A look inside Unilever’s new ‘Marketplace’ HQ (slideshow)

By Meg Fry
Englewood Cliffs | May 9, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Unilever’s new U.S. headquarters in Englewood Cliffs certainly sets new standards for what is now considered “smart.”

In planning for the workforce of the future, the nearly $53 billion, Netherlands-based global consumer goods and food company also has succeeded in creating one of the most sustainable and technologically advanced workplaces in the country.

“For us, it is all about sustainability, productivity, collaboration, agility and thriving in the more connected digital world that we live in today,” Ian Dunning, service delivery director of workplace services for North America at Unilever, said Tuesday during a tour of the facility.

In an unprecedented example of green redevelopment, the “Unilever Marketplace,” as the company calls it, reduces operating costs by 20 percent, potable water demand by 50 percent, carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent and total energy consumption by 50 percent — all while providing 28 percent more useable space than its previously occupied buildings had at the suburban office park.

It also can now accommodate all 1,600 employees at U.S. headquarters, if need be, though Unilever long has embraced “agile working,” or employees being given the choice of where and how they wish to work.

The project has been more than five years in the making, Dunning said. In 2014, Unilever received nearly $40 million in tax breaks from the state in 2014 to keep the company and its job in the state.

“We really wanted to remain here because we believe this location gives us the best of both worlds,” he said. “We are able to not only maintain our campus feel and our long history with New Jersey and its people, but we also have access to talent in New York.”

Unilever unveiled “Project Unify” to consolidate five of its North American offices and several of its operating groups into a single, state-of-the-art workplace more in line with Unilever’s global Sustainable Living Plan, created in 2010 to reduce the company’s environmental footprint and increase its positive social impact, including for its more than 160,000 global employees.

“What we wanted to do was renovate this 1960s slab construction building and turn it into something that felt more like a funky New York loft,” Dunning said.

Unilever worked primarily with Netherlands-based OVG Real Estate and New York-based Perkins+Will to develop and design the 325,000-square-foot building at 700 Sylvan Ave.

“It was a very big step, because we are a European developer, and this would be our first building in the U.S.,” Coen van Oostrom, CEO of OVG Real Estate, said. “Modern office buildings need four very important things: sustainability; health and wellness factors; smart technology; and they must be fun and energizing to be in for both younger and older generations.

“This building, for us, is one of the most important buildings we have ever worked on — we wanted this building to be so healthy that, when you left at the end of the day, you were healthier than when you walked in that morning.”

The building, has been designed to earn certification from both LEED-NC and the International Well Building Institute, was completed at the beginning of this year with assistance from other partners, including Normandy Real Estate Partners, M&E Engineers, Cushman & Wakefield, AMA Consulting Engineers, Robinson+Cole, Structure One, DrinkerBiddle, Evalan, Mesirow Financial, and Deerns.

First, the designers of the Unilever Marketplace took heavily into consideration Unilever’s “agile work” policy, as it has increased employee productivity and retention for more than a decade.

Therefore, the building features no assigned desks or offices for any employee, but, rather, a variety of open-space workspaces and seating arrangements, including “huddle” rooms, Skype-enabled private phone booths and traditional conference rooms.

However, completely connected by the Internet of Things via the EDGE Technologies platform, employees can more easily find each other on campus via a mobile application, as well as personalize the lighting and temperatures around them.

Furthermore, through partnerships with iBeacon, Mapiq and Nuuka Solutions, the building is monitored via more than 15,000 sensors to measure data points such as occupancy, humidity, daylight, energy consumption and more, to allow the building operator to optimize the use of each floor based on real-time information.

Of course, the building also contains more traditional energy- and environmentally-friendly features, such as low-flow plumbing fixtures, salvaged wood and solar panels.

But the “heart” of it all — the new enclosed atrium that now combines the previous four buildings — is the 16,000-square-foot marketplace, designed to fit 2,000 as a hub for working, socializing, dining and events.

“This space in particular has been incredible for our brand,” Katie Ambrose, manager of employer brand at Unilever, said. “It just Instagrams so well.”

In order to continue attracting and retaining the workforce of the future, Unilever has a branding team all its own for the company’s reputation as an employer.

That heavily determined what sort of facilities would fill the space, Ambrose said.

“What we say here at Unilever is that every voice matters, and every story is celebrated,” she said. “So, when the building was designed, we thought through things like, what do our people need, and how can we best support our employees?”

On-site facilities therefore include a heavily-subsidized fitness center and bookable wellness rooms, fully-stocked mother’s rooms, a dry cleaner, a TIGI-branded hair salon and a technology help center.

The cafeteria and multiple marketplaces throughout the atrium feature local and healthy food offerings, artisan tea and coffee, and free ice cream.

And employees can even purchase a selection of the more than 400 Unilever brands, such as Dove, Lipton, Hellmann’s and more, for reduced prices at the company store.

“Providing tours is really the best way to open prospective employees’ and guests’ eyes to the level of opportunity and comfort that we can provide them,” Zakiya Nashid, associate brand manager of employer brand at Unilever, said. “We make it a point to bring them around the building because we would like them to understand how we work, our flexible scheduling, our unassigned and open environments, and how we interact with each other, so that they feel comfortable making a decision as to whether we are the right place for them or not.”

Employees traveling in from New York City and Hoboken also can take the Unilever Employee Shuttle, which has since reduced employee cars on the road by 40 percent.

“I actually look forward to driving in to work now,” Ambrose said. “It’s nice to work for a company that takes care of its people and the environment.”

The best has yet to be seen, van Oostrom said.

“We will continue taking measurements over the next couple of weeks, but my belief is that this building will outperform most of the buildings on the U.S. East Coast,” he said.

Meg Fry | mfry@roi-nj.com | megfry3