Sustainability in new builds has continued to be at the forefront of debate, triggered by petitions aiming to convince the government to enforce all newly-built commercial and industrial buildings to incorporate solar, much like legislation passed in France earlier this year.

However Ben Ainslie Racing’s new headquarters, which has been in development for just over a year, needed no such pressure and is hoping to set a precedent that the country’s other sports teams can follow.

Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) has enjoyed a meteoric rise since its inception in 2011. The four-time Olympic gold medal winner has established the sailing race team to mount a Great British challenge for next year’s Americas Cup, the premier event in competitive sailing. BAR needed a base from which to train and decided to go against the grain and establish a permanent one, located on the Camber in Portsmouth directly opposite the Spinnaker.

The site was completely brownfield, a former coal store with no agricultural value that had previously been used as a car park and boat store. Planning permission was submitted and approval received in June last year with construction starting just four months later in October.

Early on BAR took the decision for the base to be as sustainable as possible and targeted BREEAM excellent standard. BAR sustainability manager Susie Tomson, who previously worked on the Ryder Cup’s sustainability programme, had already been bouncing ideas around before planning permission was even granted. The plan was to create the first fully sustainable Americas Cup team.

And solar took centre stage of these plans. BAR’s new HQ will boast a 114kW rooftop solar installation comprising 432 panels capable of generating 130MWh of electricity each year. The design of the building’s roof structure was made with PV in mind and, once complete, solar panels will fill 100% of the available roof space across three separate levels. “We’ve got solar PV on whatever’s available, and I think that’s a fantastic statement of what we’re trying to achieve here,” Tomson says.

Designing the building with PV in mind becomes all the more impressive when taking into account the demands of the building and the shape in which it is designed. HGP Architects, the firm tasked with designing the development, regards it as one of the most complicated and troublesome it has worked on.

The installation will help the team meet 90% of its total energy demand right from the start, with the ultimate aim of generating all of its own electricity in the near future. Renewable energy developers Low Carbon were tasked with advising on the project, which the company says is one of the most interesting it has worked on to date, and the team has not ruled out utilising other renewable energy generation technologies if the opportunity presented itself.

Low Carbon, which the BAR team said had taught those involved in the project “so much” about power generation throughout the process, is supplying the panels – triple black rather than traditional polycrystalline blue to fit in with the building’s design – and they are currently being fitted out. Ensuring that solar is far from an afterthought, and screens in the building’s reception and lobby will be fitted to display information about solar power, including real-time data on how much power the building’s panels had generated that day.

But rather than just displaying the kWh figure, the screens will show what that electricity could be used for, be it lights switched on for how many hour or how many meals it would cook for the team. Quentin Scott, marketing director at Low Carbon, says portraying the data in such a way not only removes some of the jargon but makes the benefits of solar more accessible to the general public.

The solar element, while hugely important to the project as a whole, is just one of a number of environment and sustainable measures used inside the building. A 1,200 litre water tank has been installed to retain rainwater and reduce its net consumption, additional insulation has been added to double its thermal performance over standard building insulation, every light installed in the office space is LED to deliver 30% savings on energy used and a glass atrium – featured in the design to ensure the 72ft-tall sails can be rotated for the best wind position – provides every office in the building with natural light.

But this level of sustainability is a rarity in sport. BAR is the only UK sports team to achieve ISO20121 standard across all of its activities and while the London 2012 Olympic Games pioneered the sustainability standard as part of its legacy, only Manchester United’s stadium Old Trafford can boast it in the UK. Sport, for all of its finance, appears to have left sustainability by the wayside.

Sir Ben Ainslie says this is a problem that needs to be resolved. “As societal role models, sports teams are in a privileged position. They have the power to drive positive change through setting an example and drawing attention to the issues that matter, such as sustainability,” he says, adding: “We want to lead the way by educating and inspiring younger generations to drive sustainability forward.”

It’s a message that is echoed throughout the team. Lady Georgie Thompson, who has worked on the interior design of the project, says: “No other team has anything like this. It’s a strong message to send out.” It is even hoped that BAR’s team of sailing designers could help provide some of their own learnings, perhaps triggering new developments in solar panel design.

While BAR’s new HQ is undoubtedly a milestone development for Americas Cup sailing, it might just prove to be the wake-up call the rest of the sporting world needs to address its own sustainable responsibilities. “[The project] is a massive scope and we’re in a privileged position to get the message of sustainability out to the wider world. If just one or two people take that up, you’ve done a heap of good,” Thompson says.