Adobe Systems' big payback

Driven to have a responsibility to its local community and the global environment, Adobe Systems Inc. consistently has taken a strong, pro-active approach to resource conservation, waste reduction, environmental protection, and sustainability with its use of state-of-the-art technology.


Driven to have a responsibility to its local community and the global environment, Adobe Systems Inc. consistently has taken a strong, pro-active approach to resource conservation, waste reduction, environmental protection, and sustainability with its use of state-of-the-art technology. During the past five years, Adobe Systems and its facilities management partner Cushman & Wakefield, New York, have undertaken a program to further enhance Adobe's operating efficiency and to reduce its environmental footprint.

Adobe's headquarters consist of three high-rise office towers located in downtown San Jose, Calif. The three buildings, known as Almaden Tower, East Tower, and West Tower, are 17, 16, and 18 stories high, respectively, and 3, 9, and 11 years old, respectively. Combined, the buildings total 989,358 sq. ft of office space, resting atop 938,473 sq. ft of enclosed parking garage. With approximately 2,300 employees, Adobe is one of the larger local employers.

On June 9, 2006, Adobe's West Tower became the first building in the world to be certified USGBC LEED EB at the platinum level, the highest level achievable. On Dec. 1, Almaden and East towers joined West Tower, completing the set. Adobe achieved another first: it is the first organization in the world to have three buildings certified at the platinum level.

To date, Adobe has completed 64 projects, spent nearly $1.4 million on energy conservation and related projects, received $389,000 in rebates from local and state agencies, and reduced annual operating costs by $1.2 million. This 9-month payback gave a return on investment (ROI) of 121%. See Table 1 for more detail.

In the process, Adobe made significant reductions in the following areas:

  • Electricity use per occupant down 35%

  • Natural gas use per occupant down 41%

  • Domestic water use down 22%

  • Landscape irrigation water use down 76%.

In addition, the company has seen impressive results in reducing pollution:

  • All pollution sources reduced by 26%, and CO2 emissions reduced by 16%

  • As much as 95% of Adobe's solid waste is diverted through composting and recycling programs

  • 20% of Adobe employees use public transit, higher than the county-wide average of 4%

  • 30% of Adobe's electricity is purchased from alternative, sustainable energy sources.

Adobe has earned the Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star label for each of its three buildings, with scores of 98, 100, and 100 (on a scale of 1 to 100)—all the more remarkable considering chillers must run constantly to cool three data centers and 28 software labs.

Total project cost came to nearly $1.4 million, but this was accomplished over the course of five years, for 64 projects. That is an average of only $19,000 per project.

Projects can be broken down into lighting, load management, equipment retrofits, monitoring and controls, water management, waste management, recycled content in office purchases, and direct green building certification costs.

Table 1 shows that load management projects are the largest expense, but had the greatest ROI at 304%. This is followed by lighting and equipment retrofits projects, each with a 61% ROI, monitoring and controls projects with a 42% ROI, and water management projects with a 22% ROI.

These divisions are not clear-cut, however. There is some overlap, and there also are additional savings that can't be measured easily. Some of the equipment retrofit costs are related to monitoring and controls equipment. Some of the lighting category costs are related to load management. LEED consultation costs include retro-commissioning, which has increased the efficiency of operations, and which should equate to reduced operating costs, but these are difficult to identify and quantify. The consultant costs are the costs for certifying three buildings; consultant fees to certify a single building would have cost $35,000 to $45,000.

Exceeds expectations

Adobe's original goal was to reduce electricity costs. In 2002, then California Governor Gray Davis asked users to reduce their electricity consumption 10% below 1999 levels. Adobe already had accomplished this, and decided to try for 20%.

About this same time, Cushman & Wakefield requested all of its managers to benchmark their properties with the Energy Star program for comparing energy efficiency in commercial office buildings. It takes an Energy Star score of 75 or higher to earn the Energy Star label. East and West towers originally were benchmarked with scores of 76 and 74, which qualified one tower for the Energy Star label and the other at one point below the certification mark. Adobe decided it was logical to reach a little higher, find additional energy savings, and obtain that last point and the Energy Star label for both towers.

