This week, NRG Energy, Inc announced plans to build a new headquarters in Princeton. Actually, it’s at the Carnegie Center in West Windsor. But the bigger question is whether the new headquarters will live up to its billing as an ‘ultra-green’ development. The development is described as ‘carbon-neutral’, but this label ignores the impact of transportation. Is a building really ‘carbon-neutral’ if hundreds of people drive cars to it every day?
The new NRG headquarters will be self-sufficient in terms of energy. This is great, because climate change is likely to be the defining issue of our generation. But the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in West Windsor comes by some margin from transportation:
In fact, in the Central Jersey area, West Windsor offers:
- One of the highest carbon emissions per capita (78.3 metric tons per year)
- One of the highest proportions of carbon emissions from transportation.
This is hardly a surprise. West Windsor is currently highly auto-centric, Low-density housing and strict separation of uses makes driving almost mandatory. The former Princeton Borough, by contrast, has much lower per capita carbon emissions, because there is a mixture of uses and higher density. It is a much better model for sustainability. Of course, NRG employees could get to work in an electric vehicle, right? Consider this: the new headquarters will be a workplace for 540 employees. But it will feature just “30” electric vehicle charging stations. Some number of workers will probably cycle, but a modest estimate would be that there will be over 400 employees driving regular gas-powered cars to work every day.
For a company to be ultra-green, it should locate where it employees can easily choose to walk, cycle or take transit to work. This one choice would likely make more difference than any number of photovoltaic panels and other such eco-swag. For a company the size of NRG, there is a place very nearby that fits the bill- Trenton. Trenton is connected to its surroundings by light rail, heavy rail, and a bunch of bus lines, and is built out as a compact walkable grid. People who work in Trenton would have real options to live car-free. Using an in-fill site would also help protect undeveloped areas. And locating in a walkable area provides resiliency. When the next Hurricane Sandy comes, which unfortunately is a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’, every company in a suburban office park is going to find that its workers are stranded without the use of their cars.