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Creating A Net-Zero Carbon Building Means Addressing The Biggest Challenges Faced By Real Estate


When HB Reavis embarked on the design of Worship Square, a 140K SF office scheme in Shoreditch, creating a sustainable working environment was at the top of the agenda. The company wasn't just striving to deliver a building that was sustainable in operation, but one that pushed sustainability boundaries throughout the full life cycle of the project from design to construction — including taking on the significant challenge posed by embodied carbon.

By doing so, and telling the story of how, HB Reavis Leasing Manager Charlie Russell-Jones said that Worship Square could have a really positive impact on the people who use the building. First, it could help companies with ambitious ESG requirements — from being a fully net-zero carbon building to providing live reporting of energy use. Second, it could create tangible initiatives that help people understand their own impact. 

"Studies have shown that people will be more loyal to a company that helps them contribute positively to the environment," Russell-Jones said. "So we want to help businesses to attract and retain talent by creating a green workspace that aligns with the demands of their employees, shareholders and company ethos."

There are three phases of a property’s life that must be considered for it to be truly sustainable, Russell-Jones said: design, construction and daily operation of the scheme. Crucially, to get the best performance, sustainability must be ingrained and integrated throughout all stages and not be back-solved or retrofitted. 

Green Design 

To embed sustainability in design means paying attention to every detail no matter how big or small, Russell-Jones said. One of the big challenges is to reduce the amount of energy required to heat and cool the building. At Worship Square, the façade’s design plays a key role in reducing energy due to its optimum façade-to-glazing ratio, a practice first implemented at HB Reavis’ recently pre-let scheme Bloom Clerkenwell.

"Worship Square has a striking blue terracotta façade," Russell-Jones said. "Not only does this define the building's attractive identity, but the tiles naturally keep the building cool in summer and warm in winter. We also have a strong focus on biophilic design; the building will have more than 3,000 plants chosen specifically for air purifying and carbon-absorbing qualities.”

These design elements are continued throughout the building. Worship Square has both private and communal roof terraces, which Russell-Jones said will be abundantly green, attracting wildlife. The building is also designed to be as self-sufficient as possible; 700 SF of photovoltaic cells on the roof will generate the building’s own electricity and food waste will be processed on-site into compost for the terraces.


Green Construction

HB Reavis' plan is to make sure that Worship Square has as limited embodied carbon as possible — the CO2 that is emitted to produce new materials. 

“This is perhaps the single biggest challenge facing the real estate sector," Russell-Jones said. “When complete, Worship Square’s embodied carbon will be just 492 kgCO2/m2 GLA, more than 50% lower than the UK Green Building Council's current embodied carbon target, which is equivalent to the average yearly carbon emissions for 3,000 homes. It will also be 18% lower than the 2030 targets set by the Greater London Authority.”

To achieve this, the company has prioritised practices and materials during construction that use as few, high-quality, low-carbon resources as possible to reduce its carbon footprint. This includes using renewable energy during construction and reusing as many materials as possible. For example, Worship Square uses the existing foundations, lightweight concrete and high-grade steel. Russell-Jones also emphasised the importance of having a mindset that considers the lifespan of a building. 

“There can be bad press about new buildings, but if you design something that can be constructed sustainably and can be super-efficient over a long life cycle of 50, 100, 150 years, then that’s a good thing,” Russell-Jones said. “It’s about building to a high enough level of quality that it will last as long as possible.”

HB Reavis has recently become a member of the UK Green Building Council, demonstrating its commitment to setting out a pathway to net-zero. The developer is determined that each project it embarks on will have a smaller environmental impact.

Green In Operation

The final part is to be sustainable in operation. This requires creating a building that is efficient and green on a day-to-day basis once it has been delivered. Worship Square’s base build energy consumption is on track to be 10% lower than the UK Green Building Council’s target for 2030, Russell-Jones said. 

“Worship Square is fully electric, using air source heat pump technology, on-site photovoltaic cells and renewable electricity providers” he said. “It has also been designed to actively help businesses with their ESG reporting by having sensors which monitor and record energy and water consumption in real time. We’ll also collect data on air quality so we make the environment of the shared spaces as healthy as possible.”

To demonstrate how operationally green Worship Square will be, HB Reavis has designed it to achieve 5-star NABERS certification. This Australian accreditation scheme is gaining prominence in the UK and focuses on the energy efficiency of a property once it’s in use. 

Russell-Jones also listed many examples of “the small things that make a big difference, tangible things that people can relate to”. For example, the building is single-use-plastic free and encourages people to have an active lifestyle. 

“Worship Square's cycle parking has been elevated to the ground floor and will house double the number of cycle spaces compared to the British Council for Offices standards,” he said. “We are making changing facilities more premium to make using them more appealing and remove the barriers for the active commuter. We’ll have an in-house fleet of Brompton Bikes for people to borrow, so they can swap that bus or taxi journey for a cycle. We’re prioritising visible staircases, because in most buildings it’s hard to know where the stairs are — people take the lift because they don’t know they have a choice. We're helping individuals reach their own sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Russell-Jones is clearly already excited about how Worship Square will perform environmentally and said how it is on track to achieve BREEAM Outstanding as well as net-zero carbon in construction and operation. His hope is that by clearly communicating the green measures taken and the benefits for businesses and their employees, the building can become a force for good. 

This article was produced in collaboration between HB Reavis and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

Studio B is Bisnow’s in-house content and design studio. To learn more about how Studio B can help your team, reach out to