Amazon HQ2: Mass Timber, Urban Greening Drives Carbon Reduction

The world's largest retailer commits to Climate Pledge and will roll out sustainability initiatives across 40 global sites.

Mon 03 Jul 23


Amazon has provided an inside look at its new HQ in Arlington, Virginia, which opened last month after three years of construction.

Wood Central has previously reported on Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s superyacht – fitted bow to stern with teak.

Now it can confirm that its new headquarters – selected five years ago after a fierce nationwide competition has embraced glue-laminated timber as part of its carbon reduction strategy.

Footage from the grand opening from stage 1 of Amazon’s new HQ in Arlington, Virginia. Footage courtesy of @fox5dc

Designed by ZGF and constructed by Clark Construction, the new Metropolitan (Met) Park campus has been built using new, climate-friendly solutions at scale—including low-carbon concrete, mass timber, electrified energy-efficient operations, advanced ways to reuse water, and two acres of landscaped roofs with native plants.

Ten 70-foot-long glue-laminated timber beams support the ceiling of the building, lowering the embodied carbon of the building and creating a warm, tactile, biophilic environment for occupants.

Timber ceilings are a key feature of the design of the building. (Images courtesy of ZGF renders)

While the wood creates a warm, inviting environment to the space, according to Brian Earle, lead architect for Metropolitan Park at ZGF, the wood also absorbs carbon as it grows and continues to store that carbon throughout its material lifecycle in the building. 

“By using structural timber, we saw an opportunity to expand industry knowledge of the material in the region,” he said. “Paving the way for its broader adoption in the future.” 

Brian Earle, lead architect for ZGF
The exposed glue-laminated shell during construction. (Photo Credit: Clark Construction)

ZGF is behind the massive Portland International Airport upgrade previously covered by Wood Central.

In addition to mass timber, Amazon also used advanced low-carbon concrete mix design and CarbonCure, an investment by Amazon as part of its Climate Pledge Fund, which led to a 20% reduction in the carbon footprint of Met Park’s concrete structures compared to the industry baseline.

The low-carbon “CarbonCure” concrete mix was produced at a batch plant beside the site of the Amazon HQ. (Photo Credit: Miller & Long)

This technology introduces recycled carbon dioxide into fresh concrete to reduce its carbon footprint without compromising performance. Concrete makes up the largest portion of the project’s total embodied carbon footprint, making low-carbon concrete one of the most impactful ways to reduce emissions associated with the building itself. This same CarbonCure technology is now utilised at over 40 Amazon sites globally.

Footage courtesy of @CNBCtelevision

Energy-efficient “Eco-Lobbies” at Metropolitan Park blur the indoor and outdoor transition. Large operable walls open into the park on nice days, and lush landscaping and natural materials help bring the outside in. Passive design strategies, such as overhead high-volume, low-speed fans and hydronic radiant floor heating, create a thermally comfortable environment for occupants.

Energy-efficient “eco lobbies” create a thermal transition zone between the exterior and interior.(Images courtesy of ZGF renders)

According to Amazon, the building will run with zero operational carbon emissions.

Here are some highlights of the campus:

  • 100% powered by renewable energy.
  • 24% overall energy savings relative to a comparable new office building—enough electricity to power 572 homes in the U.S. every year.
  • 20% reduction in the carbon footprint of Met Park’s concrete structures compared to the industry baseline—saving over 14,700 metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of taking more than 3,200 cars off the road in the U.S. for an entire year.
  • It is certified as Targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum—the highest level of LEED certification. Met Park is on track to be the largest LEED v4 Platinum building in the U.S.

“Constructing buildings that can house thousands of employees daily while operating more efficiently—and not disrupting, but enhancing the natural environment—is no small feat. I’m proud of our teams’ work with HQ2 to make that a reality,” said Kara Hurst, vice president for Worldwide Sustainability at Amazon.

“While it’s not always necessarily visible to our customers or communities, we’re working to decarbonise all of Amazon’s buildings—including our corporate offices, data centres, and fulfilment facilities—given the climate impact of the built environment,” Hurst said. 

“At HQ2, we challenged ourselves to push the limits of what’s possible regarding sustainable construction and design—and we’re proud to share these features with the northern Virginia community.”

The redevelopment of Met Park creates a vital amenity for use by Amazon employees and the surrounding community alike. (Images courtesy of ZGF renders)

Buildings account for nearly 40% of annual global CO2 emissions. Buildings consume more energy than both the industrial and transportation sectors, and large-scale developments are particularly challenging. 

According to a recent Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction report, the building and construction industry is responsible for a widening gap between climate performance and the 2050 decarbonisation pathway.

In September 2021, Wood Central Southeast Asia Reporter Ken Hickson interviewed Associate Professor Winston Chow, a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who spoke out on the “cooling qualities” of timber, the importance of “embodied carbon” and advocated the greater use of wood in buildings.

Footage courtesy of @protiotypedesignscience6912

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a strong supporter of environmental causes, including but not limited to a USD 1 billion commitment to combat climate change via the ‘Earth Fund’ and a new endeavour aimed at halting deforestation and desertification by planting twenty million trees across Africa in an initiative known as ‘The Green Wall Initiative’.

In September 2021, Jeff Bezos announced the Bezos Earth Fund – which is a USD 1 Billion pledge to combat climate change. Footage courtesy of @BezosEarthFund

Amazon is now looking at ways to decarbonise its real estate portfolio to meet our Climate Pledge commitment. 

“We also know that if we can do this, we can help drive change across industries and propel us all forward in efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Met Park exemplifies carbon-reduction solutions and energy-efficiency enhancements that are possible today,” according to Kara Hurst.

Incorporated green roofs and native plants

In addition to energy efficiency and carbon reduction solutions, the new building also utilises strong biophilic design principles.

Located along a major bird migratory corridor, Met Park considers impacts on the local wildlife. The lower levels of glass include a dot frit pattern to improve visibility to birds, alerting birds of a solid barrier and reducing the risk that they attempt to fly through.

Met Park has two acres (or 90,000 square feet) of landscaped green roofs with native plantings where visitors and employees can find reprieve and connect to nature. 

Eight of the buildings’ 19 landscaped terraces provide amenities ranging from outdoor meeting spaces, and dog runs to an urban farm. 

On one of our terraces, the Amazon Horticulture team is leading a program that partners with a local organisation, Love and Carrots, to grow, produce and deliver the product to a local nonprofit, Kitchen of Purpose.

These green roofs help reduce energy consumption by swapping synthetic, waterproof materials with plant life. 

Green roofs are a key component of the USD 2.5B final development. Footage courtesy of @adin

Conventional roofs and pavement absorb sunlight, convert that energy into heat, and warm the surrounding structures—putting greater strain on the HVAC system. Green roofs and landscaping mitigate this effect through the naturally cooling functions of plants, reflecting solar energy and off-setting heat through evaporation.

The landscaping uses native and adaptive plantings that are conducive to the climate of Arlington. It includes a wide variety of plants selected to attract local pollinator species. Additionally, the soil is engineered to retain water and promote root growth. 

At the same time, smart and low-flow irrigation systems are optimised to reduce water consumption by providing only what the native plants need. 

Keeping construction materials out of landfills

For the construction of Met Park, 82% of all construction waste materials were diverted from landfills, including concrete, drywall, metals, wood, cardboard, and plastic. 

This process kept over 17,000 tons of material—more than four times the weight of the U.S. Capitol Dome—from entering landfills.


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