The WWF-UK’s Woking headquarters achieved a BREEAM Outstanding rating - what are the most important factors to consider when working on an eco-project?

When WWF-UK decided to relocate from a rented and well-worn building on an industrial estate near Godalming to new headquarters in Woking, the charity put together a challenging brief that reflected its ethos and environmental credentials. The new base needed to break new ground in terms of carbon emissions reduction; be an exemplar of low-carbon office design as well as adding value to the charity’s work. The new eco-building achieved a BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ rating.

The £20 million Living Planet Centre in Woking was designed by Hopkins Architects and environmental design consultants Atelier Ten, and built by Wilmott Dixon. Four years on from its opening, the Living Planet Centre continues to provide workspace for WWF staff, as well as being an accessible visitor centre to display the charity’s work on habitats, species and climate change.

With passive design a guiding principle, the building is a showcase for state-of-the-art sustainable technology in the built environment today.

Sustainability is incredibly important to us as an organisation. As an environmental charity whose work includes climate change and the effect on species, creating an environmentally-sensitive building using responsibly-sourced materials was key. Before we even found a site, we wanted the building to be BREEAM Outstanding and FSC certified. We wanted it to be an exemplar building to show people what is possible.

With passive design a guiding principle, the building is a showcase for state-of-the-art sustainable technology in the built environment today. From the four recycled aluminum windcowls on the barrel vaulted roof which help to ventilate the building naturally to the ground source heat pumps and earth ducts which heat and cool building – to the solar panels on the roof which generate up to 20% of the building’s electricity needs, this environmentally friendly building contributes to its own energy-efficiency and low-emissions operation.

Glass around the building maximises daylight, an important factor for health and wellbeing as it allows normal activities with less artificial light. In terms of interior air quality, weeping fig trees and other plants help to keep the air inside the building clean and oxygen levels up. 

A combination of distinctive louvered slats or brise soleil, internal automated blinds and the way the roof extends and overhangs the walls; together create shading from the sun to reduce solar gain. To help regulate the temperature in both summer and winter, a product called ‘Energain’, comprising recycled aluminium and wax was built into the roof to provide thermal mass.

Take an early view on how the building is to be used by considering for example “ a day in the life of…” as a key input into the design process

The dramatic zinc-surfaced roof’s barrel vault design is made up of interconnecting glulam beams to create a very strong, yet lightweight roof structure, as well as using less material than conventional roofing designs. During construction, 99% of construction waste was diverted from landfill with a focus on reuse and recycling, take back schemes and a focus on reducing packaging.  

Breaking new ground in terms of carbon emissions, the project reduced the embodied whole life carbon emissions by 42% (5,400 tonnes of CO2) over the duration of the project and at no additional cost. 

Robert Hardy, executive director of operations at WWF-UK who led the project, has a few tips for anyone taking on a similar project:

  • Outstanding client team always with an eye on the design, budget and timetable – pick your project manager, agent, architect, QS, M&E, etc well.  Establish project management and regular and formal project reporting and ensure there is a strong “partnership” relationship between key parties
  • Maintain an appropriate and healthy balance of the design against the practical use of the building. Take an early view on how the building is to be used by considering for example “ a day in the life of…” as a key input into the design process
  • Select a building contractor which demonstrably aligns with your environmental values and importantly make sure the assigned project manager is driven to achieving the design on timetable and on budget, and above all is great to work with as a partner - this role is key to the success of the project
  • If there are problems (and they will happen) create an environment/process to surface them immediately, to look for solutions and in particular address any impact on budget and timetable
  • Do not underestimate the information technology needs and requirements of the suppliers, and build this early into design and construction process
  • Where possible use existing (to an extent tried and tested) but not “bleeding” edge technology in the mechanical and engineering aspects of the building 
  • When looking into the sustainability of the project explore the benefits of local vs global procurement
  • Agree on BREEAM level required (we went for and achieved BREEAM outstanding) and build in as requirement of the design and construction contract
  • Actively monitor and manage the carbon footprint at the start, during and at the end and continually drive for carbon savings
  • FSC certification can present challenges – do not assume that contractors understand the FSC chain of custody requirements
  • Over engage staff with the move as early as possible including for example prototyping the “new” office in environment in the “old” office space
  • Establish KPIs to determine the “success” of the new building, and measure against these KPIs following completion
  • Post build have a ”lessons learnt” session with all key parties