VF Corp. campus goes for sustainability triathlon

VF Corp. campus goes for sustainability triathlon

Tuesday was move-in day in Alameda, Calif. for outdoor specialty apparel and gear company The North Face, backpack maker JanSport and women’s yoga-wear manufacturer Lucy. The three firms are part of the Outdoor and Action Sports division of the $9 billion apparel and footwear company VF Corp.

VF Corp purchased The North Face in 2000, moving it from Colorado to Northern California. In 2007 it added Lucy to the Outdoor and Action Sports division, where it joined The North Face and JanSport in the Bay Area. But while The North Face and JanSport were co-located in San Leandro, the three firms and their 472 employees have not been housed on a single, cohesive campus until now. The new site was selected in 2007 but the recession delayed groundbreaking until last year.

Streamlined

“Our primary driver was to co-locate the brands and foster collaboration,” said Steve Rendle, group president of VF Corp’s Outdoor and Action Sports Americas division. “We want to leverage the talents of our multiple brands.

The various brands compete for some similar customers, so the collaborative process is focused on material development and testing rather than, say, marketing and specific product development. The new campus includes dedicated “tinkering” rooms where product designers and the materials testing team (which serves all three brands) can experiment with new ideas and a materials library that contains a catalog of fabrics and other materials.

Also on campus is a shared advanced product lab -- Rendle refers to it as a think tank -- where the brands can focus on market research, long-term trends, and where the sponsored athletes give product ideas and feedback.

Another important way the three brands collaborate is through play and exercise. With all brands focused on outdoors and sports products, the employees have a natural proclivity toward exercise. An on-site gym offers strength and cardio equipment, as well as a yoga studio and outdoor space for group exercise. The wireless network has been set up to work both indoors and outdoors, and employees are encouraged to hold meetings outside: A number of meeting tables are available.

The campus includes a building dedicated to VF Corp staff and administrators, which streamlines the business operations of all three brands. Campus also includes an on-site café and space for a large vegetable garden which the catering vendor, Bay Area based Epicurian Group, will tend and harvest. Fresh, organic food available on-site is a welcome change, said Rendle, since none of the three brands had the luxury of a café at their previous locations: “We had to eat out of vending machines.”

Energy

Adam Mott, The North Face’s sustainability manager, said the campus has been designed so the extensive solar paneling along the facades, on the rooftops of the four buildings and solar canopies covering the parking lot, combined with wind turbines at the campus entrance, should meet all demands for electricity. With the full solar array still months from completion, it’s too soon to know whether the campus will reach its electricity neutral goal.

“We’ll need a few months to track it,” he said. The hope is that the campus will be able to generate more power than it consumes so it might sell some to the local power grid.

Daylighting is used heavily throughout the campus, and 94 percent of the office areas have outside views (many of which feature the picturesque San Francisco Bay). Sensor-based light controls also keep the buildings energy efficient.

The HVAC system has been designed for recirculation of 100 percent fresh air, without relying on emissions-causing coolants. VF Corp is applying for LEED Gold status for the campus, but is hoping it might qualify for the more rigorous Platinum status.

Transportation

About a third of VF Outdoors’ employees live in San Francisco, with another third in the East Bay (Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda and nearby burgs) and the final third in live even further east and inland from San Francisco. The locations of the previous brand headquarters weren’t particularly easy commutes for employees in any of these three groups.

The new location, however, is more accessible from San Francisco via public transit. A bike-friendly San Francisco-Alameda ferry is a short walk from the new campus and departs from San Francisco’s centrally located Ferry Building.

Four electric vehicle chargers have been installed at prime parking spots outside the main campus building. Mott says some employees have been considering buying electric vehicles, and knowing that they could charge up their rides each day at work might push them to commit to the purchase.

Cycling to the campus from cities in the East Bay is doable and bike lanes throughout Alameda accommodate cyclists. A bike storage room and showers in the campus gym were installed to encourage bike commuting.

“I used to fight traffic by bike or car en route to the East Bay and again on the return to SF in the evening,” employee Pamela Bennett wrote on her Facebook page on Tuesday. “Today I can SEE SF shimmering in the sunset across the bay and stand on a boat for 20 minutes with my bike anticipating an enjoyable pedal home … Words cannot describe!”