The future of sustainable real estate



Every year, 3E’s Buildings & Sites team invites their clients and partners to a private event on the future trends in sustainable real estate.

This year we discussed the topics of Smart Control, the WELL standard and Storage. Every topic was introduced by Sunita Van Heers, Sales Manager of the Buildings and Sites team, delivering insights in the theoretical background, international examples and findings of key 3E projects.

The future of sustainable real estate however goes much broader than these topics. Our panel delivered the in-depth insights related to policy, investment decisions and urban planning.

The panel consisted of:

  • Tatiana Bosteels, Director Responsibility & Head Responsible Property Investment at Hermes Investment Management (UK)
  • Ann-Marie Aguilar, Director of Operations, Europe at International Well Building Institute (IWBI)
  • Oana Bogdan, CEO of Bogdan & Van Broeck

The mix of the experiences of the panel and the feedback from the audience gave way to some high level discussions and conclusions regarding the future of sustainable real estate. Some of them are briefly discussed below:

Towards a comfort driven business: the WELL standard

The <WELL Building Standard was launched in 2014 by the IWBI after 6 years of scientific research on how buildings affect the health and well-being of its occupants. 3E is the first WELL Accredited Professional in Belgium and uses this standard in its projects. A broad spectrum of international projects has applied the WELL Building standard and gathers on-site measurements regarding comfort and well-being.

Tatiana Bosteels explained that hard figures regarding the value of sustainability are only recently available. One of the major breakthroughs in that aspect is related to technology: the fact that we can measure CO2 levels & VOC levels in a transparent way, and at the same time give feedback. More subjective data like occupants satisfaction levels are harder to assess. The fact still remains that the biggest assets of organisations are the people. WELL certified projects have been used to investigate comfort satisfaction levels, with highly positive results. Other studies show the benefits of biofilia in building projects. The problem however, Ann-Marie added, is having the correct decision makers in the room. Oana Bogdan pointed out the importance of space: “We are doctors of space”. Before addressing the technologies in “smart cities”, for example, we should address the quality of spaces in our city planning, our neighbourhood planning. The problem again remains how to measure the value of “quality of space”.

London’s Kings Cross, a Hermes Investment project, is a good example of quantification of subjective elements. For example, the social values of Kings Cross project were analyzed. One of the reasons of the success of Kings Cross was the drive of its investors and the commitment for impact investment. From the beginning, the goal was to have this positive impact. The lessons learned and  the methodology will help future projects, explained Tatiana Bosteels.

Smart Control: to give or take control?

Smart Control systems use the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence to steer our buildings so that comfort improves for the occupants, energy savings are made and an ease of property management can take place. Because of the performance gap, more complex systems but also increase of demand of comfort, property management of a building become a difficult task. These< smart control systems can forecast the behaviour of the building and steer the building in an optimal way.

Tatiana Bosteels opened the discussion with the example of the Edge building 2.0, where the building adapts to the preferences of the users. The next step in IOT property management is that the building (office) will adapt to the preferences an employee puts in his phone before coming to the office.

However, what should we do with the different preferences of each occupant of a building (in an open space for example)? Ann-Marie Aguilar explained that there are offices with different temperature zones, providing an answer to the typical differences in air temperature for different occupants.

Oana Bogdan picked in on the discussion highlighting the need to inform, educate and guide the occupant in this process. She used the introduction of the Brussels Passive Standard, where she saw that some people where not ready to live that way or didn’t have the necessary information or guidance to know what living in a passive building means.

Both Ann-Marie Aguilar and Tatiana Bosteels agreed on the importance of open communication. “The tools are there, we just need to use them in a dialogue”, added Ann-Maire Aguilar. Tatiana closed the topic by stating the need to “challenge investors and show them what technologies are coming up, how ambitious you can be.

Storage in real estate: Future proofed or financial fool?

Energy storage solutions in real estate exist already since the 1970’s. In recent years, we have witnessed the introduction of new technologies and optimization solutions. One of 3E’s projects, the new HQ of BNP Paribas Brussels, uses a thermal seasonal storage system to provide heating and cooling all year long. 3E also performed <a study for D’Ieteren Immo regarding the possibility to use battery storage for the building and charging stations for the new Porsche garage. The financial interest of any storage solution differs highly per project, load profile, and building and site design. Regarding batteries, most recent projects have shown that the actual price of batteries is too high to have a good IRR.  However, the price of batteries will drop with 60% by 2030 or faster.

The issue with storage and other sustainability issues is a CAPEX/OPEX story“, said Tatiana Bosteels. Oana Bogdan followed by challenging the audience “We should change the whole way we do real estate and challenge ownership, come with new ideas. We should use intelligent design, related to the characteristics of the city.” The key is to have clever regulation, added Ann-Marie Aguilar. Remuneration by the life cycle cost of a building is another possibility. The audience picks in with the example of Tilburg, where there was a clear choice of governance to go “all electric”, facilitating the energy transition and give incentives to the end users and the investors.

De debate was closed with tips and tricks for the audience by the panel:

Oana Bogdan: “Do not underestimate the power of a good design. It is worth the value, do not forget our social mission of “doctors of space“.
Tatiana Bosteels: “Look at the existing building stock, where we face some big challenges, also as a community. Share your expertise with others.
Ann-Marie Aguilar: “Design for choice and flexibility in your projects. Don’t underestimate the importance of biophilia”.

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