In the northwestern corner of Arkansas, tucked among the rugged Ozarks is the state’s ninth largest city, Bentonville. It was the beloved home of Walmart founder Sam Walton, so much so that when the world’s now largest retailer began to rapidly expand, the family chose to remain in town.
Today, the Bentonville-based multinational chain is building out a new 350-acre campus, immediately adjacent to or overlapping the hodgepodge of outdated buildings the huge retailer currently occupies. The new buildings will not only be set in a carefully designed landscape designed by SWA, a leading landscape architecture firm, but also be built of cross-laminated timber (CLT)—processed wood—instead of energy-intensive steel and concrete.
With more than 2,400,000 square feet of usable office space, almost all in CLT-built structures, the environmental cred of this single campus alone is noteworthy. But as Seth Roy, senior director of design and construction for the global retailer explains, Walmart’s use of the mass timber has farther-reaching implications for the Arkansas economy—even after the campus is built, the state is poised to benefit from the overall growth in the mass timber industry.
“The supplier, Structurlam, is establishing its first US plant in Conway, Arkansas,” he says of the Canadian-based firm. “The [southern yellow pine] wood is sourced from nearby sustainable forests.” (Arkansas is dubbed the “natural state,” which aptly describes the Bentonville region’s streams, rivers, lakes, and forests.) Stucturlam’s new plant will propel Arkansas’ lumber industry, meaning that Walmart’s use of mass timber will create a long-term positive impact on the state’s economy and job creation.
“We are creating a community. This is to bring our associates together in a state-of-the-art campus, weaving in the natural health and beauty of the region, a community that will accelerate Walmart into the future and attract the next generation of talent.”
Establishing this capability makes use of CLT materials more likely in the fast-growing region. Cross-laminate timber has been used in Europe and Canada for about 30 years, and more recently in parts of the US. But by manufacturing the material near Little Rock, other construction in the region can more easily achieve LEED certification points due to shorter traveling distances.
Walmart is targeting LEED certification of its new campus, which shouldn’t be terribly difficult as sustainability is baked into the design: high-performance building materials throughout; energy-efficient lighting and HVAC systems; solar panels on some buildings; and a landscape that includes 15 acres of lakes for stormwater collection (for irrigation and wildlife habitat), native and drought-tolerant plants to minimize watering, including thousands of trees, shrubs, and grasses to provide habitat—and biophilic benefits to company employees.
Several older buildings will be demolished, but more than 95 percent of concrete, steel, and asphalt debris will be recycled for use in the new campus.
In company parlance it is “associates” who are at the front and center of this plan, Roy explains. “We are creating a community. This is to bring our associates together in a state-of-the-art campus, weaving in the natural health and beauty of the region. A community that will accelerate Walmart into the future and attract the next generation of talent.”
It’s hard not to compare and contrast the company with another household name retailer that sells primarily online, and which is in the process of building its own distributed headquarters facilities on the East Coast after a much-ballyhooed national competition between cities.
While national competitors are laying out plans to build their own distributed headquarters facilities across the country, Walmart, much like its founder, has never considered leaving its home city of Bentonville. It’s intrinsic to the community—something that’s reflected in how the open campus is within the city grid, and the nature areas will be open to public use. A 36-mile bikeway, the Razorback Greenway, will meander through the campus, and a company goal is for 10 percent of employees to commute by bicycle.
Incidentally, Walmart still garners the most revenue ($514.4 billion in 2019) of the leading retailers. Remaining true to its consumer-facing promise to customers, Roy says that the design, selection of materials, and overall cost management in this multiyear transition to the new headquarters is driven to achieve the best value. Building sustainably didn’t create a challenge in that respect. “Sustainability in construction has come a long way,” he says. “With great design and engineering, we can do this in a cost-effective way.”
“Sustainability in construction has come a long way. With great design and engineering, we can do this in a cost-effective way.”
The 30-plus buildings project is complex, of course. Roy is managing it with strategies similar to ones he developed and employed in his previous role, where he oversaw the planning and execution of multiple portions of the Apple Park Megaproject in Cupertino, California (he began working for Walmart in 2019).
There, as well as now at Walmart, the construction management function of the project was taken in-house. “This enhances transparency and allows the various teams to develop trust,” the senior director explains. “The information exchanged is less filtered. It helps us make the fast, local adjustments very large, highly networked and complex projects require, all the while benefiting from the team’s deep professional experience, to keep parties aligned with overall project goals.”
His team addresses the megaproject as a portfolio of smaller projects. This increases the pool of interested contractors and Walmart’s access to their best management staff. This, coupled with a phased construction schedule, mitigates risks while maximizing use of a limited supply of skilled construction workers.
Once complete, Walmart associates will be surrounded by the warmth and beauty of Arkansas-grown and Arkansas-produced mass timber. And the buildings will teem with windows to look out on the lush campus landscapes. It’s all part of a plan to make this corner of Arkansas the most attractive place to work in the competitive talent marketplace and demonstrate why exactly Walmart has been proud to call Bentonville home since the 1960s.