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ADVANCED METRICS: Unilever's High-Tech Ultra-Sustainable HQ - STO Building Group
Unilever's newly renovated US headquarter involved many sustainable features, from daylighting and greenhouse gas reduction to water quality and biophilia.
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ADVANCED METRICS: Unilever’s High-Tech Ultra-Sustainable HQ

“Together we can change how the world does business.” That’s the big, bold message greeting visitors to Unilever’s website. In their newly renovated US headquarters, the global consumer goods company is quite visibly working toward that goal.

“For us, it’s all about sustainability, productivity, collaboration, agility and thriving in the more connected digital world that we live in today,” says Ian Dunning, Unilever’s North America service delivery director for workplace services.

Designed by Perkins + Will and developed by OVG Real Estate, Normandy Real Estate Partners and Mesirow Financial, the 325,000sf campus in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey was redesigned to align with Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan, which targets cutting the company’s environmental footprint in half by 2030.

“The campus was originally built in the 1960s so workplace efficiencies at that time were drastically different than today’s culture and potential energy goals,” says Kevin Herb, Structure Tone project executive. “The renovations were designed to cut water use, carbon emissions and total energy use by 50 percent, all while making it a more flexible, healthy and supportive workplace for employees.”

The project involved renovating five existing buildings and enclosing a courtyard into a sixth, now known as the Marketplace. Many of the design’s sustainable features cross into both programs, from daylighting and greenhouse gas reductions to water quality and biophilia, all of which support the project’s goals of achieving LEED Platinum and WELL Silver certification.

But the most advanced addition to the campus is its bGrid system, a smart technology system that helps the buildings most effectively and efficiently use resources—including people. In this system, the first of its kind in a US workplace, all employees have an option to enable an app on their mobile device that collects and stores data about their movements throughout the day, their temperature and lighting preferences and other factors. It then uses that data to group people and schedule meeting points to improve both building efficiency and employees’ sense of connection to each other and the campus.

“You come into work in the morning and look at your phone to see what areas are available for you,” says Herb. “If there aren’t enough people to fill the building that day, the building systems in certain areas will be throttled back to bare essentials.”

The system works through a complex series of sensors throughout the campus that measure different factors of the buildings’ uses and functions throughout the day. Each sensor is connected back to an IDF closet and then to the building’s data center, where computers process and analyze the data to adjust the building’s use accordingly. In all, incorporating the bGrid technology involved installing over 15,000 sensors throughout the buildings.

For such a large campus, making these upgrades across five buildings was a big job—with the added challenges of a very active, very large workplace. “There are close to 1,500 employees working on campus, who all need parking,” says Anthony LiSanti, Structure Tone project manager. “So with staff moving around and the construction crews on site, finding parking and space for our trailers and materials was like a giant game of Tetris.”

The total effort took just 17 months, a monumental feat for such a large project. After seeing the final results and how Unilever’s employees have responded to their new workplace, the entire team could not be more proud of the results.

“What Unilever and their team have accomplished has never been done in America,” Herb says.“Being part of a cutting-edge project like this, it’s exciting.”

Project Details
Size: 350,000sf
Client: Mesirow Financial, OVG/Normandy
Architect: Perkins + Will
MEP Engineer: AMA Consulting Engineers
Owner’s Rep: Cushman & Wakefield, The Cadence Group
Services: Construction Management
Sector: Commercial
Completion: November 2017

Photos courtesy of Garrett Rowland Photography.