sort of the Google and Etsy space,” she said. “The mainstream real estate holder — they’re going to take a while. They’re not the leaders.”

Google earned the Place, Materials and Beauty petals. Etsy attained those three petals plus Health & Happiness. Sturgeon told an audience at the Living Future conference that Microsoft intends “to focus on the Water Petal and to see how far they can get with the Living Building Challenge,” 

Overall, in the year before last mont’s conference, ILFI increased by nearly two-thirds the number of buildings certified under its various certification programs. A fair chunk of those new certifications was related to a one-time transition to the Zero Energy standard. Seven buildings were certified under Net Zero Energy, which ILFI is phasing out in favor of ZE. Another seven buildings were certified under ZE; those seven buildings already had been verified as “Net Zero Energy” by the New Building Institute, which is partnering with ILFI on the ZE program.

In addition, there were four fully full Living Building Challenge certifications and 11 Petal certifications. Overall, certifications rose by 29 from 44 to now total 73.

Photo above: Etsy selected the work of many of its sellers for furnishings and finishes in its Petal winning headquarters. Image by Garrett Rowland, courtesy of Gensler.

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