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How to grow a “living” building

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Photo by 99.films on Unsplash

Andreas Gyr remembers his first car fondly: a 1982 Ford Escort, which had the gas parts ripped out and replaced with 17 golf cart batteries and an electric motor. “It had about a 15-mile range and it topped out at like 58 miles per hour,” Andreas remembers. “I’d carry an extension cord around and plug it into friends’ wall outlets to make it home.” It might have been inconvenient, but it made him excited about the future. “It was different, it was hopeful, we charged it with solar panels!” he says. “I learned early adoption can be rough, but it’s necessary to get to a future where sustainable options are the norm.” 


Fortunately, he’s kept that hopefulness, and that passion for sustainability. Andreas, who works on sustainable building projects for Google’s workplaces, was recently presented the Living Future Hero award from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). (Appropriately enough, he found out on Earth Day.) He received the award for his work on 6 Pancras Square in London (a rendering of which is shown above), which was the first ILFI Zero Carbon certified building in the world, as well as his work on the upcoming Bay View campus in Mountain View. I recently talked to Andreas about his award, his current projects and this crucial moment for his industry.


Let’s start off with something basic: What exactly is a “living” building?


The core idea for living buildings was popularized by ILFI, and it’s really about a building being regenerative—whether that’s generating more energy than it uses, harvesting and treating water on site or diverting waste from landfill and reusing materials. On several of our projects, Google is implementing these strategies at a scale never done before. 


6 Pancras Square is the first ILFI Zero Carbon certified project in the world. What exactly does it take to be Zero Carbon certified? 


To achieve the Zero Carbon certification, we significantly reduced the operational energy used by the building, but we also looked at the carbon impact of the project’s building materials—the carbon emitted in their extraction, manufacturing and transportation—and made reductions there as well. Project leaders Andy Martin and Nick Barr set aggressive sustainability targets, and pushed the team to deliver significant carbon savings across the entire project. We also used Google’s operational carbon neutrality commitment and worked with Anna Escuer, Google’s Lead for Carbon, to offset the impact of the building materials, ensuring the project was designed, constructed and operates with a net zero carbon impact.


Read the full interview here.