The green building industry has come a long way in the past 20 years. Building to energy efficient standards is no longer a fringe idea, but the mainstream expectation of consumers, corporations, and governments alike. Environmental design has gained steam as an economic engine of its own, spawning innovation in the supply chain and fostering competition among companies as they see who can use the fewest natural resources while they go about getting the work of society done. Plus, a new generation of designers have entered the professional world—bright young minds who don’t know how to think and plan without incorporating sustainability.

The question is: where do we go from here? How will the next generation take the building blocks of sustainability and create the built environment anew? Will the word sustainability even begin to express this new image for the communities where we live, work, and play? Some in the green building industry take the view that a better word for sustainability might be adaptability—how well buildings adapt to the needs of their users and the uncertain variables of climate change, as well as unforeseen changes in technology, culture, and the political economy.

Kay Sargent, this issue’s guest editor and the director of workplace strategies at Lend Lease, one of the largest property and infrastructure firms in the world, sees flexible, multi-use office buildings within mixed-use districts as the emerging manifestation of this trend. In particular, she points to the desire of young workers to blur the lines between work and the rest of life, rather than exist in the compartmentalized worlds that underwrote the design of workplaces in the previous generation. “When we look at the workplace of the future, we’re actually kind of evolving beyond that title—it’s the lifestyle of the future that we’re looking at,” Sargent says. “There is truly a blending between work and life.”

Sargent reasons that this shift in worldview comes from a desire for a sense of place, to go through life feeling like you’re part of something larger, something positive, something integrated—something we might call community. Workers today don’t want a workplace that robs them of their sense of community, of their sense of place in the world.

“When we look at developments, campuses, and even how we’re building individual buildings, it’s all about trying to create an ecosystem of places where people have a variety of choices that support a variety of activities,” says Sargent. “And that variety of activities can be a blend of personal and professional activities.”

Sargent, who is participating in the International WELL Building Institute‘s WELL AP Advisory Committee, also emphasizes that in the future, sustainability in the workplace will be as much about how people feel at work, rather than just whether or not the building was constructed with sustainably sourced materials. “For a long time, we’ve been so focused on making sure that our buildings are sustainable, but the bottom line is that sitting stagnantly in the space is killing us faster than anything else,” she says. “So we really need to start focusing on the whole concept of well-being, and then even beyond well-being we need to focus on the community element of that, because if people are coming to the office and they are stressed out, or they are financially overburdened, or they’re not connected to things, they’re not going to work well and they’re not going to be healthy.”

In the end, Sargent says that the most successful workplaces of the future are those that do not pretend to know what the future will bring, but are designed to adapt to changing conditions. “One of the biggest challenges we have right now is an aging infrastructure of buildings that are out of date and very fixed,” she says. “They are monuments to a time, an era, that we’re evolving away from. Moving forward, it’s about embedding maximum flexibility so that we can sustain these buildings for the long term no matter what the needs are because our needs are rapidly changing.”

As is often the case, clues to the future lie in the hands of those who will craft it. Here, we specifically look at workplaces as a portal into what the coming generations of workers—those who are building the future day by day—are creating. Three forward-thinking companies have recently opened new HQs in the United States, each of which showcases a kernel of what the workplace of the future might look like.


various locations

The textile industry is not the first that anyone associates with sustainability, but Milliken is not your average textile company. They’ve been in business for 150 years and seem to have mastered the culture of innovation as the engine that keeps them moving and thriving. “In 1900, Milliken published its first recycling policy and began investing in renewable energy in 1912,” says Philip Ivey, the global sustainability leader for Milliken’s floor-covering division. Ever since, sustainability—in the broadest sense of the term—has been integral to their way of doing business.

“We believe that the facets of sustainable excellence, manufacturing excellence, and safety excellence go hand in hand,” Ivey says. “For one to evolve, so must the others.”

Milliken set a goal for zero waste-to-landfill in 1990, a goal that has been 99.8% attained as of 2013.

Milliken set a goal for zero waste-to-landfill in 1990, a goal that has been 99.8% attained as of 2013.

In considering how Milliken approaches the workplace of the future, its past is a great indication. Roger Milliken, the company’s former CEO who recently retired, established the company’s formal Global Environmental Policy in 1990, which set a goal for zero waste-to-landfill, a benchmark that has been 99.8% attained as of 2013. Goals like that—and successfully achieving them—are a big part of what drives the company culture. “Culturally, our management structure is designed to empower each associate to own their role at Milliken, their impact on the environment, and their influence in the local community,” Ivey says, connecting the dots between work life, community life, and personal fulfillment. “The results compel our associates to ‘do good’ for the world in every aspect of their work.”

