Super Green-Washing Silicon Valley, Not Super-Green or Sustainable Developments

Business in Silicon Valley is booming again and the commercial real estate sector is hot, especially from Palo Alto to Santa Clara and up the Peninsula all the way to San Francisco. The three current giants of Silicon Valley, Apple, Google and Facebook have all recently announced new mono-development, monolithic campuses in Silicon Valley. Apple’s mammoth “Donut From Outer-space” planned for Cupertino, but bordering a suburban West San Jose residential neighborhood has received most of the publicity because, well, it’s Apple and it is massive: 2.8 million SF.

In comparison, the proposed Facebook West Campus expansion project is a bit less than 500K SF while the planned new Google campus on NASA Ames property will be about 1 million SF.

On March 14, 2013, Peter Burrows published an article for Bloomberg Businessweek titled, “Silicon Valley Tech Giants Plan Super-Green Campuses”. As a certified Sustainable Facilities Professional, I would characterize these developments as Green-Washing, not Green or sustainable developments.

Mr. Burrows lists all sorts of green features that each development will allegedly offer, but they are each the same old, tired mono-use, monolithic developments to corporate “greatness” that have been around for 50 years For example, Apple has announced that its new campus will contain solar panels and fuel cells that will generate most of the site’s electrical needs. This is a nice green feature that addresses the supply side of energy for the campus, the donut-shaped design of the main building completely ignores the site, including how to best minimize solar gain in the summer and maximize it in the winter. This means that Apple will miss out on a tremendous opportunity to show how to design a large complex center that will require a minimal amount of energy (demand) to heat and cool it. As far as I know (and nothing was cited in the article) neither Facebook or Google address solar citing in their new developments aside from designing “a parklike roof complete with mature oak trees” and “landscaped green roofs” respectively.

Sustainable facilities also mean reducing waste and the Apple project will produce a tremendous amount of waste as they are planning to demolish approximately 2.65 million square feet of existing office, research and development buildings and build an office, research and development building comprising approximately 2.8 million square feet plus a few other support buildings on the site. Such a waste as I would have liked to see a truly sustainably-minded architect see how most of the existing buildings could have been creatively adapted for Apple rather than just tossing it like an old iPhone for the latest model.

Then there are the 2,300 underground parking spaces plus the 5,800 space parking garage that will be required because Apple chose a site with virtually now public transportation in the middle of Silicon Valley. This isn’t totally Apple’s fault, but a serious problem in Silicon Valley caused by a vision in the 1960s to emulate LA’s sprawl and build an Exurb rather than properly plan an urban environment. The automobile-based transportation system and the poorly designed and fragmented public transportation systems have forced workers to use their cars for commuting as well as every other activity in Silicon Valley. For Facebook’s Barn-On-The-Bay, they are planning for “drivers will stow their cars on the ground floor of the 425,000-square-foot edifice” because again, they are choosing to build nowhere near a public transportation system. Like Facebook, Google’s new campus will be mono-use development by the bay with no VTA Lightrail or Caltrains stations nearby. To their credit, I had heard that Google originally wanted to build a mixed use development, including housing but once short-sighted city of Mountain View turned that down we will have another mono-use, monolithic development with no connection to the surrounding community like the planned Apple Donut from outer space.

It would have been great if these companies could have invested some of the money they are spending on their corporate monuments towards an expansion or improvement of our public transportation systems to help create the type of environment that their talented young employees want – a true urban environment, like San Francisco. Based on what I have seen thus far from these three developments, none of them will change that and actually contribute towards the 1960s LA sprawl that Silicon Valley has aspired to for over 50 years.

An addendum to this story six months later – The Cupertino city council is scheduled to vote on Apple’s donut campus on October 1, 2013. According to an Article in the San Jose Mercury News, they quoted a proponent of the campus who states, “This campus will be an icon, it will be one of the seven wonders of the tech world,” said Rob Enderle, a San Jose-based technology analyst who heads Enderle Group.

Yes, future generations will look back at this as the epitome of unsustainable design.

