Since the economic downturn hit in 2008, the pace of office building construction has slowed considerably, which translates to fewer new buildings that exemplify cutting-edge sustainable design. But while many companies have been pursuing renovations or energy retrofits, others have consolidated offices or accommodated growth with highly energy-efficient and resource-conserving work environments.

All completed in the past five years, the following ten projects (listed alphabetically) incorporate sustainable elements to an unusual degree and spearhead creative strategies, giving glimpses of the office buildings of the future. Some occupy office parks dedicated to showcasing green design; some use plants to treat wastewater on site; and some target zero net energy use.

1. 7 More London
London, U.K.
Photo: Nigel Young / Foster + Partners

One of the world’s largest professional services firms partially powers its headquarters with used cooking oil. Completed in 2011 for More London Development, 7 More London, at 500,000 square feet (48,000 sq m), is the largest and last piece in the redevelopment of a brownfield on the south bank of the Thames. PricewaterhouseCoopers leased the ten-story building when it was in design and asked the local design team of Foster + Partners and BDP to target a rating of BREEAM Outstanding, the highest granted under the Building Research Establishment’s Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

The biofuel system meets 25 percent of the building’s electricity needs. The building opens to the river, maximizing exposure to natural light, and external louvers protect the interior from solar heat gain. Energy-saving strategies include a solar thermal hot-water system and heat recovery systems. Submetering tracks heat, electricity, and lighting use in each of the building’s zones; occupants can control the high-efficiency lighting from their PCs.

2. BASF Headquarters
Florham Park, New Jersey
Photo: Woodruff/Brown Photography

For its new headquarters in Florham Park, German chemical company BASF wanted to use the company’s own green products as much as possible. The five-story, 325,000-square-foot (30,200 sq m) building incorporates no- and low-volatile-organic-compound finishes, recycled-content concrete, a polyurethane-foam roofing system that offers a high level of insulation, and porous paving that allows rainwater to filter into the ground.

Other sustainable strategies include low-flow plumbing fixtures, low-water-use landscaping, optimal solar orientation, and a photovoltaic system. The building is part of the Green at Florham Park, a 268-acre (108 ha) master-planned development owned by Rockefeller Group Development Corporation of Mount Olive, New Jersey. Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York City and architect of record Rotwein & Blake of Livingston, New Jersey, designed the headquarters, completed this year and targeted to achieve Platinum ratings under the LEED Core and Shell (LEED-CS) and LEED for Commercial Interiors (LEED-CI) systems.

3. BG Group Place
Houston, Texas
Photo: ©Aker Imaging

In hot, sunny climates, wrapping high rises with glass risks turning them into greenhouses. At BG Group Place, a 46-story office building completed in 2011 in downtown Houston, vertical fritted-glass fins on the west-facing side and horizontal glass-and-aluminum shades to the north and south preserve views and let in daylight while protecting about 40 percent of the glazed facade from the sun.

High-efficiency heating and ventilation systems further conserve energy, and a monitoring system tracks tenants’ use of electricity. On the 1-to-100 scale of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, the facility scored 96; it also has achieved a LEED-CS Platinum rating. The roof of the ten-story podium is fully vegetated and accessible, and a recessed “sky garden” at the tower’s 39th floor has landscaped terraces. Pickard Chilton of New Haven, Connecticut, with local architect of record Kendall/Heaton Associates, designed the 973,000-square-foot (90,400 sq m) building for Hines.

4. Fox Vakanties Headquarters
Hoofddorp, The Netherlands
Photo: William McDonough + Partners

Developer Delta Development Group is creating Park 20|20, a 1.23 million-square-foot (114,000 sq m) business park adjacent to Schiphol Airport that follows the principles of the Cradle-to-Cradle philosophy, modeled after the regenerative cycles of nature. Charlottesville, Virginia–based William McDonough + Partners, the park’s master planner, with the Hague-based architect of record KOW designed the headquarters of internet travel booking organization Fox Vakanties within the park. Completed this year, the 39,590-square-foot (3,768 sq m) structure achieved a BREEAM Excellent rating.

A sculptural fabric skin wraps a theater, which glows at night when lit from within. The office component angles outward to shade the interiors, and an atrium skylight brings daylight into the building’s core. Park 20|20 connects to the region via rail, bus, and bicycle routes.

5. Manitoba Hydro Place
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Photo: ©Eduard Hueber/Archphoto

When Manitoba Hydro decided to consolidate its scattered suburban offices, the provincial energy utility chose a location on multiple public transit lines in downtown Winnipeg. Designed by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) of Toronto and local architect of record Smith Carter Architects and Engineers, the new headquarters consists of twin 18-story office towers on a three-story retail podium, with one level of parking beneath. The company mandated that the building use 60 percent less energy than a typical building its size. Tracking of energy use since the 2009 opening indicates that the LEED Platinum–rated building has achieved a 70 percent reduction.

The two towers splay at an angle designed to reduce the surface area facing north. A double-facade curtain wall with low-iron glass insulates the interior from Winnipeg’s extreme temperatures, and automated louvers control heat gain. A solar chimney facilitates passive natural ventilation; three six-story atriums with winter gardens precondition outside air as it enters. A closed-loop geothermal system provides heating and cooling. More than half the employees now commute via transit.