Milliken’s New York and Chicago showrooms are LEED Gold facilities, and 46% of the energy used in manufacturing their carpets is renewable.

Milliken’s New York and Chicago showrooms are LEED Gold facilities, and 46% of the energy used in manufacturing their carpets is renewable.

Interestingly, Mr. Milliken was also a master gardener. He oversaw the development of the corporate headquarters in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which boasts a very comfortable LEED-registered

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The company’s Spartanburg, South Carolina HQ boasts a nationally recognized arboretum with more than 500 species of trees and shrubs.

office complex, but employees are just as engaged with the legacy Milliken left outside the office doors: a 600-acre green space including a nationally recognized arboretum with more than 500 species of trees and shrubs. He also founded the Noble Tree Foundation to promote education about trees and their importance in sustainable development.

Milliken’s enormous reach as a company creates many opportunities to develop forward-thinking approaches to business and corporate leadership. Their New York and Chicago showrooms are LEED Gold facilities; 46% of the energy used in manufacturing their carpets is renewable, from a combination of company-owned hydroelectric facilities and landfill-based methane recapture; and they steward 130,000 acres of forests, which is one of the many initiatives that helped them earn the designation of a carbon-negative family of companies from the Leonardo Academy Cleaner and Greener Program ever since 2005. Ultimately, Milliken’s view on pioneering the workplaces of the future goes far beyond its own office walls: by providing sustainable flooring and other products, they help other workplaces reach the same goal. Milliken has evolved their product line in accordance with LEED standards and participated in the environmental product declaration (EPD) movement and Declare transparency labels. Milliken’s latest effort to further the environmental profile of their product line is modeled on the approach of the Living Building Challenge—they plan to certify their next generation of products as Living Products. “Much like the Living Building Challenge, the Living Product certification has different petals and parts that must be achieved, encompassing both product and company aspects,” Ivey says. “This holistic approach to sustainability aligns with our sustainability philosophy as a company.”

Milliken’s commitment to sustainability goes back to 1900, when the company published its first recycling policy; they also began investing in renewable energy in 1912.

Milliken’s commitment to sustainability goes back to 1900, when the company published its first recycling policy; they also began investing in renewable energy in 1912.

Xylem Headquarters

By Amenta Emma

Rye Brook, New York

Located in Westchester County about 30 miles north of Manhattan, the new Xylem headquarters by Amenta Emma is a case study in design elegance. Xylem is a water technology provider focused on developing drinking and wastewater systems that improve the quality of aquatic resources worldwide. It’s a company with a social mission, the kind of place people feel proud to work for because they’re making a difference in the world, not just earning a living.

AmentaEmma_Xylem_12 copy


Location Rye Brook, NY
Client Xylem
Size 70,000 ft 2 Completion 2014
Program Headquarters Relocation
Certification LEED Gold

Awards Best of BOMA Westchester, Signature Award for Best Tenant Fit Out
Cost $9 million


MEP Edwards & Zuck, PC
Structural Engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers
Information Technology & Audiovisual Syska Hennessy Group, Inc. Acoustics Jaffe Holden
Sustainable Design Viridian Energy & Environmental


Furniture Bene Parts, Bernhardt, HBF, Keilhauer, Knoll, Touhy
Acoustical Ceiling Tile Armstrong
Carpet Milliken, Tandus
Stone Stone Source
Fabric Wrapped Panels Carnegie
Stretch Ceiling Grupa DPS

The design plays off the theme of clean water in a series of bright, refreshing spaces and illustrates the hydrologic cycle with an unfolding display of imagery, words, and artistic flourishes along the wall panels. The 70,000-square-foot LEED Gold retrofit in an existing office park uses locally sourced materials to create the ambiance desired by the client. For example, the floor of the reception area has mirrored chips in it, so it shimmers like the surface of the water. It sets a calm, imaginative mood when employees enter the space each day, but the lead architect on the project, Charles Cannizzaro, went to great lengths to find a nearby supplier for this and other unique details: “The client wanted all the materials to portray their message, as well as be sustainable,” he says.

Another big push from the client was to find a site that was within the existing urban fabric, rather than in a sterile office park in the suburbs. They looked at 17 different locations before settling on the site in Rye Brook. The existing building they adapted to their needs “had the right proximity to high density housing, public transportation and all the things that you need to achieve a higher level of LEED certification that you can’t necessarily design in or buy,” Cannizzaro says.

