An office renovation where nothing goes to waste

When thinking about making buildings more sustainable, often the focus is on the items that are being installed: solar panels, efficient lighting, upgraded heating and cooling systems. But what’s taken out of a building – and where it ends up – is just as important to the property’s carbon footprint and its reputation with buyers and tenants.

Fidelity International has begun work on what will be one of the greenest offices in the City of London. When the retrofit of 99 Queen Victoria Street, a stone’s throw from St Paul’s Cathedral, is completed in May 2025 the building will be capable of operating at net zero with a primary energy demand just a quarter of what it once was. 

The retrofit doesn’t just focus on the sustainability of the end product either, but on the carbon footprint of the renovation process itself. Every bit of waste that is being removed from the site, such as the two large boilers from the building’s basement (pictured), must be reused, resold, or recycled. 

“There are challenges to waste management for a retrofitting project compared to creating new buildings due to dealing with legacy materials,” says Mabli Williams, a senior ESG consultant at Jones Hargreaves, the firm advising Fidelity on the retrofit of 99 Queen Victoria Street. “To make an existing building more sustainable, it’s likely that the majority of the existing equipment has to be replaced to make it as operationally efficient as possible. ”

Although the building is only 20 years old, much of its machinery has already reached the end of its life. But it doesn’t just end up in landfill. Systems like the boilers - soon to be replaced with state-of-the-art heat pumps - will be stripped for parts. 

The three Rs in action

The waste management of a project like this goes beyond big-ticket items like the boilers, however. Every single part of the building, down to the very smallest bolts, must be disposed of in the most efficient way. Such an approach is core to achieving the highest BREEAM1 ratings, which are increasingly important to office tenants and buyers. 

“It’s about identifying opportunities to prevent unnecessary waste, while identifying routes to reuse and recycle materials at the outset,” says Williams. “Where materials are to be removed from the building and are unable to be reused on site, they’re carefully and strategically deconstructed to enable reuse and recycling.”

For example, bathroom fixtures such as old hand-dryers and taps which remain in good condition will be made available to not-for-profit organisations. The floor tiles are likely to be cleaned and reused, while metal fittings will be repurposed or melted down for recycling.  

There will be some materials – internal glazing or tiles, for example – that are difficult to deconstruct, or have been sealed in such a way that makes it impossible to reuse or send them back to the manufacturer for recycling. These components will be broken down for aggregate in the concrete of the new building or in the underlayers of the new floors. 

Rubbish that is generated as part of the construction process – such as the packaging from materials brought into the building – will also be disposed of sustainably. This is a bigger deal than it might sound. Waste management is a significant challenge for real estate projects. About a third of all waste that goes to landfill in the UK comes from the construction and demolition of buildings2. For the retrofit at 99 Queen Victoria Street, Fidelity has a target to divert 90 per cent of all waste from landfill. And it’s as much about what goes into the site as what leaves it. Overordering and poor supply management sees 13 per cent of products delivered to building projects sent directly to landfill without being used at all3. Material orders on this project will be heavily scrutinised.

There will be less scope for waste further down the line too. The 99 Queen Victoria Street office is a Category A project, which means that once the retrofit is complete the tenant will be handed a white, empty box – a blank canvas. Finishes will be managed by the tenant to avoid needless redecorating and any wasteful disposal of pre-installed fixtures or fittings. 

In the meantime, the refurbishment continues, keeping in mind that rubbish doesn’t have to be rubbish.

1. Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method
2 & 3. The UK Construction Industry Waste Report 2023