This week is World Green Building Week, a chance to showcase sustainable buildings in action. We at WWF have been lucky enough to inhabit our own green building, the Living Planet Centre (LPC), since October 2013. But what does our own green home tell us, and why do we need more buildings like it?
The WWF vision is for a future where people live in harmony with nature- and one of the biggest challenges to that future is climate change. My team’s work is all about reducing greenhouse gas emissions; here in the UK that means understanding our buildings, which are responsible for 16 per cent of our emissions and consume two thirds of the electricity we generate.
People and planet
To minimise our impact on the climate and the environment, the Living Planet Centre is highly energy efficient: it is designed to use about 80 per cent less energy for heating, cooling and lighting than the average office building in the UK. This is thanks to energy efficient construction but also a ground source heat pump for heating and cooling. A solar array on the roof provides 15 per cent of our annual energy needs, further helping to reduce our emissions, and the rest of our energy comes from a local combined heat and power plant, a more efficient and lower carbon source of electricity than the national grid.
With over 300 people coming and going each day, we have had to think about all the resources we use, not just our energy consumption. We have reduced the amount of mains water used every day by recycling the water from hand basins and showers; we harvest rainwater to flush our toilets and water the plants we have inside and outside of the building; even our bike sheds have a natural sedum (a plant) roof to absorb rainwater and help stop it running into the sewer system. Our beautiful vaulted roof uses less material than conventional roof design, and rather than using concrete, the LPC is built using responsibly sourced timber. What’s more, substituting traditional materials for ones with less carbon did not add any costs to the construction. And since the move from our previous home in Godalming, more of our colleagues (over half) catch the train to the office- and the bike sheds and showers means that many people choose to cycle.
As a result our HQ is one of only 24 buildings in the world in the last six years to have achieved the highest BREEAM “outstanding” rating for its design. BREEAM is the world’s leading environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings, which looks at areas such as energy use, land use, materials, water, waste use and the health and wellbeing of its users. As you can probably tell, as both the head of our climate and energy work, and as a not-so-secret sustainable buildings enthusiast, I feel pretty lucky to work in such an exemplary building.
The benefits of better buildings aren’t just about tackling climate change: we know that well designed green buildings improve the quality of life of the people living and working in them. Efficient buildings have been shown to reduce respiratory illnesses, cut energy bills for vulnerable people, and (for business buildings like ours) support adaptable and productive working. What I love most about the building, though, is that it is beautiful. We have trees in our central atrium, native plant species on the terraces outside, an auditorium and an open public exhibition at the front of the building which means I can witness on a daily basis how impressed visitors to the building are.
A learning curve
We still have some way to go. We currently have a gap between the predicted energy usage of the building and what we’re currently achieving. We’re continuing to work to maximise the benefits from the design of the Living Planet Centre, and reduce our energy use as far as possible. On the positive side, these lessons will be useful to other organisations looking at their own facilities, or to Government looking at how to practically bring down emissions from buildings.
A little help from Government
On the topic of Government: I want to end thinking again about the importance of buildings to tackling climate change. We know that we have an enormous challenge ahead to reduce emissions from buildings, but that the benefits of more sustainable buildings can outweigh their costs. But Government has so far not been clear on how it intends to proceed, and in fact has moved in the opposite direction by cutting policy such as the Zero Carbon Homes standard. We remain in the dark about how we will meet the EU ‘Nearly Zero Energy’ building standards which is to be introduced before 2020. This is a shame: not just because of our carbon emissions, but also because the Government is preventing other people from experiencing the benefits that come from working and living in a building like the Living Planet Centre.
Why not visit the Living Planet Centre for yourself?
We offer behind the scenes tours, family activities and special events, plus a fantastic range of workshops for school and youth groups. Visit the Living Planet Centre to find out how.