A Flexible and Sustainable BNP

Rahul Agrawal of BNP Paribas explains how sustainability, innovation, and employee wellness drive the company’s office designs as it works to accommodate new growth

For BNP Paribas, the push for sustainability doesn’t start and end with a certificate or plaque. It’s a constant push for innovation and new ways of thinking according to Rahul Agrawal, the multinational bank and financial services company’s head of workplace strategy, planning, and projects in the United States.

“LEED is a great starting point,” he says. “But I think it’s become more of a paperwork process as it’s evolved. We’re interested in finding out if we can evolve from what we have today—making sure that the materials we use are sustainable and locally sourced.”

That’s not just lip service. The company’s approach to corporate social responsibility and being green includes: making full use of natural light when possible; reducing the need for new materials and incorporating exposed ceiling slabs, concrete flooring, and exposed parts of the building’s structure into designs; and using salvaged and recycled materials such as bricks, reclaimed wood, natural cork, recycled banana-fiber laminate millwork, recycled aluminum stools, and chairs made of biocomposite materials.

“We’re focused on reducing the number of elements we use,” Agrawal says. “We’re very conscious both of what we can use and what we don’t need to change.”

To reduce the use of new materials, the team utilizes preexisting exposed ceilings and concrete flooring.

Agrawal joined BNP Paribas in 2015 to help the bank develop spaces that change the ways in which employees work. The approach is based on employees’ experiences from the moment they walk into their office space to the time they leave for the day. The end goal, he says, is to not only increase productivity, but also employee satisfaction.

“More often than not, our staff prefers to stay at work outside of the posted business hours, and we want to create spaces that enable such behavior,” he says, adding that the company is fortunate to have building ownership that enables additions and modifications as necessary.

Two recent projects in the BNP Paribas portfolio illustrate this attention to innovation and sustainability as it pertains to the company’s employees. On the fourth floor of the company’s Jersey City location, the premises team worked closely with internal and external partners to open a collaborative, densified space that supports the latest technology standards. As an open plan, the environment features skylights that provide plenty of natural daylight to the space.

On the 30th floor of the company’s property at 787 7th Avenue in New York, the senior management team hatched a new idea in the middle of its renovation project. Instead of just removing unused spaces in an effort to support the company’s growing mobile base, the team created an “Innovation Zone” that redefined the scope of the project and ultimately created areas that can be used by a wider cross-section of the company. In addition, Agrawal says the company is undertaking a feasibility study to develop an outdoor terrace as part of the overall renovation.

Although the work on developing a terrace can be seen as an additional value that can both attract and retain employees, the flexibility provided in the team’s designs also allows BNP Paribas to accommodate a growing workforce.

“We have to keep pace with current trends and market predictions,” Agrawal says. “Our internal team focuses on usage, trends, forecasting, and space management tools to keep us updated with relevant data that’s critical to the planning process.”

Of course, even with this data, the ever-present changes in technology present unique challenges to Agrawal in terms of planning for the future.

“As far as what the next five years might look like, it’s difficult to predict,” he says. “But it keeps me involved and looking at the things on a daily basis. If we had all the answers, it would be very mundane.”

Nevertheless, Agrawal says he appreciates how unpredictability forces the team to think outside the box.

“Traditionally, our roles have been very reactive,” he says. “It’s a reactive industry, but just because something has been done for 10 years and that’s why everybody does it doesn’t mean that that’s the only answer. You have to keep a very open mind when you’re pushing to come up with new solutions.”

The “Densified Flexible Space” Plan

To keep up with the always-accelerating pace of progress in technology and regulations, businesses need to innovate faster and more frequently. As a result, Rahul Agrawal says BNP Paribas keeps an “evolving template” in mind for designing new spaces.

“As I look back to the recent projects we have completed, no two identical spaces come to mind,” he says. “The space template provides a focus on collaborative spaces rather than private offices, while at the same time providing for nuances in the way that different employees see their
work space.”