World-first sustainable office retrofit begins at new University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership headquarters

The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has announced the start of works on its new visionary headquarters. This world first for a retrofitted sustainable office building will set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources as well as user experience and wellbeing measured against multiple benchmarks.

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The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has announced the start of works on its new visionary headquarters. This world first for a retrofitted sustainable office building will set new standards for low energy use, carbon emissions and impact on natural resources as well as user experience and wellbeing measured against multiple benchmarks.

The Entopia Building, a retrofitted 1930s Telephone Exchange at 1 Regent Street, Cambridge, will be transformed over the next 10 months into an ultra-low carbon sustainability hub, and new home for CISL as it scales up business, government and academic leadership, collaboration and innovation to accelerate the inclusive global transition.

The building will house CISL’s Cambridge-based staff, currently spread across five buildings, and provide a dynamic virtual hub for its offices in Brussels and Cape Town, partner organisations in China, Australia and the UAE, its global corporate partners, alumni, fellows, associates, researchers and visiting academics.

A dedicated Accelerator and Sustainability Hub will support small businesses and start-ups via collaborations, capacity building and knowledge transfer between industry experts, researchers, and major companies.

The Entopia Building is the vision of CISL Founder Director Dame Polly Courtice who has led the Institute for more than 30 years - inspiring companies, policymakers and civil society leaders to take leadership for sustainability.

Dame Polly Courtice, Founder Director, CISL said: “CISL’s new HQ at The Entopia Building will exemplify and enable our mission to support and inspire the leadership and innovation we need to transition to sustainable economy. Our aim is to create a highly collaborative and sustainable workspace to bring together Cambridge’s academic and innovation communities with our network of companies and sustainability leaders to accelerate solutions to global sustainability challenges.”

The Entopia Building aims to be an international exemplar for sustainable office retrofits, demonstrating how an existing office building can be made highly energy efficient in its redevelopment and use, whilst supporting the enhanced wellbeing of staff and visitors. The building will also provide a base for the Institute’s digital learning programmes which reach more than 4,000 executives each year through remote learning. High tech video conferencing facilities and collaborative digital platforms will enable its network of 16,000 alumni, fellows and associates to collaborate and engage with its work remotely.

In 2019 the University of Cambridge became the first university in the world to adopt a 1.5 degrees Science Based Target for carbon reduction, committing itself to reduce its energy-related carbon emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with an ambition to achieve this by 2038 - a decade early. In 2020 the University announced it aims to divest from all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030 as part of its ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions across its investment portfolio by 2038.

Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge said: “The Entopia Building will become the most sustainable premises in the University of Cambridge Estate, marking a major contribution to our world-leading target to eliminate our emissions and putting the wellbeing of its occupants – and wider society - at its heart.”

The £12.8m retrofit has been supported by a £6m donation from greentech leaders Envision Group and a £3m grant from the European Regional Development fund (ERDF), which is also funding the operation of a sustainability hub and small business and start up accelerator for three years. The University has invested its own funds in the project alongside an internal grant from its internal Energy & Carbon Reduction Project.

The building name references the Entopia concept developed by Envision Group to shape a future where access to clean, secure and affordable energy is available to all.

Lei Zhang, Founder and CEO, Envision Group said: “Envision Energy is pleased to support the University of Cambridge in making the Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s new headquarters an exemplar sustainability retrofit of international importance. We hope this project will lead others to be bolder in pursuing the goal of net zero as they invest in upgrading the world’s buildings and infrastructure. The Entopia Building will help to make the Entopia vision a reality as we work to engage international leaders and innovators in business and society to lead a collective effort to transform the world’s energy system to be fit for the future.”

Eighty percent of buildings that will exist in 2050 have already been built, and so although it is easier to develop new properties with high sustainability credentials, a major challenge for societies will be to retrofit existing building stock to meet climate change targets, and ensure they are fit for purpose in the future.

As a world first, The Entopia Building aims to achieve multiple sustainable building certifications, including BREEAM (Outstanding), the Passivhaus ‘Enerphit’ standard, Well (Gold) certification, alongside the application of ‘circular economy’ principles to minimise the volume and impact of natural and made-made resources used in the building.

The project brief was developed by CISL’s Professor John French, who previously led the design and build of the award-winning Enterprise Centre at the University of East Anglia, which is demonstrably one of the most sustainable office buildings in the UK. The Entopia Building aims to open to staff by the end of 2021.

Prof. John French, Senior Advisor, CISL said: “Delivering the vision of The Entopia Building project is only possible through leadership and collaboration that puts sustainability objectives top of the list of priorities, and constantly innovates to achieve it, whilst not compromising cost, quality or timeline. We hope this building will provide an exemplar for the built environment, as the world moves to meet its Paris Agreement ambition to limit global warning to 1.5C."

