The Danish global healthcare group, Novo Nordisk, is managed according to the Triple Bottom Line principle: The company must be economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally sound. The principle applies to all Novo Nordisk's activities; also when it comes to constructing a new billion-dollar domicile. When Novo Nordisk invited tenders for the construction of the group's new headquarters in Bagsværd, the tender material stipulated that tenderers must incorporate sustainable solutions into the construction project. At the prospect of more frequent and more powerful precipitation events in the future, rainwater management had to be an integral part of the proposed construction project.
The first sod was turned in October 2011 and the headquarters were completed and ready for use in 2014. The buildings were designed by Henning Larsen Architects and inspired by the helix structure of an insulin molecule. The headquarters comply with energy efficiency class 2015 and consist of two office buildings with underground parking occupying a total of 50,500 square metres and ringed by a 22,000-square-metre natural park (i.e. roughly three soccer fields) connecting the two buildings. The urban development and consultancy firm SLA designed the landscape architecture for the project.
Aerial photo, by permission from Novo Nordisk
Rainwater management is an entirely central element of the buildings and of the surrounding natural park area connecting the two buildings in Bagsværd. From the onset, the goal was to reach a perfect, 100% water balance. That is, all of the rainwater that falls on the site will either infiltrate down into the groundwater or it will be caught and reused to water the green areas during dry spells. The following methods or principles were applied:
In theory, the system of technical solutions is actually quite simple: The two underground basins collect rainwater from perimeter drains and from the green roofs of the buildings. The remainder of the rainwater and surface water from the park is routed across terrain and via underground channels to a large gravel cushion situated around one meter below the vegetated surface. This means the natural park can cope with water volumes equivalent to a 100-year rainfall event, without having to divert any of the water to the surrounding local sewer systems. At the same time, the sloping green roofs are overgrown with a mixture of grasses and meadow vegetation which both have large water uptakes and evaporation.
"This is in no way a super complex solution, but, of course, we experienced unexpected problems along the way, and these had to be solved. For instance, it turned out there were pipes in the planned location for the gravel cushion. There is nothing to designing a gravel cushion - until you start digging and strike pipes! But we found a solution to that, too," said Marianne Mølgaard, facility portfolio manager at Novo Nordisk. She was primarily responsible for authority permissions etc. as well as the sustainable part of the construction project.
Principle sketch of the natural park. The park was designed and planned by SLA.
The area around the former headquarters was paved over with asphalt and could hold 400 cars. In the new centre, cars now have to use the underground parking facilities. Parts of the underground parking facilities are located under the natural park.
"We use the water in the basins to water the green roofs and the vegetation on top of the underground parking.The roots of the plants do not reach far into the ground and, therefore, the plants have to be watered in dry summers.The part of the park that is not on top of the construction itself should be able to cope on its own.A lot of thought has been given to the park and any depressions in the terrain, so that the water is diverted to where we want it to be stored temporarily.Some paths may be flooded during a cloudburst, but none of the major paths," said Marianne Mølgaard.
The Novo Nordisk premises were not affected significantly during the cloudburst on 2 July 2011. Nonetheless, in many ways, the event did have an indirect effect on the company's building and construction activities.
"The cloudburst forced insurance companies to act, which means that today companies have to pay higher premiums if they do not incorporate climate protection and rainwater management into new building projects.In other words, there is money to be saved. Moreover, the wastewater company repaid us our drainage contribution, because we manage the water on our own property," said Marianne Mølgaard.
The green roofs, by permission from Novo Nordisk. Instead of the traditional Sedum roof vegetation, which does not have a very large water uptake, the natural park has been vegetated primarily with resilient species indigenous to Denmark, and this provides for a far greater degree of biodiversity and climate change adaptation.
These savings, which in the context of a large company like Novo Nordisk are relatively limited, are, however, not the main reason for the greater focus on climate change adaptation.
"Naturally, we have many activities for which there are extreme cleanliness requirements, so the most important thing for us is to safeguard our production, our storage facilities and other vital facilities.The new headquarters are first of all a signal from management that the group is taking the Triple Bottom Line principle seriously, but we have also screened all of our production sites throughout Denmark.This has resulted in a number of business cases which we intend to examine more closely," said Marianne Mølgaard.
The construction project has cost a total of around DKK 1 billion. Novo Nordisk do not want to disclose how large a percentage of this figure can be attributed to the construction of the natural park.
Marianne Mølgaard stresses that the company's collaboration with the Municipality of Gladsaxe has been a huge advantage throughout the process. For example, the site for the new headquarters in Bagsværd was part of a contaminated site where there used to be gravel pits. In connection with the construction of the new buildings, Novo Nordisk therefore removed enormous quantities of soil, including any remains of contaminated soil. New soil was added to the construction site from another construction project in the municipality. There was therefore a mutual benefit for the parties involved. Novo Nordisk did not have to buy the soil and the municipality did not have to pay to get rid of it.
"One of the great challenges was that there is a contaminated site in the vicinity.Because we are situated within the drinking water catchment area, we had to spend a lot of effort in documenting that we would not have any major effect on the drinking water.It was a very complex issue, because we did not have any basis for comparison.Our consultants were a little in the dark on this issue and the municipalities had to help us find the right legislation and the right authorities to contact," said Marianne Mølgaard, who encourages others to involve the authorities at a very early stage.
"There is a lot of focus on water and soil in climate change adaptation, and permits are needed, almost no matter what solution you come up with. So it is always a good idea to contact the authorities early on.This will allow you to find really good solutions and to integrate them so that they cost you as little as possible," she said.