How Google gets the most from green buildings

Editor's Note: In the runup to the VERGE DC conference, Anthony Ravitz, leader of Google's Real Estate and Workplace Services Green Team, talks about what's at the heart of his company's strategy for buildings and campuses.

Much has been written about Google and its millions upon millions in investment in renewable energy. But until recently, the public seldom got a peek into the inner workings of the Silicon Valley juggernaut and its own energy practices.

That changed last fall when the company lifted the veil on its energy consumption, efforts to make that more efficient and other work to reduce the environmental impacts of operations.

In addition to releasing a white paper on data center energy efficiency, the company launched its Google Green site, which provides a broad view of the firm's overall footprint. Included is a look at what the company is doing at its campuses.

In advance of the VERGE DC conference this week, Anthony Ravitz, who leads Google's Real Estate and Workplace Services Green Team, talked to me about the firm's strategy for workplace design and greener buildings. Here's our conversation:

Leslie Guevarra: From Google's perspective what's the best hope for advancing better and smarter buildings?

Anthony Ravitz: Something that we think a lot about is what does it mean to be a better or smarter building? And from whose perspective? What matters to us?

We're designing buildings for Google and for Google's employees. What matters most to our employees and how can we create the highest performing environment to really create the best place to work in the world?

Something that's really important to us is creating the healthiest environments we can, first and foremost. Thinking about those people and their well-being, what are the things that make a building the greatest place to come and spend your day every day? [How can a building] function seamlessly ... for us to come and live and work in extraordinary environments that function without us having to think about it?

I think in the ideal world, better and smarter buildings would do all of those things ...

How 'User Experience' Applies to the Workplace

LG: Is this a philosophy that Google held from its inception or something that evolved?

AR: Right, well I think they're principles that really are pervasive throughout the culture of our company and go back to the very beginning. Both of our founders are extremely focused on creating the healthiest work environment possible and what the company can do to promote well-being amongst our employees and make that easy. At the same time, something that we say within our core business is, 'Think about the user first and all else will follow.'

For our engineers that user is someone using our products every day. For me, in our Real Estate and Workplace Services group, that user is the Google employee, and always thinking about them first in our work is certainly a core value for me and everyone else within our group.

If you think about going to as a user, you type something in that you're looking for and Google should be able to quickly understand exactly what information you're trying to access and give you access to that information.

There's a lot of complexity clearly that's behind that, but it's a very simple page that's white that says Google on it and there's one box and a couple buttons. I think our engineers constantly challenge us who are working more in the building industry than the software industry, [asking] 'Why can't our buildings work more like this? Why is it so complicated?'

Next Page: Creating workplaces that foster innovation.