Project Description


The Nature Conservancy

A facilities footprint to align with a mission of land conservation


How does The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the most respected global environmental organizations, align its operational footprint with its mission to “conserve the land and waters on which all life depends”. The California chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) engaged MKThink to examine its operations and develop a strategy to manage its physical workplaces in a resourceful and environmentally conscious manner that maximizes its organizational effectiveness.


TNC’s offices were scattered across the state — established on an ad hoc basis to support professionals hired for specific projects or field initiatives. The chapter headquarters in San Francisco faced skyrocketing commercial rents that strained its operational budget at its current square footage. Maintaining the current footprint would increase by $247,000, amounting to $2,950,000 over ten years. TNC’s expansion beyond land acquisition into education, outreach, advocacy, and policymaking called for different resources, organizational structure, and office locations.


MKThink performed an in-depth assessment on what we have identified as the three primary components of the broader workplace system.

  • Place: Where the work is performed

  • Technology: Tools required to perform the work
  • Policy: Rules governing performance

The project team spent six-weeks conducting site observations and staff interviews and surveys at 6 office locations to collect qualitative data on processes, workflows, and work modalities. Facilitations with chapter leadership pinpointed facility issues and delineated organizational goals. Using access control data and observed occupancies, they collected quantitative metrics on the utilization and occupancy of each office. The physical space characteristics of each site were inventoried with a custom iPad app.


Employees’ surveys and utilization revealed valuable insights into how and how often employees utilize TNC’s physical office. Insights drawn from this assessment outlined the parameters, criteria, and evaluation metrics for a long-term facilities master plan. That 50% of workstations go unused day-to–day pointed to excess capacity. This insight proved to be a key driver in developing the strategic solution.

Strategic Solution

The strategic solution proposed a hub-and-spoke model that classified offices as hubs or regional offices. Design templates, developed from analytic insights, defined and standardized the spatial criteria for the two types with the flexibility to adapt to the particular layouts of each office. Space and technology criteria further defined requirements for a menu of workspaces typologies that aligned with identified work modalities.

TNC’s San Francisco headquarters served as the test case for rolling out the strategic solution. MKThink designed an open office layout coupled with a “hoteling” protocol. Well ahead of the current hot desking trend, hoteling (TNC) California replaced assigned, private offices and cubicles with assigned rolling file cabinets and reservable workstations, transforming the office into a 100% shared resource, a policy aligned with TNC’s mission of resource conservation. Doing away with private offices eliminated the formerly labyrinthine layout to improve way-finding and cultivate casual interactions between employees.

A variety of spaces and room types combined with the mobility of the file cabinets to present employees with a choice of workspaces—private, quiet, collaborative, tech-enabled—to tailor to the task at hand. The layout’s flexibility artfully responds to workplace needs. Retractable glass doors form a conference room, and when not in use, fold away to create a large open space that accommodates office-wide gatherings and public events.

State-of-the-art video conferencing rooms facilitate essential communication with employees in the field—achieving the stated design goal to foster collaboration among remote and transitory, loosely affiliated field staff. The user-friendly video conference rooms also reduce the environmental impact of travel between offices.

The aesthetic choices highlight TNC’s environmental mission in an understated way that makes judicious use of donor dollars. The color palette is inspired by the flora, fauna, and geographic features of California.

The use of sustainable materials and energy-efficient lighting, plumbing, and mechanical systems aligns with TNC’s commitment to conservation: a steel reception desk sheathed in sustainably harvested wool, carpeting from 100% recyclable materials, and wood benches and counters crafted from reclaimed, old growth redwood (originally logged from the first plot of land that TNC California preserved). The centerpiece of the lobby is a topographic cut-out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which captures the Chapter’s regional character and conservation initiatives.

This pairing of architectural design with technology tools and organizational protocol resulted in a 30% reduction in square footage. This contained lease expenses (a cost savings of $2,950,000 over 10 years), which enabled the Chapter to maintain its downtown location, in proximity to partners and public transit.

Consolidating the office from 1.5 floors to 1 unified staff and improved morale. The optimized layout increased utilization and occupancy, and the aesthetic upgrades, attracted more staff to work in the office instated of at home. The design captures TNC’s commitment to conservation—natural, material, and financial.

The Nature Conservancy California presents a prime example of MKThink’s approach to workplace—the integration of Place, Technology, and Policy—and its responsiveness to the impact of technological change on the nature of work.