Amazon’s HQ2 Officially Opens With Focus on Sustainability

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Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2) held its official opening Thursday in Arlington, Va., and the e-commerce giant touted that Metropolitan Park will be one of the most climate-friendly developments seen in the region.

“HQ2 was built with sustainability at its core,” Holly Sullivan, Amazon (AMZN)’s vice president of economic development, said during the ribbon-cutting event.

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The two Met Park buildings are made with low-carbon materials, feature a variety of green spaces, including 2 acres of green roofs and an urban farm, and will be powered with 100 percent renewable energy from a solar farm in Virginia.

In particular, the construction materials used in the 2.1-million-square-foot complex included low-carbon concrete and mass timber to reduce the embodied carbon. The result is that Met Park will have 20 percent less of a carbon footprint in its concrete structures compared to the industry baseline, per the company. 

On the operational side, the buildings are designed to minimize the operational carbon footprint via electrified energy-efficient protocols and advanced ways to reduce water. In fact, Amazon completely eliminated the use of fossil fuels within HQ2 for daily operations and runs with zero operational carbon emissions, the company said.

To accomplish that, HQ2 will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy and will utilize  24 percent less energy than a comparable new office building, the company noted. HQ2 is powered by 82 megawatts from a solar farm in Pittsylvania County, which is expected to generate 172,500 megawatt hours of renewable energy annually.

Within the buildings, the HVAC systems that heat and cool the space, the water heaters that serve the sinks and showers, and even the food service equipment used in the kitchens are powered fully from electricity.

Met Park is also on track to be the largest LEEDv4 Platinum building in the U.S., the highest level of LEED certification available.

The Met Park features a meeting center (known to Amazonians as “the Center of Energy”) whose ceiling is constructed with cross-laminated timber and supported by 10 70-foot-long glue-laminated timber beams, which doesn’t absorb and store carbon the way most construction wood does.

HQ2 has 50 percent water savings below building code thanks to low-flow water fixtures and using captured rainwater and recycled gray water in its cooling tower and toilets.  

Met Park has 2 acres of landscaped green roofs with native plantings, and eight of the buildings’ 19 landscaped terraces provide amenities ranging from outdoor meeting spaces and dog runs to an urban farm. On one of the terraces, the Amazon horticulture team is leading a program that partners with a local organization, Love and Carrots, to grow, produce and deliver the produce to a local nonprofit.  

Amazon has also ensured that the 50,000 square feet of retail space at Met Park will be occupied by tenants that work to reduce their own carbon impact. For instance, as part of the leasing process, prospective tenants worked with Amazon to move away from fossil fuel consumption and explored electrification. As a result, 100 percent of occupants are all-electric, including restaurants and food services. 

“We took on these challenges to find ways to decarbonize Amazon’s real estate portfolio in order to meet our Climate Pledge commitment,” John Schoettler, Amazon’s vice president of global real estate and facilities, said. “We also know that if we can do this, we can help drive change across industries and propel us all forward in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Met Park exemplifies carbon-reduction solutions and energy-efficiency enhancements that are possible today.”

Employees were first welcomed into Met Park last month, but Thursday marked the official opening. By fall, all employees are expected to be working in the building up to four days a week, according to Schoettler.

In March, Amazon paused construction of the second phase of HQ2, PenPlace, which consists of three 22-story office towers, and the Helix, a 350-foot tall corporate conference center and indoor garden, which mirrors the plant-filled orbs in Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. Amazon acquired the property from developer JBG Smith last summer for $198 million. 

It’s still unclear when work on PenPlace will start up again, but Amazon has said the company is on track to begin work next year. 

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.