Britain's Greenest Building Britain's Greenest Building

Green Gown Awards 2016 Finalist

The Enterprise Centre (TEC) is one of the UK’s most sustainable buildings, a centre for student entrepreneurship, and a regional hub for innovators and businesses that are committed to a low carbon future.

At its earliest stage, the Enterprise Centre was an academic exercise. What would Britain’s greenest commercial building look like? How could this idea be delivered, given location and cost restraints? What new skills and materials could add to the project’s targeted minimal-carbon usage, could this project be used to kick start or improve local trades and businesses?

Built on a brownfield site at the University of East Anglia (UEA), TEC minimises greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle. TEC was the first large commercial building in the UK to target both Passivhaus Certification and BREEAM Outstanding, two of the most rigorous sustainable built environment standards.

Development of the concept

The Adapt Low Carbon Group, a UEA department supporting businesses with consultancy and investment funding, drove forward the concept and design. Its Centre for the Built Environment project centred this through the idea that “there is another way to build”. They decided to look beyond low energy in use, the typical ‘low-carbon building’. By also considering the carbon impact of construction it was hoped that new ways of thinking could add to the industry’s existing developments in this area. Localism – the use of local products – and using products that could be grown rather than intensively processed was one starting point.

Examples of local materials that the team identified included hemp and local timber. Thetford and Brandon Forest timber was not being used in construction, and a report commissioned from BRE as part of InCrops, a predecessor project, identified that it had a significant potential for the industry, rather than being limited to use for low-value ‘green timber’ projects such as fencing.

A new South Norfolk project created a use and promotion for hemp as a new material. When mixed with lime, the resulting hempcrete can be used in place of the much higher carbon-intensity concrete option. In its fibrous form, hemp is good for insulation and can be formed into blocks or walls. To encourage this new industry, Adapt commissioned a hemp harvester, a new machine to enable more efficient farming, as part of the InCrops project.

The revenue element of The Enterprise Centre construction project delivered business support to the construction sector within the East of England region. Over 290 businesses were supported, with the knowledge dissemination resulting in 7 new start-up businesses and 180 businesses integrating new products or services, as well as further demonstrable benefits.

Enterprise Centre image string

Project beginnings

The Enterprise Centre project inception started in 2007, with InCrops. Funding was secured in 2011, the ground breaking ceremony took place in November 2013, and the low carbon concrete base was poured in July 2014. The building demonstrates the use of different materials, low carbon materials in construction, and the potential for localism in the Norfolk and East Anglian region. For example, why do we bring glulam timber from Norway, Sweden and Austria when there is potential in neighbouring forests?

The Enterprise Centre was developed and built to the Passivhaus standard, which is recognised as the most stringent low ‘energy in use’ standard. It moves beyond UEA’s previous low carbon buildings through improved insulation, an improvement in air tightness and there are strong controls on the energy used within the building. The triple-glazed windows and the building’s orientation will maximise natural light and minimise heat loss. It has also achieved BREEAM Outstanding with a score of 93, a challenging, holistic measure of a building’s attention to sustainable measures.

Present day

The Enterprise Centre has been realised as UEA and Norfolk’s showcase low carbon building, and one of the UK’s greenest commercial building. It is an inspirational example of the potential for sustainability-aware architecture and local, bio-renewable materials. A range of business tenants form a vibrant and successful green business hub, operating alongside teaching and learning space. The building is also an inspirational venue for meetings and events.

Multi-award winning, the building has received a multitude of accolades. Current total awards number eleven, was shortlisted for a further four and is a finalist in a four more at the moment. Award highlights include the Guardian Sustainable Business Award, BREEAM Award and Architects Journal Reader’s Choice.

Student enterprise

The building hosts EnterpriseCentral, UEA's student enterprise hub. They offer a range of services and support for any students or recent graduates looking to go self-employed, set up a business or social enterprise.

Support includes skills workshops, business coaching, start up mentoring, funding and space for individuals to plan, create and innovate.

Find out more:

The MSc in Enterprise and Business Creation delivered by Norwich Business School is taught exclusively from the building.


TEC minimised the emissions associated with construction through the innovative use of natural and recycled materials. Where possible these materials were sourced locally to further reduce the impact on the environment and to stimulate and support local business and innovation; combining traditional local natural materials with cutting-edge construction techniques. Materials include regional timber, straw, hemp, clay and stone. The predicted lifecycle CO2 emissions are 443kgCO2/m2 over 100-year life cycle period: approximately 20-25% of the emissions of a similar university building built to ‘best practice’ standards on its first day of occupation alone!

The Enterprise Centre provides a unique mix of academic teaching and learning spaces alongside private tenants, creating a dynamic hub of entrepreneurship, innovation and business opportunities. The building is a real-world example of education for sustainable development: dynamic, flexible spaces and furniture have pedagogical implications, informing teaching styles and new approaches to learning and assessment. Meanwhile the intelligent building and user awareness training benefit all tenants and building users with embedded awareness of sustainable space.

The Modern Physic Garden at UEA

The Modern Physic Garden at UEA provides a brand new, contemporary, communal space adjacent to The Enterprise Centre. It allows students, research communities, business communities, and members of the public, including Alumni, to come together to explore the role of plants in health, wellbeing, art, science, history and the environment. It offers outdoor study spaces, designed to enhance and support student learning.

The garden also provides a nexus for student volunteer activities. The up-keep of the garden is supported by the UEA Grounds Team, with the intention to create a student led volunteer group to work with the local communities to maintain and develop this garden, and the additional garden spaces adjacent to Earlham Hall that need to be brought back to life and restored.

Funding was granted to help cover the cost of the planting, signage, developing information leaflets, and developing an App for the Modern Physic – the App will enable visitors to scan Q-codes on plaques beside a plant to find out more about the species and its properties. Funding will also go towards a student internship designed to kick start this aspect of the project.

Learn more about UEA's low carbon campus journey

View The Enterprise Centre website

The Enterprise Centre is part-funded or supported by The University of East Anglia; ERDF (European Regional Development Fund); BRE; BBSRC; NALEP & Norwich Research Park; Adapt Low Carbon Group.