“It will be a huge advantage for Silicon Valley,” Enderle said. “The campus will attract a lot of tourist traffic.”

It will certainly attract a lot of new traffic, which is one of my top objections to this project; do we really want “tourist traffic” as well?


Why Title 24 Is Not Good Enough

Optimized Solutions for Lighting – Today and for the Future

By Ed Novak, CFM SFP

Shedding a Little Light / Background

It wasn’t that long ago that lighting controls simply consisted of a switch to turn a light or a set of lights on and off. Title 24 has been with us for a while with the first California Energy Commission standards for energy conservation released in 1978. The 2008 Building Energy Efficiency Standards are the current standards for lighting controls, which have been in effect since January 1, 2010.  Section 131 of the standard requires that all indoor lighting systems be equipped with separate automatic controls to shut off lighting: you can’t just have a physical switch anymore. In addition, the interior lighting for commercial spaces must also have:

  • Automatic Time Switch Control Devices
  • Occupant Sensors, Motion Sensors, or Vacancy Sensors

While everyone supports improved energy efficiency, most of us would rather not have to pay the extra costs that the regulations mandate with new construction. The additional costs for complying with the minimum requirements to meet Title 24 have not always added the same amount or more value in energy efficiency that most investors would find acceptable.

Before I get into that, let’s review the recent history of lighting controls technology. The First generation of automated lighting controls consisted primarily of a “Building Sweep” technology with added circuit-level timers to ensure the lights were off after hours. The timer had a set time and did not have the sense to know if anybody was in the building. These systems no longer meet current Title 24 requirements.

The Second generation of lighting controls (“Occupancy and Daylight Detection”) attempted to solve these weaknesses by providing room-level occupancy sensors. This strategy did a better job with private offices but did little to improve the energy efficiency in open floor plans and could not respond to individual preferences.

Lighting technology with “Zone Level Sensing with Centralized Network Controls” was introduced in the Third generation systems, which attempted to improve the granularity of control by providing for addressable fixtures but did so with some significant limitations. Extensive design and commissioning are required to implement these systems correctly, thus rendering it an expensive option. In addition, they use zone-based sensors which are incapable of responding to true lighting needs and thus provide limited savings. These systems require centralized control thereby relying on an operable network for daily operations.

Now a Fourth generation in lighting management exists, which consists of autonomous sensors wirelessly connected to a flexible control system. Deploying addressable sensors that collect real-time occupancy, ambient light, and temperature information and autonomously control fixture behavior based on those readings for every fixture in the building creates a building system that provide detailed information about the operation of every square foot of the building and control of every light within it.

Why just complying with Title 24 isn’t good enough

When designing space for a new project, we as facility managers have to make numerous choices about the design, including the building infrastructure. When it comes to lighting controls, you don’t need to install a Fourth generation system, you can still get by with a Second generation system that will meet the minimum requirements for Title 24. So, why would you want to go beyond the minimal requirements? There are several reasons, including:

  • Additional Energy and Cost Savings – 60% to 70% is achievable. See Figure 1 on how an advanced lighting controls system can save energy and money.
  • The ability to mine real-time ambient light, motion, and temperature readings from every light fixture and deploy it to other energy services and systems including HVAC, demand response, and security systems
  • Easier implementation when zero design is required and wireless devices are installed
  • A more sustainable solution that will maximize occupant productivity, comfort, and safety plus qualify for additional LEED points.

Recently, a technology company was developing plans for a new approximately 100K SF facility and the design team had specified a typical Title 24 Minimum Requirements lighting controls system. Once the facility manager became aware of the technological advantages of a 4th Generation system, he asked for a proposal and a cost comparison between the two options.

