As more organizations recognize that protecting the environment is crucial to curbing climate change, they also realize that a commitment to sustainability is integral to business success. With the European Union pledging carbon neutrality by 2050, public agencies as well as developers and construction and engineering companies across the continent are setting their own ambitious targets to meet corporate, national, continental, and global goals.
Committed to building more resilient infrastructure and durable, low-carbon assets, companies also are minimizing landfill waste, cutting water and materials consumption, and building out their “green” transportation fleets.
Complementing company, country, and continental sustainability goals is the new Oracle Industry Lab in Reading, UK. Nestled at the confluence of the Kennet and Thames rivers in the South-East of England, Reading is a burgeoning hub for green technologies that are replacing more traditional industries and providing an ideal ecosystem for Oracle’s new lab.
Joining the Oracle Industry Lab in Chicago as idea incubators designed to help businesses in a variety of industries tackle their most complex challenges, the lab in Reading is scheduled to become operational in the autumn of 2022. The Reading lab is a showcase to shape sustainable practices among several industries—hospitality, food and beverage, transportation, engineering and construction, communications, and energy and water.
“We’re building an environment that brings together multiple industries so we can test and create approaches to address sustainability,” says Burcin Kaplanoglu, vice president, Oracle Industry Lab. “Engineering and construction will be working side by side with the others to understand environmental impacts on each industry. It’s about bringing synergies.”
The lab is a tidy campus-like setting and an adjoining office building that’s topped by solar panels promoting efficient land use. The campus, TVP 510 recently was recognized by the nonprofit US Green Building Council with the prestigious and highly regarded LEED Gold Certification. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, typically accredits indoor facilities. The distinction is a significant indicator to organizations that the lab is a leader in climate change practices.
Achieving high-profile LEED certification isn’t merely about the buildings themselves. A bevy of sustainable design, build, and operational elements are implemented at the lab in Reading that promote green best practices. Among the items and processes are:
Sustainable finishes: wallpaper, paint, and carpet
Carbon negative flooring
Recycled UK-sourced timber
Low carbon concrete
Reused pavement and roads
A living wall with plants
On-site waste management
EV charging on-site
EPD (environmental product declaration) verified materials
While all the elements are important to the success of a sustainable building, one unique feature situated on the campus encompasses the multiple industries featured at the lab in Reading.
While it doesn’t have the recognition—yet—of the famed British steam locomotive the Flying Scotsman, a repurposed train carriage provides a nod to the past with an eye toward a green and sustainable future. Initially planned as a simulated rail car, Covid derailed those plans as supply chain and materials became an issue along with a dwindling number of companies available to build it.
Construction companies constantly face such dilemmas. And it requires a quick, creative pivot to keep the trains running on time, so to speak. Shelving the concept of a rail car was not an option as Kaplanoglu and his team took a new track. Rather, the clear choice was to go further green: make something old new again.
The plan for a simulated rail car morphed into a real-life example of sustainability—buy and refurbish an out-of-service, decommissioned train car to board a new generation of guests for a one-of-a-kind experience.
The initial plan included acquiring sustainable materials for the exterior to create a futuristic, bullet train-like design. Instead, the exterior appears as a traditional train car.
“Does it matter if it looks like a bullet train? No,” Kaplanoglu says with a smile. “Because when people walk inside, they're going to be amazed by what they see and experience.”
Kaplanoglu calls the fully repurposed, stationary train car a “transportation capsule” capturing the essence of a journey through multi-industry sustainability practices. Transportation, whether via a driverless EV vehicle, a hyperloop, or a spaceship destined for Mars, plays a key role in the journey. But the lab and the repurposed rail car also reveal how to sustainably deal with food and beverage, communications, and the energy that powers it all throughout the journey.
Kaplanoglu adds that engineering and construction is the lynchpin to design and build it all sustainably.
“Building an environment that brings multiple industries together at the lab is going to allow us to figure out how to build these things in a viable commercial setting,” he says. “As we’re looking at the future of sustainability, we must look at how to design, construct, operate, and what happens at the end of a project’s lifecycle.”
The lab carefully meshes Oracle Corp., British, European Union, and United Nations sustainability goals. It highlights use cases in hospitality, food and beverage, communications, energy, and engineering and construction, which play a crucial role for each industry. The lab will seek solutions that cover an asset’s lifecycle, Kaplanoglu says. It's about how to design and build sustainably, how to sustainably operate it, and finally, how to decommission it sustainably.
“Let’s say we are having discussions with food and beverage executives about food waste; how you would transport it, manage it, and reduce the waste. Who's actually going to build the infrastructure for that process? Construction and engineering companies,” Kaplanoglu says. “They play a vital role in all industries’ ability to meet sustainability goals.”
It’s clear that construction companies take sustainability seriously, given that most large organizations now include a pledge to be green on their “about us” page or as part of their mission statement.
“We asked contractors about waste and materials loss on job sites, and they admit there is a huge amount of waste industry wide,” Kaplanoglu says. “It hovers somewhere between 20% and 30% in large part because the methodology hasn’t changed in decades. Waste makes things unpredictable, and one of the key industry challenges is to make processes predictable.”
There is a concerted industry-wide push for sustainability. And the lab in Reading will help build the sustainability practices so urgently sought in construction and other industries, as well as governmental agencies globally.
“People care about sustainability because they want to prevent wasted resources, money, and people's time,” Kaplanoglu says. “The pandemic gave people time to stop and think, ‘How am I living my life? What do I care about?’ And we’re seeing that in their commitment to green practices.”
Click here to learn more about the Oracle Industry Lab.
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