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Climate change impacts are coming to Big Tech’s doorstep

An illustration of water flooding a parking lot, as two people walk away from the water

Sylvia Li

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The tech sector suffers no shortage of big ideas to save the world. But are tech companies prepared to save themselves from climate change impacts? We explore risks of sea level rise at tech campuses as part our our “Marketplace Tech” series “How We Survive.”

Scientists predict the waters of San Francisco Bay could rise 4 feet or more by 2100, enough to inundate some famous tech headquarters in Silicon Valley. We mapped six of those campuses at today’s sea levels, and at 1 foot, 2 feet, 3 feet and 4.3 feet higher. Scroll below to see how Alphabet (parent company of Google), Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Intel and Tesla may fare. Some will stay high and dry. Others — ahemFacebook — could end up with soggy servers. That could cost it some Libra.

Deeper blue means deeper water in these maps. And they show only the impacts of baseline sea level rise — high tides and storm surges, not mapped here, would make matters even worse. (Tesla may consider developing more electric boats?)

Alphabet

Google took over a former Silicon Graphics Inc. office in 2003, and Google’s parent company Alphabet still counts the address as its corporate headquarters. The so-called Googleplex sits just 3 meters above sea level, but that’s not all. According to its latest annual report, Alphabet owns or rents 11.2 million square feet of office space in and around Mountain View. The company is building a new headquarters nearby and scooping up more land all around the Bay Area, where less than a fourth of the company’s 107,000 employees work. For now, Google’s headquarters is fitted with the biggest solar power system available at the time, and the company says it buys as much renewable energy as it uses

Note: Highlighted buildings include the original Google campus, new construction and surrounding buildings.

Apple

Call it whatever you want — a doughnut, a flying saucer — Apple’s new headquarters is big. Some 12,000 employees work in the ring-shaped building’s 2.8 million square feet. Construction on Apple Park finished back in 2017 and reportedly cost the company $5 billion. The campus sits 47 meters above sea level, and much of it used to be paved over. Apple planted thousands of trees on the 175-acre site and installed a massive solar array on the roof. As of last year, Apple Park and all the rest of the company’s properties run on all renewable energy.

Note: The area indicated on the map below is the new Apple headquarters, which opened in 2017, not the old campus nearby.

Cisco

Cisco has called San Jose home since 1994. The information technology company’s sprawling headquarters houses more than 13,000 employees and boasts hardwood basketball courts, doctors offices and a real-life marauders map. The corporate campus sits just 2 meters above sea level — that could leave those basketball courts wet and slippery in a flood.

Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg moved his company to the old Sun Microsystems campus in Menlo Park back in 2011 — Zuck reportedly kept Sun’s logo around to remind employees that success wasn’t guaranteed. Its million square feet can hold about 3,600 employees, and sits in developed marshland right by the water, just 8 meters above sea level. The company has tripled down on the area, expanding next door to a 430,000-square-foot, Frank Gehry-designed building with a green roof in 2015. It’s also developing a “mixed-use village” across the street with more than a million square feet of office space, along with housing and retail. That’s set to partially open in 2021, just after the company predicts it will change to 100% renewable energy.

Intel

Intel moved into its Santa Clara headquarters in 1970. The site houses 6,700 employees south of the San Francisco Bay at 7 meters above sea level. While the computing giant’s HQ isn’t the site of much manufacturing, flooding could imperil a range of other functions on site, including engineering, design and corporate operations. In 2015, the company installed a rooftop array of micro wind turbines to explore the potential for on-site wind power generation.

Tesla

Tesla’s corporate headquarters is relatively small — perhaps too small, given its notoriously overcrowded employee parking lot. The company moved into its Palo Alto headquarters in 2009. At the time, the facility was built to house up to 650 workers (Tesla did not respond to inquiry about how many employees currently work there). Tesla HQ is well-buffered from sea level rise, nestled into the hills about 60 meters above San Francisco Bay. Not so for Tesla’s much larger — and more valuable — corporate campus and factory in Fremont, California. The East Bay facility houses about 10,000 workers at just 5 meters above sea level.

Maps designed by Dana Amihere. Dan Ackerman and Tony Wagner contributed reporting.

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