The Cost of Inaction: How a Global Leader in Tech Tackles Resiliency Head On

NBBJ Sustainability Director Margaret Montgomery sat down with Google real estate executive Robin Bass to hear more about the tech firm’s resiliency approach and to learn what advice it has for other companies.

Google—and its parent company Alphabet—are responsible for millions of square feet of office space around the world. It also happens to be at the forefront of innovative workplace design, with office strategies that have been adopted by other industries, from blacklisting unhealthy materials to ensuring real estate assets are resilient amidst a changing climate.

 

MM: Google has been investing in resiliency strategies for years. What prompted it to do so?

RB: It’s part of our culture to make long bets, to tackle difficult problems and to create solutions that work for people beyond Google. So this is a natural extension of this philosophy. In addition, our upcoming developments will be susceptive to extreme weather events. Our location in the Bay Area is on the wrong side of Highway 101 as it relates to the flood plain, and our new campus backs up to the bay. We’re also a global company with sites around the world that are impacted by climate change, and we must proactively determine how that affects our business, our people and the community.

 

MM: What is your approach to preparing for weather-related events?

RB: Our approach to resilience is hyper-local. We don’t anticipate finding a one-size-fits-all approach, but we are looking to develop frameworks that help us think about it in an “apples to apples” way.

 

MM: How does Google balance the cost of resiliency features vs. the cost of doing nothing?

RB: We’re pragmatists and we have to justify expenses. So we’re working with partners in finance to see what the costs are to implement resiliency strategies into our buildings, as well as the costs of inaction. So when we’re looking at an expensive infrastructure spend to prepare for eventualities like sea level rise and extreme weather events, it’s important to have context and not suffer from inaction based on sticker shock. For example, if your offices or data centers are closed for three days, what does that mean for your business, and what’s the cost of that inactivity to your organization?

 

MM: What advice would you give fellow real estate executives about resiliency?

RB: Resiliency resonates more and more, especially with industries that have been typically been reluctant or agnostic to engage on sustainability. That being said, be bold and be curious. It behooves a real estate executive to prepare themselves and to learn about the changing landscape of the world that they build in. It’s important to integrate these values in how you approach land use and site development, as they ultimately add value to real estate assets.

 

MM: What specific questions should real estate executives ask when it comes to resiliency?

RB: What will the existing landscape of commercial offices look like in the future? How much rentable square footage are you willing to lose because of flooding that occurs more frequently, or from your first floor being unoccupied? What does that do to your real estate assets? Ask yourself those questions, then get curious about what you can do to address them and think differently about what you build.

Robin Bass works in the Real Estate and Workplace Services group at Google. Her team is responsible for delivering health and sustainability outcomes for Google's global real estate portfolio (over 70 offices in 40 countries).  Prior to joining Google, Robin worked for over 15 years in design and architecture in the San Francisco Bay Area focusing on sustainability. Aside from raising 2 boys, her latest passion is circularity in the built environment.

Margaret Montgomery is NBBJ’s global sustainable practice leader. She leads initiatives and projects with the goal of creating healthy places that reunite people with nature. Employing strategies that range from biophilia and indoor air quality to zero net carbon design, she encourages teams to improve building performance, ecosystem vitality and human experience on each project.