In practice: Salesforce’s largest US blackwater recycling system

As part of a move to redefine its business purpose through staff well-being and sustainability, Salesforce has used its flagship San Francisco headquarters to champion water efficiency in an area notorious for severe droughts.

The Challenge

Salesforce, the global cloud computing company, has already achieved a net-zero greenhouse gas emission target 33 years ahead of its 2050 deadline. But with Salesforce expected to become a $100bn organisation within the next three years, the company wanted a new headquarters that better reflected its values of staff wellbeing and sustainability.

But opening a new headquarters in San Francisco, where Salesforce East and Salesforce West were working, required careful consideration to the ongoing concerns over the Californian droughts, which led to the death of more than 100 million trees in the region.

The Solution

Last week, the Salesforce Tower officially opened. The 1.4 million square foot skyscraper consists of 61 stories and is the tallest office building west of Chicago and the 10th tallest building in the US.

It will act as a focal point in the 145-acre development that will also include residential housing, hotels, retailers and a 5.4-acre public rooftop park – fitted with walking trails, gardens and ponds – accessible from the roof of Salesforce Tower. Salesforce will occupy more than half of the building, with the remaining floors let to other businesses.

By the end of 2018, the building will house the largest commercial blackwater recycling system in the US – as well as the first installation of its type in California. Salesforce decided on the system after extensively monitoring the impacts of the California drought.

Blackwater systems work by filtering water that drains from toilets, urinals, kitchens, rooftop rainwater and cooling tower collections through a centralised water treatment centre. From there, the water is recirculated through a separate piping system to act as a reusable water source for non-potable uses in the building, including toilet flushing and drip irrigation.

Blackwater systems act in a similar way to greywater varieties, with the main difference being that Salesforce’s blackwater system can process water from toilets that come with many contaminants.

Provided by Australian-based Aquacell, the blackwater system will reduce the tower’s local water use by 7.8 million gallons annually, equating to around 30,000 gallons daily. As a result, the system will reduce the building’s water footprint by 76%. Again, this is equivalent to the yearly water consumption of 16,000 local residents.

Commenting on the project, the US Green Building Council’s chief executive Mahesh Ramanujam said: “This is a major milestone for green building within the United States. Salesforce has long been a leader in sustainability, but today’s announcement sets a new standard and provides a blueprint for how companies, regardless of building ownership, can innovate on green building practices.

“We are grateful to have Salesforce pioneer this blackwater system and look forward to a day when it’s commonplace for all commercial high-rises.”

The Cost

The total cost of construction for Salesforce Tower surpassed the $1bn barrier. While the costs of the blackwater project are yet to be disclosed, Salesforce has been incentivised to install it.

The system was fitted in collaboration with the City of San Francisco and Boston Properties making it the first partnership in the US between a city government, a building owner and a tenant to support blackwater reuse in a commercial high-rise building.

Firstly, building regulations in the area require buildings that exceed a certain height to invest in greywater recycling systems for non-potable water consumption. Secondly, local utility firms offer grants of up to $250,000 for business that invest in the technology for buildings larger than 100,000 square feet, provided that building saves at least one million gallons of potable water each year for at least eight years.

Money through this scheme is currently awarded during different phases. Monetary gains can be made after the design is approved, when the grey or blackwater system is connected, and once its performance has been validated over a certain time period.

Wider benefits

As well as delivering demonstrable water savings, the pre-certified LEED Platinum Salesforce Tower is on course to become the highest-rated building under LEED version four.

As mentioned, Salesforce East and Salesforce West are located at the global headquarters in San Francisco and are currently sourcing 100% renewable energy. Salesforce has a goal in place to reach 100% renewable energy for global operations, so Salesforce Tower will fall under this remit.

In order to reach the LEED specifications, the building has been fitted with a floor-by-floor intake system and high-efficiency air handlers, which provide natural ventilation. Combined with the Under-Floor Air Distribution network, the system enhances indoor air quality and greatly reduces HVAC energy use.

Low-emissivity glass has also been fitted to reduce the cooling load of the building while increasing energy and light transmission performance. Integrated metal sunshades maximise light and surrounding views while reducing solar heat gain.

A foundation of 42 load-bearing elements that are anchored into the bedrock more than 300 feet below the tower makes it the first building in California designed to “an enhanced level of seismic safety”. According to the building designers, this makes it one of the safest in the country.

Looking Ahead

Salesforce is actively pursuing green building certification, predominantly LEED, at 64% of global office spaces. This includes LEED Platinum certification – the highest accolade possible – for the three buildings at the San Francisco base.

All these buildings will eventually be powered by 100% clean energy, a key goal in Salesforce’s sustainability development plan.

Matt Mace

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