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Amazon’s long-awaited HQ2 is here, and it’s setting a new industry standard with its climate-friendly construction and operations.

Energy News Network reporter Elizabeth McGowan got a tour of the 2.1 million-square-foot facility that recently opened in Alexandria, Virginia. It’s got all the features of a typical tech giant headquarters: a pair of glass towers, a lush public park, and beautiful indoor spaces. 

Fernando Arias, left, director of sustainability at Clark Construction, stands near the urban farm featured on the 15th floor terrace at Amazon HQ2. The Potomac River and Washington D.C. landmarks are visible in the background.
Fernando Arias, left, director of sustainability at Clark Construction, stands near the urban farm featured on the 15th floor terrace at Amazon HQ2. The Potomac River and Washington D.C. landmarks are visible in the background. Credit: Elizabeth McGowan

But despite spanning 2.5 acres, Amazon’s HQ2 has a comparatively small climate footprint. That’s because its construction was focused on minimizing embodied carbon — a burgeoning industry term that refers to all the carbon emitted when transporting and building a structure.

One big example: the headquarters needed a lot of carbon-intensive cement, so its construction team built an on-site batch plant to minimize truck trips. It also relied on locally sourced ingredients to further reduce the cement’s emissions impact. In all, the carbon footprint of HQ2’s concrete is 37% below the industry baseline. 

Amazon is seeking LEED platinum certification for HQ2 — the highest that the U.S. Green Building Council hands out. But its innovative building practices are also likely to shape the next wave of LEED standards, said Wes Sullens, LEED director at the council.

“When you get a large, high profile project like an Amazon, which jumps through hoops to innovate, it transforms the market,” Sullens said.

And when those innovations become mainstream, it’s easier for LEED to ask everyone else to stretch farther. 

Read more about how Amazon is pushing the (building) envelope at the Energy News Network.

More clean energy news

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⚛️ Fusion 2.0: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists achieve a net energy gain from a fusion reaction for the second time, this time yielding more energy. (Axios)

⛽ Where EVs really beat gas: Fully recharging an electric vehicle can be up to $80 cheaper than filling a gas tank in states where gas prices are high and electricity prices are low. (Washington Post)

🐦 Transmission’s for the birds: A new Audubon report backs the buildout of thousands of miles of new transmission lines “in a manner that minimizes harm to wildlife,” arguing the threats from climate change far outweigh the risks of new infrastructure. (Los Angeles Times)

👷‍♀️ Clean energy’s job crunch: Renewable energy companies are seeing a surge of interest from young workers, but thousands more will be needed in the coming years to meet demand. (Utility Dive)

🌡️ Climate change realities: Following a month of record weather extremes, a majority of Americans — especially non-White people and women — say climate change is noticeably affecting their communities, and more people are seeing the economy and climate as intertwined issues, according to a new poll. (PBS)

🌳 Out on a limb: As Republicans promote planting a trillion trees as a climate solution, new research shows that even if forest restoration on that scale was feasible, it would have a minimal impact on global warming in the current century. (Washington Post)

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Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.