Every employee in the Xylem headquarters received a sit-stand desk, but the company leadership was also very clear that the design should invite employees to leave their desks throughout the workday to commingle with their colleagues and have a bit of fun. There is an assortment of open spaces intended to promote this, including what has become a very popular ping-pong zone. “A lot of times you see ping-pong tables sitting there empty because no one wants their bosses to see them playing,” says Cannizzaro, “but they really encouraged it—there are tournaments; it’s very lively. Culturally, Xylem has managed to cause a shift that enabled people to feel comfortable actually going in there and using these amenities….it’s good to get people up and moving.”


The ping-pong zone is a popular spot to hang out at the Xylem HQ, along with a plethora of other open spaces.

Petzl Headquarters

By AJC Architects

Salt Lake City, Utah

Tristan Shepherd of ajc architects says that when Petzl, the renowned French climbing gear brand, hired them to design the company’s new North American headquarters, “there was a mandate from the beginning; they said, ‘We’re a company about our people. We make good products, but we’re nothing without good employees,’” he says. “So making a space they could be proud of was important for them.”

For Tristan and the team at ajc, a firm based in Salt Lake City and owned by Jill Jones, Petzl was a dream client. They wanted a space that did it all and spared nothing to support a highly creative design process and demanded that the highest environmental standards and best practices were carried out from the site planning process through to the furniture and wall finishes. Above all, they wanted everyone—the designers, the suppliers, the contractors—to feel good about what they were doing. The assumption was that the spirit would be contagious and a fabulous work environment would be the end result.

Petzl Exterior Views

The new Petzl North American HQ features a rust-toned exterior that echoes the plate-like rock formations of a red rock canyon, incredibly fitting for a climbing gear brand.

Petzl entry ground level copy


Location West Valley City, UT
Client PETZL
Size 81,183 ft 2
Completion June 2014

Program North American Headquarters and Distribution Center Certification LEED Platinum
Cost $14 million


Architect ajc architects Interior Design ajc architects
Construction Management/ General Contractor Sahara Construction
Civil Engineer NV5 Structural Engineer BHB Structural
MEP CCI Mechanical Electrical Engineer Hunt Electric
Testing/Special Inspection Firm CMT Engineering Laboratories


Millwork Mapleleaf Cabinets
HVAC/Plumbing/BAS CCI Mechanical
Landscaping Ace Landscape Acoustical Panels and Ceilings Mitchel Acoustics
GFRC Panel Installation Nicolson Construction Window Treatments TRT Intall
Flooring Wall2Wall Overhead Doors Wasatch Doot Company

By all measures, Petzl got what they were after. The LEED Platinum facility is masterfully designed with a rust-toned exterior that echoes the plate-like rock formations of a red rock canyon and an interior courtyard that creates a warm wintertime microclimate and a cool summertime respite. The park-like grounds are extensive and beautiful with a dog run (yes, employees are encouraged to bring their canine companions to work), a community garden, volleyball net, and picnic areas. A path leads down to a nearby lake and wetlands.

Inside, the environment is just as pleasant with numerous clerestory windows that bring natural light throughout the building. There are bike storage lockers and a bike maintenance room for the cyclists in the company. Shepherd says the two employee kitchens are designed for communal eating and are “much nicer than the average employee break room,” though his words are clearly a case of an architect’s understatement of his own achievement.

The headquarters houses the corporate offices for Petzl’s North American operations, but it’s unusual in that it also houses its primary distribution center on the continent, an integrated warehouse with skylights that are hooked to a GPS system so that they rotate automatically to track the sun across the sky through the seasons. But Petzl is also in the business of training construction professionals, rescue teams, and others in the use of climbing equipment, so they chose to design the central spine of the building as a vertical training center. In addition to the 55-foot climbing wall, there are classrooms, a kitchen, and a variety of flex spaces that will allow the training center to be used in ways that may not have been imagined yet. Of course, employees are also welcome to use the climbing wall in their free time.

Gregg Pereboom, general manager of Mapleleaf Cabinets, the architectural millwork company who engineered the stunning reception desk in the entryway and much of the other fixed furnishings in the facility, also commented on the unique collectivist culture he encountered while working on the Petzl project. “There is more longevity in a project like Petzl because of the close partnerships between the client, the architect, the general contractor, and the other subcontractors that are part of it,” he says. “There are so many dependencies in any job, but I think it’s emblematic of long term sustainability when everybody realizes how dependent they are on everyone else and really tries to work together for the common benefit.”

Shepherd agrees. “They’re a pretty impressive client,” he says. “They really dedicated a lot to making their people happy.” Perhaps that is the single best way to define the workplaces of the future: places that make people happy.

Because Petzl also trains construction professionals and rescue teams on climbing equipment, the spine of the building is a vertical training center with a 55-foot climbing wall.

Because Petzl also trains construction professionals and rescue teams on climbing equipment, the spine of the building is a vertical training center with a 55-foot climbing wall.

Petzl Exterior Views