A healthy, environmentally-friendly and award-winning workplace

In an ever-changing retail landscape where e-commerce is seen as key to growth and the retail workforce is increasingly shifting away from the high street, a new fulfilment centre for a webshop in the Netherlands is worthy winner of the industrial category at the 2017 BREEAM Awards. Characterised by sustainable and environmental solutions, with a focus on energy efficiency and the best possible working environment for employees, the building achieved a rating of 89% for world-class sustainability.

The new bol.com fulfilment centre in Waalwijk was built to accommodate up to 2,000 employees on peak days as well as enable the company to continue to grow and innovate in the future.

Despite the huge 135,000mground space, the challenge for architect FGK Architecten and design consultancy firm, Groenewout, was to achieve high-quality working conditions and low environmental impact in a cost-efficient manner, in line with the sustainability strategy of parent company Ahold-Delhaize.

Fulfilment centres are traditionally designed as large, industrial units for logistics activities, with little consideration given to working conditions. To create the best possible industrial working environment for staff, a number of measures were introduced including daylight harvesting in the offices and in the warehouse.

This allows the retailer to maximise natural lighting in the workplace, thereby reducing and increasing the electric lighting as and when needed and ensuring staff are able to work productively with the optimal level of lighting. The lighting design in the warehouse is not only based on the level required for visual comfort it also takes the emotional and biological effects into account.

In addition, the online retailer has adopted the highest standards to achieve maximum thermal comfort and an indoor air quality plan – including ventilation, the use of building products with low VOCs, and indoor air being measured post-construction – to further enhance working conditions.

To minimise the environmental impact and realise a CO2-neutral fulfilment process, the building is 100% self-sufficient thanks to five wind turbines situated adjacent to the centre. Heat recovery has been adopted in areas with extensive mechanisation, which is then used to heat areas with a low internal heat load, such as storage areas. An aquifer thermal energy storage system has been installed which uses thermal energy underground for cooling and heating. With the entire building based on renewable electricity, there is no emission of greenhouse gases.

A rainwater retention pond anticipates the impact of climate change while domestic-scale water-consuming products such as low-flush toilets and waterless urinals maximise water-efficiency. The retailer has encouraged sustainable transport through carpooling facilities, EV-charging stations for electric cars, and e-bikes.

The bol.com fulfilment centre will serve as a template to other online retailers, and hopefully encourage the market to follow its example as a best practice, which will improve working conditions and reduce the environmental impact throughout the industry as a whole.