When Almaden Tower was built, Adobe worked closely with its local utility provider PG&E and its Savings By Design program, which offers incentives to owners and architects for building energy savings into their buildings. It takes a year to establish a baseline with Energy Star and obtain an Energy Star score. Almaden Tower was built with all the bells and whistles regarding energy management, and it was a shock to Cushman & Wakefield and Adobe when they received their score of 50 on the Energy Star scale. Adobe learned a valuable lesson: good design doesn't necessarily mean a building is energy efficient. Accordingly, Adobe set out to see what measures would yield energy savings in its new building to match its two older buildings.

That was in the spring of 2004. Shortly after that, Randy Knox III, Adobe's director of real estate, suggested to certify the buildings as green. Part of the certification process was retro-commissioning the three buildings. A self-audit of the buildings—using the LEED EB checklist—found that Adobe qualified at the gold level, second from the highest level possible. As with Energy Star, it made sense to see what it would take to achieve platinum.

Up to that point, Adobe had undertaken 30 energy conservation and related projects. Adobe had spent $888,912, earned rebates of $277,092, and was reducing annual operating costs by $647,747. This accounts to 106% ROI. Adobe didn't expect to achieve additional savings, after third-party audits said there was little to be done to reduce energy costs. But the rigorous and methodical LEED EB platinum certification process uncovered projects that, when implemented, offer a more efficiently operating building with even greater reductions in operating costs.

During the certification period, Adobe completed another 34 projects, spending $473,680 in the process, earned another $112,234 in rebates, and further reduced operating expenses an additional $534,398 per year. See Table 2.

The ROI for projects undertaken after Adobe began the certification process was better than before: 148% ROI.

Eighteen months later, all three buildings have been certified LEED EB at the platinum level and Adobe's operating expenses are $1.2 million less per year than they would have been had these projects not been undertaken. The numbers have been verified by third-party authorities and speak for themselves: $1.4 million in expenses, $389,000 in rebates, and $1.2 million in annual savings. Energy Star scores are now 98, 100, and 100, for the three buildings, excluding data centers.

One other achievement came out of the platinum challenge. Adobe and Cushman & Wakefield went much farther down the road toward creating the intelligent building.

In June 2004, Adobe added real-time electric meters to show how electricity use changed as projects were implemented. This helped confirm the savings realized from each measure undertaken.

Also in the summer of 2004, Adobe participated in PG&E's voluntary Demand Response Program, developed to cut electricity demand during critical peak demand periods, thus helping prevent rolling blackouts and keeping spot market energy prices down. When curtailment was called for, Adobe turned off decorative fountains and overhead lighting in perimeter offices. Because two engineers spent 45 min to turn everything off manually, this led to the development of a Web-based interface that allows these systems to be curtailed with a single global command. It now takes one engineer 1 min or 2 min to perform this job.

These changes pointed the way toward something more comprehensive: a unified system of monitoring and control. By the time this system is finished (it is about 90% complete), Adobe's building operating engineers will be able to access any portion of the complex from anywhere they have connectivity, to monitor lighting, temperature, electricity use, natural gas use, and water use, and do this by individual office, floor, and building.

Upon completion, Adobe will have spent almost $250,000 on this system, yet with its aid, Adobe has corrected several previously undiscovered problems, saving the company almost $96,000 per year. This is a 30-month payback and a 38% ROI.

New technologies enhance Adobe's ability to do more with less. Technologies reduce labor, increase productivity, give access to information, and improve reporting ability. But the real news is that the majority of the cost savings were realized through applying basic practices and principles of property and facilities management.

Adobe and Cushman & Wakefield looked at every component of every system and asked: What can be done to improve efficiency and reduce costs? What was unique at Adobe was not necessarily the quality of the projects implemented, but their quantity. Most properties implement some of these over the course of time; Adobe implemented all of them.

