VF Outdoor comes to Alameda, leaves electric bill behind

VF Outdoor comes to Alameda, leaves electric bill behind

Michele Ellson

As VF Outdoor sets up shop in Alameda this month, they’ll become one of the largest private employers on the Island. And their new home will soon become the first corporate campus in the Bay Area to generate all of its own electricity.

“It’s really exciting to see a company come to Alameda and do more than they’re required to do,” Planning Board member Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said when updated plans for the campus were presented to the board on June 25.

The company, whose workers had their first full day in their new Alameda digs last week, planted 470 workers managing its North Face, JanSport and lucy brands on a 160,000-sqaure-foot campus at Harbor Bay Business Park. The original plans approved by the city had the company’s offices generating 10 percent of their own electricity, a city staff report on the project showed. But the company now plans to install solar panels atop its offices, with panels covering the campus’ rooftops and carport.

“Central to VF Outdoor’s culture is a passion for the outdoors and a commitment to preserving our world’s natural playgrounds. This commitment includes investing in renewable energy wherever we can in order to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on fossil fuels,” said Adam Mott, director of sustainability for The North Face and the head of a sustainability task force for the move. Plans for the campus relied heavily on employee input, the company said in a press release.

The system will generate 1.15 million kilowatt hours of power in its first year and is expected to be complete by October.

In addition to the solar panels, the campus was built with a host of energy-saving features including thick walls and dual-pane, glazed windows; a cool, white roof and energy-efficient lighting; and power-generating wind turbines and solar sunshades over the campus’ window openings. It also has a heating and cooling system that combines old-school evaporative cooling with state-of-the-art digital controls to reduce the need for mechanical cooling.

The projects are intended to reduce the buildings’ heat gain and the power needed to cool them, and those and other design features could gain the campus LEED Gold status. The solar system could earn the campus LEED Platinum status, which is the highest energy efficiency status a green building project can attain.

The company’s original plans for the campus, which sits at 2701 Harbor Bay Parkway and offers views of downtown San Francisco and San Francisco Bay, had called for a small edible garden and basketball and volleyball courts. But the new plans call for a larger garden and outdoor climbing wall (to be built after its designer returns from a trek on Mount Everest).

“We firmly believe with the right planning, these features will become signature features on an already beautiful outdoor, waterfront campus,” said Joe Ernst of SRM Associates, which is part of a joint venture developing the 13.7-acre project for the company, in a letter to the city.

In an interview, Ernst said the company had always planned to build the solar array and that new and more attractive financing options – along with the energy-saving features that reduced the campus’s power needs – helped VF bring them online sooner than expected.

The project’s estimated cost when the Planning Board signed off on it in 2010 was $48.75 million; the company’s reps did not provide a more recent figure. But the company received a design grant for the campus’s evaporative cooling system, called an IDEC, and will also qualify for a “significant” rebate for exceeding state energy savings standards.

“It’s really remarkable,” Meredith Owens, Alameda Municipal Power’s energy management supervisor, said of VF’s new campus, which she toured recently. “They have made a substantial investment in this building.”

The building’s heating and cooling and lighting systems will help it exceed state energy efficiency standards by 40 percent, according to a fact sheet submitted to the city.

The business park is home to Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Semifreddi’s, two other companies whose corporate homes have major built-in energy saving features, and the Alameda Free Library’s main library gained a 67.2-kilowatt solar system in 2011 that provides about 20 percent of its power. But Owens said VF’s project will be the biggest energy efficiency effort she’s seen in her 19 years on the job at AMP.

“This is huge,” Owens said.

The campus’s first phase, which includes four two-story buildings and an amenity building with a private café that will serve food from the campus’s garden, a fitness center and executive offices, were completed in June, and employees moved in last week. A fifth two-story building is planned, though a construction date has not yet been announced.