Sustainable Workplace Practices in NRDC Beijing

Credit: MMoser Associates

NRDC's Beijing office is the first of its kind in China. The space was built and operates under the highest green building principles in existence. It was awarded Petal Certification from the Living Building Challenge—an honor not yet granted to any other project in China at the time—and LEED for Commercial Interiors Gold under v2009.


The simple design for the NRDC Beijing office was intentional with the purpose of using fewer construction materials than a traditional private office design. In collaboration with NRDC, the space was designed, engineered and constructed by MMoser Associates. Closed Loop Advisors served as Living Building Challenge consultant, project manager and owner's representative and GIGABASE provided materials consulting, which helped the space to meet aggressive product procurement goals. The Beijing office achieved dual building certifications: Petal Certification in sustainable building practices from the Living Building Challenge v2.1, making it the first project to be certified in China, and LEED Gold Certification for Commercial Interiors under the v2009 guidelines as put forth by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Beijing is home to the second office in NRDC’s portfolio to achieve both the esteemed LBC Petal Certification and LEED. The level of harmony with the environment that was achieved with the space was only made possible by the perseverance and collaboration of every team member. In a short period of time with challenges that are unique to China, the project not only met the needs of staff but exemplified NRDC’s mission by pushing the boundaries of environmental standards.

Choosing the Location

NRDC Beijing is located within walking distance of multiple city subway and bus lines. It's also only a quick ride to the airport on the subway. This encourages the use of alternative transportation, both decreasing employee carbon emissions from commuting by personal automobiles and improving health and well-being.

Improving Tenant Health through Natural Light and Reduced Toxicity

The office's shape and layout contributes to a higher penetration of natural lighting and improved air quality. The narrow floor plate allows the sun to reach more people. All occupants are within approximately 15 meters of operable windows, improving ventilation and allowing them to monitor fresh air on days that the outdoor air quality is at healthy levels. The open design also allows for increased collaboration among employees in an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.

All materials, from the low VOC (volatile organic compound) carpet tiles to the formaldehyde-free bamboo flooring, were carefully chosen to minimize all unnecessary toxics typically found in construction. New system furniture includes pieces that are Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified (or meet comparable testing requirements) and ANSI/BIFMA certified. To avoid using conventional cabinetry made of formaldehyde-containing composite board the project team proposed strawboard as a compliant option. While it is a natural product, Beijing staff did not like the aesthetic look that it offered for pantry and copy room. The architect's creative solution was to install opaque glass over the outside of the cabinets to conceal the strawboard when they are closed.

To remove toxics that could have short and long-term health effects for employees, indoor air quality machines also help to purify air within the office. To prevent the accumulation of contaminants caused by construction activities, measures were taken such as pathway interruption, heating, ventilation and air conditioning protection, regular cleaning during construction, and proper planning of the construction schedule.

Conserving Energy and Water

Many measures were taken to conserve energy and reduce carbon emissions. They began during the real estate search. A long, narrow floorplate with floor to ceiling windows was intentionally chosen for the energy benefits it would bring. Sun and natural light is able to reach most people in the office and the windows face north to lessen sun exposure and heat gain. This all reduces cooling and lighting needs thereby reducing costs.


The advanced lighting and dimming system ensures that only the necessary amount of light is on at a given time. Energy efficient bulbs and sensors salvaged from the previous Beijing office automatically adjust to the surrounding light conditions and trigger lights to turn on when the level of light provided by daylight is below 500 lux. For occupant control, lights in the private offices are dimmable to the occupants' preferences. As a result, the space has a 35 percent more efficient lighting power density than code requires. For additional health measures, all tenant installed lighting fixtures meet hazardous substances codes for mercury content.

Over 90 percent of electronics in the office are Energy Star compliant, which means they exceed U.S. government energy efficiency standards and minimize energy usage. A power kill switch is installed under the reception desk so that at the end of the day, all the electricity flow for specific energy consuming equipment can be turned off.

To further reduce our carbon impact, NRDC purchased green power that offsets the anticipated electricity consumption for this project. Through the purchase of Green-e certified Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that support power generation from wind, solar, hydro, and biomass sources, 100 percent of NRDC’s non-renewable energy is offset for 2 years. Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) carbon credits were also purchased through Carbon Neutral to support a 49.5MW North Songshan wind project in China and offset the embodied carbon emitted during the construction process.

Because fresh water is such an important resource, efforts were made to conserve as much as possible. Potable plumbed water is not typical for many commercial buildings in Beijing and rather bottled water jugs are ubiquitous. However, NRDC gained permission from building management to bring water into the office and attached it to a filter to provide drinking water without the plastic bottles. A pantry sink—also uncommon for a commercial building—has a low flow faucet to keep from wasting water.

Monitoring and Making Use of Data

All NRDC offices, including Beijing, use a smart technology energy system called Noveda to monitor water and energy usage and provide real-time data. This information is collected and stored in an online database that provides in-depth reports of energy and water use over periods of time. This live data feed informs occupants and can help to reduce water usage by an average of 15 percent. The discovery of a neoprene gasket in the Noveda equipment posed a problem for adhering to the Red List. However, upon NRDC's request Noveda eliminated the gasket, making the monitoring system acceptable to use in NRDC offices.

Maximizing Recycled and Sustainable Materials

Reusing furnishings and finishes from the old Beijing office was a high priority because it helped with recycling efforts and reducing waste. Materials reused from Beijing's old location include all of the workstations, office desks, bookcases and conference room tables. Lighting fixtures and sensors were also brought over. This is especially important given the short lease spans of commercial space. When all new furniture is purchased every time a lease turns over, it’s not only expensive but necessitates extraction of raw materials and produces waste.

"New" construction materials are almost all Red List free. Unless the team was unable to find a Red List compliant construction material, products are for the most part locally sourcedwithin 600 miles. This cut down on carbon emissions, reduced transportation costs, and supported the local economy. Due to its cultural significance, the Beijing staff preferred bamboo to other natural materials. However, most bamboo floor manufacturers use added formaldehyde, a Red List ingredient, as a binder. Fortunately, the project team was able to find a product called Plyboo that makes flooring using soy in place of formaldehyde as a binder.

Following use of their products in the Beijing office, four manufacturers got their products Declare labeled, a certification offered by the International Living Future Institute. These products are Plyboo bamboo, Tangdun wall board, Voxfloor carpet and Clestra partitions, which can all be found on the Declare database. This makes it easier for other project teams to find LBC vetted products for their own use.

To learn more about elements of the office mentioned above, explore the links below:


Related Issues

Related Resources