How the Pandemic Allowed Our Company to Rethink its Carbon Footprint
Rendering of RBC Gateway in downtown Minneapolis, opening March 2022.

How the Pandemic Allowed Our Company to Rethink its Carbon Footprint

Fewer desks, fewer printers, new energy efficient elements. RBC sets greener standards for its new Minneapolis headquarters RBC Gateway.

It’s been two years since we broke ground on RBC Gateway, the brand new 37-story-office tower in downtown Minneapolis that will soon become our firm’s U.S. headquarters. As we said when we announced the move, this new building is intended to serve as a symbol of our company’s strength and commitment to downtown. We had the choice to move elsewhere, but we felt Minneapolis was the place we were born as a firm and the place where we want to stay and grow.

But we also hope that our new office space will serve an example of how companies can be better stewards of the environment and more judicious about the resources needed to operate.

In 2020, our parent company, Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada, made a bold commitment to reduce the carbon footprint of our global operations, pledging to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2025, increase sourcing of electricity from renewable and non-emitting sources to 100 percent by 2025; and partner with suppliers to better understand, manage and reduce our shared carbon impacts.

These are big goals. For RBC Wealth Management—U.S., how we think about our office space–particularly new space—is critical to helping meet those goals. After all, for firms like ours that don’t manufacture anything, emissions are generated namely by the spaces we occupy and by the transportation methods our employees use to get to work.

At RBC Gateway, we will occupy 291,000 square feet when we move in early next year. As the largest tenant of the building, we want our use of that space to be as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. In partnership with developer United Properties and interior design firm Perkins&Will, we’re incorporating a number of tactics and features to ensure that it is.

Flexible work

First, we’ve reduced the number of desks by 20 percent from what we had initially planned when we signed our lease–not because we will employ fewer people (in reality we are still growing), but because we are implementing more flexible work arrangements that include hybrid work models for many employees. Depending on their role, employees may work from home part of the time, which is new for our firm and for the industry.

I’ll admit the pandemic, which necessitated the mass adoption of remote work, is what first spurred us to consider providing our employees with more flexibility in where they do their work than we historically have. But this new way of working, which has the added benefit of reducing commuting-related carbon emissions, also provides us with a natural opportunity to meet our company’s environmental commitments.

Energy efficient workspace

Construction underway at RBC Gateway. Photo courtesy of RBC Wealth Management

Second, we are incorporating many environmentally-friendly elements in our new space that go above and beyond energy-efficiency standards. Many of these elements are not revolutionary on their own, but in concert have the cumulative, positive impact. Here are a few highlights:

  • Our new space will utilize ultra-high-efficiency plumbing fixtures to reduce potable water usage by nearly 44 percent from a code baseline. This will result in a savings of over one million gallons of water annually.
  • Our workspace will adopt daylight harvesting, which will cut down on energy consumption by using natural daylight to illuminate our space. In fact, 60 percent of our typical office floors will have adequate working daylight. And when there isn’t enough daylight and overhead lights are needed, those lights will be 100 percent LED and designed to be 60 percent more efficient than the applicable energy code.
  • Our office will have an EnergyStar score of 89 out of 100, which represents a higher-performing energy saving build-out than is typical. The median range for a typical building is a score of 50.
  • We are also installing smart building sensors so we can gather data on desk usage to ensure we continue to monitor how much space we need and adjust as our new work from home strategies mature.
  • We chose to ensure a large portion of our outside terrace furniture will be made of recycled milk containers from Duluth-based company Loll Designs.
  • We’ve requested sub-level metering so we can track our firm’s energy usage and make any necessary future changes to further reduce consumption to meet our greenhouse gas emissions goals.

Reducing paper trails

Lastly, we’re using our move as a chance to rethink how much paper our organization really needs to use. Even in today’s digital world, printers are widely used in our business—in fact, I’d argue they are overused with several in every department. Yet somehow, over the course of the past year as we’ve worked from home, we’ve managed to live without those printers. And somehow we’ve managed to live without all of the things we’ve printed over the years and kept stashed away in file cabinets have sat untouched and unneeded for 13 months. As a result of this realization, at RBC Gateway, we will have only four printers per floor and will require people to swipe their badge in order to print. We hope these changes will prompt people to really stop and think about whether they really need that hard copy.

As our enterprise CEO, Dave McKay, wrote when RBC released its Climate Blueprint, we as a company are committed to contributing to a healthier planet and more prosperous economy for the 21st century. Because we believe it’s the smart choice. At RBC Wealth Management-U.S. our new office space–how we designed it, how we will occupy it, and how we will use it on a daily basis—is a large step toward that commitment.