Why working on a technical solution and a financial business case is not enough

Micha Reusen about sustainability and innovation in the real estate and construction industry.

Micha Reusen is Head of Sustainability & Innovation at Bouwinvest Real Estate Investors. His motto both privately and in business: ‘Leave places better than you find them’.

Leaving the world, a better place. How do we do that?

Once I have decided to go for something, I just do it. I like having goals and realising them. For me, both in business and in my private life, it is always about quality. With my wife and my two daughters, I try to make the world a better place. A simple example is how we deliberately think through making large purchases. Do we buy something new, or do we try to fix what we already have? We try to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by insulating our house and choosing to get new sustainable appliances and installations. We also consider the impact of traveling. I explain to my children (3 and 5 years old) that if you see plastic or other waste lying around, you can pick it up and throw it in the trash. This is one way we ensure that any place we have visited is left better than it was when we got there.

What does your position at Bouwinvest entail?

Bouwinvest Real Estate Investors invests in real estate for institutional investors. We do this in the Netherlands as well as internationally. At Bouwinvest, we believe that you cannot ensure long-term successful investments without taking the needs of society into account. This means making the maximum effort to ensure societal as well as financial benefits. My main focus is making our investments and company more sustainable and innovative. This includes topics such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, circularity, enhance user experience and use of new technologies to manage our investments more efficient.

Which SDGs do Bouwinvest embrace and how do you interpret them?

The most obvious SDG that I focus on during my work is number 11, ‘Sustainable cities and communities’. That is obviously quite a wide angle. There is a great shortage of good quality housing. Think of affordable rental housing. It is important that we continue to build homes, despite the current situation regarding COVID and nitrogen issues. We are also working on making the portfolios CO2-neutral before 2045. One of the things we can do is to ensure that we add more renewable energy to the portfolio. This fits perfectly into SDG 7, ‘Affordable and clean energy’. We are concerned with applying new technologies. A good example of this is using batteries for the temporary storage of energy. These batteries absorb electricity spikes in buildings. This way the main power connection can be reduced, which creates immediate cost-effectiveness and relieves the energy grid in the area. This benefits the grid operator and other buildings in the area. In addition, we are looking at possibilities to use these batteries to temporarily store renewable energy when there is a surplus in the building or from the grid. Next to this, batteries can be a solution when electricity demand continues to grow in the coming years.

As a real estate investor, it is important to constantly look for possibilities to make buildings more sustainable and at the same time create additional value for users and tenants. But we look even more broadly and create healthy, liveable and inclusive environments. When we create value for more stakeholders at the same time, our impact is greater.

I also think SDG 8, which is ‘Decent work and economic growth’, is very important. There are still too many accidents in the construction industry every year. Which is why we must pay attention to health & safety on construction sites. The nuisance for the surroundings must also remain manageable and the community needs to be informed. We work with an organisation called Bewuste Bouwers (a Considerate Constructors Scheme). They are doing a great job raising awareness about this issue.

What innovation project makes you proud and why?

I am proud of the energy storing batteries I mentioned earlier. It sounds simple, but battery storage technologies are not a standard in buildings and the built environment yet. The batteries can have multiple functions: storing renewable energy, coping with peak loads, increasing the charging capacity for cars and stabilizing the energy grid. Smart software must then ensure that the batteries can perform various functions during the day. By making the right combinations, we deliver not only financial benefits but also positive social value at the same time. In this case, positive social value for tenants and keeping the electricity grid in the area stable.

In addition, I am inspired by the amount of data that is available and the techniques to make new types of analyses. Within Bouwinvest we have an innovative system for internal and external data gathering with several analytic tools on top. Combining financial, environmental and social data makes our analyses and projections more valuable, which I think is a wonderful development and a great innovation.

And finally, I am very interested in all innovation regarding circular economy and resource scarcity. Parties are increasingly concerned with mapping materials in buildings and finding ways to reuse these materials. A lot of time and energy is invested in this, because we are convinced that the construction industry must start moving towards a circular economy.

One question I think about a lot is: “What is the advantage of researching which materials are used in certain buildings, while assuming that it will not be torn down in the next 50 or even 100 years?"

This is the second year you have been a member of the jury of the PropTech Startup & Scale-up Europe Awards. What are the reasons you are joining? What lessons have you learned and what have you noticed about the startups and scale-ups that you have judged?

I have always found it interesting to contribute to the PropTech Start-up & Scale-up Europe Awards. It gives me refreshing insights to new technologies and solutions that start-ups and scale-ups across Europe are working on. It is very valuable to experience the enthusiasm of start-ups and scale-ups. Some companies have a great idea or a nice solution, but they do not provide a solution to the problem with which the asset manager is concerned. Sometimes the solution and the problem have yet to find each other.

I also use this platform to share knowledge about the challenges institutional real estate investors face. This enables startups to enhance the product-market fit of their solution for the real estate industry.

Mention one important goal for Bouwinvest for the next five years.

We are looking long term, both regarding financial return and the social value we create. We invest pension money and never forget the responsibility of investing for pensioners, so they can enjoy a decent and secure income during their retirement years. I think it is important that we ensure that the investments we make create more sustainable and inclusive living environments.

In the next few years, Bouwinvest will continue to focus on making property more sustainable, with energy and Greenhouse gas reduction as an important pillar. Additionally, our attention is focused on healthcare real estate, affordable housing and metropolitan regions, both for our Dutch and international portfolios.

The PropTech for Good movement was initiated and is powered by PropTechNL. What

does PropTech for Good mean to you?

To me it means using technology in the property industry to do ‘good’ and create social value. Often, the PropTechscene is quite technical: ‘How much does it cost, what does the business case look like and, which technology is used?’. The question PropTech for Good adds is: ‘Which problem are actually solving, and what kind of positive social value can we create with this product?’

During the PropTech Startup & Scale-up Europe Awards, one question was asked repeatedly: ‘What are you doing about sustainability?’ I often found the answers to be disappointing. I feel that sustainability is not completely understood yet. People tend to look at environment, climate and energy, but it can be so much more. Less water consumption, using less resources, producing less waste, more biodiversity. Also consider social themes such as health, safety and loneliness. There are so much opportunities to make a social contribution right there. In this day and age, merely working on a technical solution and financial business case is not enough.

Creating positive social value is much more interesting. If this movement contributes to that, I think it could become a global philosophy.

Why is Bouwinvest a partner of PropTechNL - PropTech for Good?

We are looking for new technologies and solution to keep our investments and organization future proof. PropTechNL provides us with a platform to exchange knowledge about trends and developments regarding innovations and technologies with start-ups and corporates. And provides us with access to the appropriate parties to pilot their innovations within our portfolio and company. This is exactly how we want to contribute to accelerate innovation in the construction and real estate industry.

"As a real estate investor, Bouwinvest is very active in the field of technology and makes well-considered strategic choices. In addition, they pursue higher goals (SDGs), raising PropTech to a next level. In addition, Micha is open to new insights, sharing experiences and is able to turn ideas into actions. This fits in perfectly with the mission and vision of PropTechNL - PropTech for Good." - Menno Lammers

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