Patagonia’s Green Shipping Center

As the sun rises over Nevada’s high desert, 87 solar-tracking mirrors on the roof of Patagonia’s Reno Service Center move in unison to reflect its light to the work floor below. During the night and early morning hours, exhaust fans remove all the hot air out of the building and replace it with cool, fresh air. Thanks to ample insulation, window glazing and sunscreens that reduce heat gain inside, the nighttime flush system leaves the interior comfortably cooler all day without air-conditioning, despite 95-degree outdoor temperatures.

Built on the banks of the Truckee River in 1996, Patagonia’s $19 million Service Center houses the loading docks, mechanical conveying systems, sorter and office equipment required to ship Patagonia clothing throughout North America and around the world. To build it was expensive, but most of its green innovations paid for themselves through 30- to 35-percent energy savings during the first few years.

The steel frame, insulation and window glass of the warehouse/office complex (171,000 square feet) all contain recycled materials; energy-efficient lighting systems rely on motion sensors to help conserve electricity. In winter, a hot-water radiant heating system saves natural gas compared to a conventional air heating system. An oil/water separator moves runoff from the roof and parking lot, filters it, then allows the water to percolate back into the ground.

Carpets are 100-percent recycled polyester; the restroom countertops 100-percent recycled plastic; and portions of the office walls are made from compressed field straw that’s formaldehyde-free. Wallboard, paint, floor coverings and ceiling and shower tiles also use recycled content. All wood is either reclaimed or sustainably harvested. The building is old-growth free.

Phil Otero has worked in the building as a maintenance man since it was built. He is responsible for buying and using cleaning supplies, composting and managing the company’s recycling program, as well as keeping the building clean and orderly. He says it’s a pleasure to work in a building of this size that is always comfortable, an even 68-76 degrees summer and winter.

Otero uses only organic cleaning supplies inside, and an organic compound in winter to melt snow off the sidewalks outside. He and the other employees are so fierce about recycling that the large warehouse and office complex fills only two 30-yard compactors a year. Inspired by the building, Otero saved his bonus checks and IRS refunds for two years so that he could afford his own solar system at home.

Otero has one request for Patagonia customers: When sending clothing for return or repair, the less packing material used the better. Please don’t ship with packing foam or “biodegradable” peanuts (we reuse peanuts if we can, but we’d rather keep them off-site). Please use newspaper or no packing materials at all. Reducing packing materials helps keep our dumpster empty!