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This Company Wants To Transform UK Real Estate’s Green Credentials


As the effects of global heating ramp up and unsettling reports about where our rubbish gets dumped reach the UK, more and more fingers are being pointed at companies that are not doing their bit to reduce their impact. The real estate sector is getting its fair share of finger-pointing — the built environment contributes about 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint, according to the UK Green Construction Board.

Drees & Sommer’s entry into the UK is designed to take advantage of this growing focus on sustainability. The real estate consulting and project management company is one of the forerunners in the drive for smart and sustainable buildings in mainland Europe, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands, a focus that it believes will translate well into the UK.

“London is a city with lots of international investors who have a strong focus on what comes out of a building — financially, not sustainably,” Drees & Sommer CEO Steffen Szeidl said. “This has to — and will — change. Pressure on businesses is increasing from authorities and from people. Overall there’s a wish for sustainability, but we need a big effort to reach it.”

A Business Model Based On Sustainability

In June, Drees & Sommer held its first international customer meeting in London. This was a strong signal that the company is planning to put down roots in the city, despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit that is hovering over all sectors.

“We entered the UK with the view that Brexit will happen, but we still believe in the market,” Szeidl said. “In the past, London has been a financial centre in Europe, where decisions were made. Although there’s uncertainty now, we believe it will be where decisions are made in the future.”

Among the expertise that Drees & Sommer plans to bring to the UK, the areas of sustainability and smart buildings stand out. The company is working on one of the most pioneering smart buildings in Europe, Cube Berlin, which will be completed at the end of 2019. Another project in its portfolio is The Ship in Cologne, which will be completed in 2020 and will bring a new centre for startups with cutting-edge digitalisation.

To create such pioneering projects in the UK, Drees & Sommer is hoping to introduce cradle to cradle, a certification concept co-developed by German chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough. The idea is built on the principle of the circular economy — all materials, once not needed any more, are recycled, creating no waste.

“This type of sustainability goes much deeper than other approaches,” Szeidl said. “You have to go into real detail about the different materials used. It’s not just about sustainability but about seeing buildings as material banks.”

Szeidl believes that whole new business models could emerge from the concept. For example, rather than invest in a facade for a building, you could rent it for 20 years then return it to the producer who can reuse it. You could rent lights for 10 years, paying a monthly fee, then return them to the manufacturer. The whole thing turns into a sustainable service model.


Sustainability From Innovation

Drees & Sommer also hopes to introduce the concept of customised smart buildings to the UK. Rather than implement smart technologies as standard, each building and the area around it needs to be assessed.

“Clients want to be able to track different metrics — people, energy, CO2,” Szeidl said. “The solution depends on the company and how they use the building.”

The main barriers to smart buildings, however, are lack of forward planning and knowledge about what is possible, Szeidl said. A building could take four years to be completed and if it isn’t constructed with the right digital infrastructure it won’t be state-of-the-art for long.

“Digitalisation is a real opportunity in London, but is a challenge,” Szeidl said. “Most of our clients are not architects or engineers — they’re financiers, lawyers and so on. They’re not familiar with reading 2D building plans as it’s hard to imagine what you’re seeing. Today, 3D modelling and building information modelling help, but the next step is digitalisation, which is hard to imagine again.”

To help clients understand what smart buildings can do, Drees & Sommer has established a 20K SF office in its Stuttgart Innovation Centre that shows off cutting-edge smart technology. Here, the company tests both hardware and software, such as face recognition technology or app-controlled systems, and works closely with startups. For example, one partnership is with Berlin startup Interface — which is developing a dashboard to incorporate all the different information an asset manager could collect about a building. Another partnership is with Munich company Navvis, which uses 3D laser scanning to create indoor maps of a building to help with space planning.

However, the real way to get a client to focus on sustainability and smart technology, Szeidl pointed out, is to incorporate the bottom line.

“They say that every seven years running a building, you spend the initial investment again — how can we reduce that?” he said. “You have to focus on all the different aspects, not just planning and development but operations. Investors want to see a return in three to five years, although some sustainability efforts need to be more long term.”

The financial benefits of sustainability are likely to become more pronounced as countries introduce carbon taxes, for example, and consumers start to put their foot down about what is and isn’t acceptable. There is every chance that Drees & Sommer’s sustainable credentials will start to resound with even the most financially minded of clients. As Szeild said, “there is no future without sustainability.”

This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Drees & Sommer. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.