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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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Amazon’s New Bizzare HQ Pushes Clean Tech Boundaries

The rise of the information technology, e-commerce, and software industries has brought with it profound changes in the way that companies operate. That’s not just because of the products made by companies like Apple, Amazon, and Facebook, but because of how those firms interact with their employees as well.

In particular, many tech companies today spend significant amounts of money adding perks and amenities which they hope will help draw and keep top notch talent. Now Amazon.com appears to be merging that trend with the trend towards clean energy in its new corporate headquarters building.

Amazon is already the largest private employer in Seattle, but the company expects to continue growing in the future. To accommodate that need, Amazon is building a 500 foot tall office tower in the downtown area of the city. What’s more interesting from a clean energy perspective are the series of geodesic domes that will accompany the tower. Amazon is building a series of 100 foot tall dome shaped buildings around its headquarters tower. These domes will open in 2018 and host hundreds of different plant species from around the world. The idea is to give Amazon employees a place to walk among the greenery in suspension bridges, or hold meetings in giant birds nest like structures in trees. The buildings are being designed by architects NBBJ.

Amazon is doing all of this in hopes of improving employee productivity through a creative working environment, but the space also has significant energy benefits as well. The domes create environmentally friendly recycled heat for Amazon’s office tower with a district energy system. The three spheres will recycle energy through water pipes and enable Amazon to heat more than 3 million square feet of office space. Related: Oil Bust Continues To Take Its Toll On Canadian Economy

If all of this sounds like an environmentalists dream, that is understandable. The domes are so unusual that they are already attracting significant interest from tourists and on social media. At the same time, Amazon is spending a significant amount of shareholder money on the view that these domes will prove to be a useful long-term investment. The evidence around that is questionable. Perks and amenities certainly do help bring in and keep employees, but it’s unclear at what point those amenities get to be too much.

Additionally, Amazon’s initiative, while very interesting, is probably not something that can be replicated by other big companies. Most city infrastructure is too developed and getting the space to build the kind of area that Amazon is building is not feasible. Nonetheless, the construction does highlight how serious big companies are getting about being environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Amazon is an enormously successful company and an outlet for emulation among many other competitors in the multiple industries. As a result, other retailer and technology giants may begin to feel pressure to do more to recycle energy and use waste heat in order to be seen as similarly responsible compared to Amazon. Only time will tell of course, but it is clear that Amazon has taken green tech in the workplace to a whole new level.

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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