While the 4th Generation system would cost approximately 10% more (after rebates and federal tax credits) it is the better option because it will:

  • Increase Operating Profits for the company because the payback from energy savings is less than one year payback compared to the Title 24 minimum system
  • Improve Cash Flow after Year 1 because the energy savings for every year is greater than the additional cost of the 4th Generation system
  • Result in a Higher Quality Work Environment by providing the facilities organization with greater lighting control, resulting in increased comfort and flexibility for building occupants. This can result in higher productivity as well as higher attraction and retention of talent
  • Increase the number of  points that they were seeking for LEED certification

Where the Savings are –  typical breakdown on how an advanced lighting control system can save energy and money versus a system that just meets Title 24 minimum requirements shows that:

  • 40% to 50%. is via Occupancy Control
  • 30% to 40% is via Task Tuning
  • 10% is via Daylight Harvesting
  • 10% is via Lumen Maintenance

Note – actual saving amounts vary by building.

Title 24 changes for 2014

ImageMore changes to Title 24 are coming. California’s new Building Energy Efficiency Standards take effect in 2014. They make nonresidential buildings 30 percent more efficient than the current 2008 standards.

Adaptive lighting—lighting that automatically dims or shuts off when it’s not needed—represents one of the largest near-term opportunities for energy savings, and its inclusion in the state’s building code marks vital progress. The California Energy Commission projects the non-residential standards alone will save the state 372 GWh every year. Hopefully, they will also pave the way for other states pursuing climate goals.

In all enclosed areas larger than 100 SF, installed luminaires will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Multi-level lighting control: Each luminaire must have either at least four steps of control, or continuous dimming, depending on the lamp type – simple on/off switches will no longer be allowed.
  • Have at least one of the following types of controls for each luminaire:
    • Manual continuous dimming and on/off control
    • Lumen maintenance, a strategy used to provide a precise, constant level of lighting from a lighting system
    • Tuning, the ability to set maximum light levels at a lower level than full lighting power.
    • Automatic daylighting controls, which sense increased levels of ambient light and automatically dim luniaires
    • Demand responsive controls

In addition, offices less than 250 SF, conference rooms, and classrooms, Vacancy Sensors will now be required instead of Occupancy Sensors. Vacancy sensors must be  manually turned on, whereas an Occupancy Sensor will turn itself on the moment it senses motion. Once lights under either Occupancy Sensor or Vacancy Sensor control are on the sensors will sense motion and will time out and shut off when motion is no longer sensed.

The new codes also require more extensive daylight harvesting controls, which must be implemented into virtually every office or commercial space with skylights or windows.  In addition to connecting all skylit luminaires to fully functional automatic daylighting controls, all primary sidelit lumniaes must also be controlled, up from half in the 2008 codes.  These controls must leverage the multi-level control steps mandated for all luminaires.

One of the most sweeping changes in the 2013 codes is the requirement to install granular lighting controls in parking garage areas.  For the first time these spaces, which have traditionally run their lighting 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, will be required to install occupancy sensors with three control steps, and with no more than 500 watts of connected load per sensor.  In addition, garages with more than 36 square feet of glazing or opening must equip luminaires in the primary and side lit daylight zones with automatic daylight controls.  Finally, parking garages’ allowable lighting power density has been reduced by 30%, from .3 watts per square foot to .2 watts per square foot.

Most retrofit projects will be required to meet new-construction standards for both lighting power density (LPD) and controls. The only exceptions are projects replacing fewer than 40 ballasts or which will address less than 10% of the luminaires in an enclosed space.


Lighting controls technology continues to evolve along with the requirements mandated by Title 24. As a facilities manager, you need to make sure that you stay abreast of these changes to ensure that you make the best choices for your employees and other stakeholders of your facilities. Just meeting the minimum requirements for Title 24 is usually not the best choice even if it may have the lowest first costs.

When considering capital projects, you should always find answers to questions that affect the Triple Bottom Line:

  • How will each option effect / benefit the occupants of the facility?
  • Which options are best for the environment, particularly those that reduce or eliminate waste and excess use of resources?
  • When looking at the options from an investment point of view, what are the expected rates of return for each option?

Lastly, your vendors and peers can help you, but you may need to press them for more information. Don’t just accept a design choice because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”. Find out why someone may be recommending one option instead of another. Do some research on the options: check references, obtain financial comparisons between options and meet with lighting controls company leaders to find out about future development plans that may provide you with additional rewards down the road.