Sustainability benchmarks for The Entopia Building:

  • The deep green retrofit is projected to result in an 80% saving in whole life carbon emissions (over 10,000 kg CO2e), compared to a standard office refurbishment.
  • The retrofit will be carried out according to EnerPHit, the Passivhaus standard for refurbishment and one of the most stringent standards for energy retrofits. It will deliver 75% lower heating demand in comparison to an average office building, and airtightness at more than five times that required by building regulations.
  • The Entopia Building is on track to gain world-leading sustainability and wellbeing certification from BREEAM (Outstanding) and the WELL Building Standard (Gold).
  • The project is one of the first to reuse lighting from another building refurbishment, re-testing and re-warrantying more than 350 LED lights that were then reinstalled in The Entopia Building.
  • Leftover furniture in the building has been diverted from landfill avoiding 21,000kg of CO2, with 21,600kg of chairs, tables and storage cabinets donated to local communities. A third of the building’s paint needs have been covered by a donation from Dulux of paint made from 35% recycled paint content.

The project is being delivered through the University’s Estates Division by a team of leading sustainability-focussed firms in the architectural, main contractor, project management and engineering disciplines, who understand the need for deep collaboration and innovation to achieve stretching sustainability targets.

CISL intends to share the case study of the exemplar high sustainability retrofit project for use in the wider building sector, both within and outside higher education. In this way The Entopia Building will contribute to CISL’s mission to develop and provide leadership for a sustainable economy, paving the way for wider change in how buildings are commissioned, managed and delivered to align with global and local sustainability ambitions.

Alexander Reeve, Sustainable Building Advisor, Estates Division, University of Cambridge said: “The project is a very exciting pathfinder project for the University Estate, as we refine our strategy to eliminate fossil natural gas as a fuel for our many older buildings. It demonstrates that there is a way to transition to low carbon heating whilst conserving Cambridge’s outstanding built heritage.

“Through the project we have been able to demonstrate the viability of measures such as internal wall insulation and triple glazing which have significantly reduced the size of the air source heat pump installation and avoided the need to upgrade electrical substation capacity. This means the only significant external alterations are the glazing and a solar power photovoltaic array on the roof.

“The investment in building fabric is expected to increase the long-term value of the building, with an Energy Performance Certificate of ‘E’ expected to become an ‘A’, lower utility bills, and lower plant maintenance costs.”

Paul Cossell, CEO, ISG [main contractor and office fit], said: “The significance of this project cannot be underestimated in the wider context of the UK achieving its 2050 net zero emissions target. With the built environment contributing around 40 percent of the UK’s total carbon footprint, this ground-breaking project is a pioneering case study on the smart transformation of an existing building, prioritising sustainability criteria as core drivers for every single element of the retrofit.

“We confidently expect the new design modelling, material and methodology innovations at the new CISL headquarters to provide the springboard for greater collaboration at an industry and client level to fast-track the reduction of carbon emissions from our built assets.”

Wendy Bishop, Associate & Passivhaus Designer at Architype [architects] said: “The Entopia Building aims to show building owners what can be achieved with a clear focus on cutting operational, embodied and whole life carbon in existing buildings, while creating beautiful and healthy places to work.

“The project balances the technical demands of meeting the EnerPHit standard with the sensitivities of dealing with a building in a conservation area. Focussing on internal finishes and using bio-based materials that met the multiple certification requirements, as well as using Architype’s pioneering ECCOlab embodied cost and carbon software, we were able to radically reduce embodied carbon and enhance air quality.

“We are excited to be involved in this exemplar collaborative project which demonstrates what can be achieved when ambitious targets are set.”

James Hepburn, Principal at BDP [MEP, sustainability and interior design] said: “The Entopia Building is set to be the most significant project of its type in the country – proving that the most sustainable building is one that already exists. The measures we are incorporating go far beyond standard sustainable buildings and the integrated and collaborative approach to design, operation and management from all stakeholders will undoubtedly result in a truly efficient, world class facility.

“At BDP, we continue to explore environmentally progressive ways of designing buildings using natural, low carbon materials and engineering the most efficient building services. This project is an exemplar for the evolution of sustainable building refurbishment approaches in the UK, and we are very proud to be part of a fantastic team bringing it to life.”

Patrick Watson, Partner, 3PM [project managers] said: “3PM is delighted to be working with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership on this exemplar, world leading scheme. The project ethos of open and collaborative engagement has been crucial to reaching this milestone the given ambitious and complex design, with unprecedented and ambitious sustainability metrics, and delivered during a time of international crisis. As Project Managers, 3PM is leading in delivering sustainability across all sectors and we are committed to ensure this project will set the benchmark for low carbon retrofits in the future.”

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