6. Packard Foundation Headquarters
Los Altos, California
Photo: EHDD

Architects can design an office building for net zero energy use, but occupants’ electricity consumption can easily exceed initial estimates. At the new headquarters for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos, dashboards display in real time how much energy staff members are using, which serves as a reminder of the organization’s conservation goals.

Completed this year, the two-story, 49,000-square-foot (4,600 sq m) facility consolidates the foundation’s offices into two wings organized around a landscaped courtyard. A combination of a high-performance envelope, high-efficiency heating and cooling systems, and extensive daylighting aims to cut building energy use by 65 percent, with photo­voltaic panels supplying as much energy as the building consumes annually. The irrigation and plumbing systems use captured rainwater, and 90 percent of the landscaping consists of low-water-use native plants. The designer, San Francisco architecture firm EHDD, will conduct a yearlong post-occupancy study to assess energy use and occupant satisfaction.

7. Port of Portland Headquarters
Portland, Oregon
Photo: Nick Merrick, Hedrick Blessing, courtesy of ZGF Architects, LLP

The plants in the lobby of the Port of Portland’s new headquarters are part of the Living Machine, an onsite wastewater treatment system by Charlottesville, Virginia–based Worrell Water Technologies that incorporates a tidal wetland process to recycle black- and graywater without chemicals or odors. The water is reused in toilets and the mechanical system’s cooling towers. With the help of low-flow plumbing fixtures, the building uses 75 percent less water than a conventional counterpart.

The facility consolidates the Port of Portland’s 700 employees into three office floors above seven levels of public airport parking. The LEED Platinum–rated facility couples ground-source heating and cooling with a passive radiant ceiling panel system, which is more efficient than the more widely used radiant floor system. Three long, parallel blocks of offices are separated by two skylit atriums. Designed by the local office of ZGF Architects and completed in 2010, the 205,000-square-foot (19,000 sq m) building includes a vegetated roof that treats rainwater and serves as insulation.

8. Research Support Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Golden, Colorado
Photo: Frank Ooms, courtesy of RNL

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Research Support Facility at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) campus in Golden was intended to showcase renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies and achieve net zero energy use. The facility received a LEED Platinum rating, and a study of the first year of occupancy indicated that facility’s annual energy use met the projected target.

The configuration of the structure—two long, narrow office wings linked by a central spine in an H shape—enables daylight to reach deep into the open-plan offices; stationary parabolic mirrored shades increase the penetration of natural light. The south facade’s transpired solar collector, developed by NREL, warms the subterranean thermal labyrinth for heating in winter. Photovoltaic panels on the roof and on nearby parking structures supply electricity. Operable and automatic windows facilitate natural ventilation. Designed by RNL of Denver as part of a design/build team with Haselden Construction of Centennial, Colorado, the 222,000-square-foot (20,600 sq m) office building opened in 2010. A 138,000-square-foot (13,000 sq m) expansion, completed in 2011 by the same team, builds on lessons learned from the first phase and is expected to be 11 percent more energy efficient.

9. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission HeadquartersNyrenULX_12_351
San Francisco, California
Photo: ©Ed Wonsek Bruce Damonte

  The new 13-story headquarters of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission takes advantage of a breezy stretch of the city’s civic center with a column of four wind turbines on the building’s north facade. Along with photovoltaic panels, the turbines generate 7 percent of the building’s electricity. Automatic exterior blinds track the sun to block solar heat gain in the offices. Targeted to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, the facility is designed to use 32 percent less energy and 60 percent less water than a conventional counterpart.

Attached to the turbine support tower, a public artwork by Sebastopol, California–based artist Ned Kahn references wind power with tens of thousands of fluttering polycarbonate panels set in a 200-foot-tall (60 m) lattice. A Living Machine, similar to the one at the Port of Portland headquarters, supplies all the water for the building’s low-flow toilets and urinals. A joint venture of local firms KMD Architects and Stevens Architects designed the building, which was completed this year and is expected to achieve a LEED Platinum rating.

10. Unilever Haus
Hamburg, Germany
Photo: Adam Mørk

  NyrenULX_10_651 For its new headquarters, Unilever chose a spot along the River Elbe in a port warehouse district of Hamburg that is being redeveloped into a mixed-use quarter. Built by developer Hochtief Solutions AG of Essen, the 409,000-square-foot (38,000 sq m) building has a form that references the hulls of ships.

The architecture firm Behnisch Architekten of Stuttgart, Germany, sought to maximize natural light without relying on a heavy, expensive double-glazed skin. The building’s glass facades have operable windows and are shielded from solar heat gain by individually controllable exterior blinds. A clear, lightweight outer membrane of ­ethylene tetrafluoroethylene protects the blinds from the area’s strong winds and allows for the free flow of air to facilitate natural ventilation. A central atrium brings in more daylight and incorporates a heat recovery system. High-efficiency LEDs supply what artificial lighting is necessary. Forgoing overhead lighting enabled the integration of a highly efficient radiant cooling system into the concrete ceiling panels. Unilever moved in during 2009.