Apple says its new headquarters is the greenest building in the world.

Apple’s New Headquarters With 11,000 Parking Spaces Could Not Be the Greenest Building in the World

Apple’s New Headquarters With 11,000 Parking Spaces Could Not Be the Greenest Building in the World

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
April 12 2017 7:04 PM

Apple Says Its New Headquarters Could Be the Greenest Building in the World. Not With 11,000 Parking Spaces!

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Looks nice but how do you get there?

Courtesy Apple.

This month, Apple starts the long move into Apple Park, its new, ring-shaped headquarters designed by Foster + Partners.

Henry Grabar Henry Grabar

Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox.

Popularly known as the Spaceship, the building has ambitions to match. With 2.8 million square feet of office space, Apple Park has more interior space than the Empire State Building. It will cost $5 billion. It is clad in the world’s largest panels of curved glass. The project description submitted to the city of Cupertino boasts of an impressive arsenal of sustainable technologies. Apple and San Francisco are competing for trees, since Apple is planting more than 6,000 of them. Apple Park will be the world’s largest naturally ventilated building, the company said in February, and is projected “to require no heating or air conditioning for nine months of the year.” Tim Cook said it could be the “greenest building in the world.”

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You can bet, with talk like that, that Apple and Norman Foster are expecting LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest award for sustainable construction.

And yet: The complex will also include a whopping 11,000 parking spaces.

The Economist calculates that “in all, the new headquarters will contain 318,000 square meters of offices and laboratories. The car parks will occupy 325,000 square meters.”

Having read through the project description Apple submitted to the town of Cupertino, I’m not sure I see how the Economist arrived at that number. But there’s no doubt 11,000 spaces—even if Apple has arrayed them, at great expense, in car parks and underground lots that decrease land coverage for parking by 400,000 square feet, as the company boasts—is a lot. It’s 1.8 million square feet for the spaces alone, to say nothing of the ramps and access roads that make them usable.

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The Economist uses this as evidence that parking minimums for new construction, of the type that exist in Cupertino and virtually every sizable American jurisdiction, are inane. That is true. They and other road widenings required from big developers feed a vicious cycle of automobile dependency. They prevent the kind of pedestrian environments that would allow people to not drive.

It’s also true that Apple is remarkably dedicated to minimizing car use among its employees. There was a good piece about this in the San Jose Mercury News in February:

Currently, the main Apple campus has a 28 percent transportation demand management rate, which means that 28 percent of employees at that campus use an alternate mode of transportation, other than a single-occupancy vehicle, to get to work, according to the presentation. The city is expecting Apple to keep that same percentage at the new campus, but is hoping to ultimately see it rise to 34 percent, with potential penalties in place if Apple does not comply.

One third of workers finding alternative methods to reach a suburban office park next to a major highway? That’s really a lot! The company boasts an extensive shuttle network, provisions for cyclists, and all that.

And yet: How much credit can we give Apple? Once it picked this massive Cupertino parcel for its headquarters, it all but obligated the majority of its employees to drive to work alone. There’s just no other efficient way to get people around in America’s low-density suburbs.

Treehugger’s Lloyd Alter pointed out the center’s autocentrism when Tim Cook made his green building boast, noting that buildings can’t be judged without the transportation choices they require.

For the first time in 40 years, transportation is a larger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. than electric power. How green can a building be if it forces its employees to drive to work?