Project description Number of projects Cost Rebate Savings ROI
Load management26$445,248$205,437$729,185304%
Equipment retrofits6$298,439$122,575$107,97661%
Monitoring and controls1$39,472$11,000$12,00142%
Water management3$145,732$5,396$31,28722%
Waste management1--$137,380immediate
Recycled office supplies1--8,700immediate
Sustainable janitorial1---n/a
Indoor air quality1---n/a
Alternative transportation1---n/a
Compostable paper1---n/a
Alternate energy purchase1$16,000--n/a
LEED consultation1$105,000--n/a
LEED registration and certification1$12,000--n/a

Project description Number of projects Cost Rebate Savings ROI
Before LEED EB registration30$888,912$277,092$647,747106%
After LEED EB registration34$473,680$112,234$534,398148%

Load management

Adobe completed 26 separate load management projects to certify its three headquarter buildings as LEED platinum. These project installations include:

• Six applications of motion sensors to curtail lighting

• Motion sensors on conference room variable air volume boxes

• Adjusted run times on equipment and motors, including garage fans, boilers, and fountain pumps

• Rescheduled parking garage lighting to reduce operating hours

• Modified cooling tower staging to reduce energy use

• Relocated thermostats from ceilings in Internet data center closets to optimize temperature readings.

The installation of motion sensors for lighting includes mounting dimmers in alcoves and stairwells. The dimmer installation cost Adobe $84,034 with a rebate of $21,108. Adobe's annual savings for this project is $46,853 and the company achieved a payback in 1.4 years. This posts a 73% ROI.

Adobe also modified its garage fan programming, which reduced run time without sacrificing quality. This cost $200, and boasts annual savings of $98,000. This massive immediate payback gave the company a 48,204% ROI.

Water management

Adobe's three water management projects also posted significant savings. Adobe installed no-water urinals , which save as much as 40,000 gal per toilet per year. No-water urinals also do less long-term damage to waste pipes.

The cost of this project was $35,374 with a rebate of $5,396. Annual savings are $6,338 with a projected payback of 4.7 years and 21% ROI.

Adobe also installed automatic faucet valves in its facilities. This project cost $110,358 and gave no rebate. Annual savings are $24,949 with a projected payback of 4.4 years. The company saw a 23% ROI on this project.

Finally, Adobe also installed an automated drip irrigation system. The company says drip irrigation is 30% to 50% more efficient than standard spray delivery systems. The drip irrigation cost $3,610 with no rebate. Annual savings are $9,001 and Adobe received a payback within 5 months. The ROI on this project stands at 249%.

Equipment retrofits

Adobe's six equipment projects include installations of variable frequency drives (VFD) on supply fans and installations of adjustable frequency drives (AFD) on chillers. This balanced major rotating equipment throughout the facility.

Retrofitting VFDs on the main supply fan cost Adobe $73,000, but gave a rebate of $29,400. Annual savings for this installation are $12,000. Projected payback will occur in 3.6 years and this project gives Adobe a 28% ROI.

AFDs also were installed. Prior to this project, Adobe said that chillers accounted for nearly 30% of its building energy consumption. Adobe spent $65,000 on the AFD project, and received a rebate of $41,207. Annual savings are $38,719 and a payback occurred in 7 months. This project gave a 163% ROI.


As part of Adobe's 19 lighting projects, overhead lighting also was retrofitted using GE Nexgen Ultra-max T-8 lamps and ballasts. The project cost $65,106 and gave Adobe a rebate of $4,360. Annual savings are $11,315 with a projected payback of 4.5 years. Adobe ROI on this project stands at 19%.

In addition to modifying garage fan programming, Adobe retrofitted its garage lighting. This cost $208,827 with a rebate of $40,558. Annual savings are $23,887 with a payback in 1.75 years. This gave Adobe a 60% ROI.

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