Interview with Rutger Schuur

ABN AMRO is going all out to speed up the process of making its property portfolio sustainable. The ambitious goal is to be crowned 'most sustainable real estate bank of the Netherlands' by 2017. How, exactly? We asked Head of Real Estate & Public Sector Clients Rutger Schuur.

2015-2017: Gearing up towards a sustainable property portfolio

Attitudes to property are shifting rapidly. In addition to the global perspective of combatting climate change, pressure to adapt is also felt from a Western European, Dutch, and local perspective. Tomorrow's employees want to earn their wages in a healthy, climate-friendly, comfortable building – preferably located in a vibrant and pleasant neighbourhood. Rutger Schuur: 'In recent years, we have seen a dramatic write-down of property values. For understandable reasons, these were not always easy times. Fortunately, the world of real estate is on the cusp of embracing a new, positive agenda. ABN AMRO is not simply going to jump on the bandwagon. On the contrary, we are going to do everything in our power to integrate the principles and perspectives of that new agenda - and then spread that knowledge so our clients can excel.'

Sustainable switch across the board

Schuur is, of course, referring to last summer's exceptional achievement, when the ABN AMRO head office was granted the coveted BREAAM Excellence certificate, which only a handful of Dutch buildings have received. To Schuur, it symbolises how ABN AMRO, as a big bank, is making the transition to a sustainable future across the board. ‘We maintain a continuous dialogue with our clients, and together we look for smart solutions in sustainability. That is one of the best guarantees that we are making real progress. And that we will keep going. With a number of external parties, we have invested heavily in a smart measuring and assessment system. It allows us to map our real estate portfolio in an entirely new and future-proof way. To make it a true challenge for ourselves, we aspire to have thirty percent of our property portfolio at A-label rating by 2017.’

Listening closely and encouraging partners

A number of banks have from day one made sustainability a key feature of their policies and communication. Is ABN AMRO lagging behind? Schuur disagrees. ‘I wouldn't know why. Ultimately, what counts is the things you accomplish, and whether you can convince your partners to assist in speeding up your sustainability agenda. We are right on schedule with that.’ With a property sector market share of about 14 billion, every step ABN AMRO takes with regard to sustainability has a huge impact – especially if clients have the courage to follow the example.

‘We encourage our clients in the property sector to take the leap. Indeed, the ambition to become the most sustainable real estate bank of the Netherlands by 2017 is always at the back of our minds. But you should not be afraid to admit that the pace of change partially depends on your clients. You can never have total control over that. But we do everything we can to make them just as enthusiastic as we are – and just as successful.’

Enlightened self-interest

In addition to the added social value that sustainable real estate represents, there is an inherent business reason to speed up the transition to this type of property. Schuur: ‘According to virtually all scenarios for the future, environmental rules and legislation will only become more stringent. We are staying ahead of the game by making our real estate more sustainable.’ Then there is the math, which paints a grim picture for unsustainable property.

’Such buildings will only become more expensive as time goes on, because they require a lot of maintenance and adjustment to meet stricter environmental requirements,’ Schuur explains. ‘In terms of cost levels, a sustainable building is much more attractive and stable. As a result, the risk profile becomes a lot more favourable as well. To make buildings fit that more favourable risk profile, and set them up for a sustainable future, we offer clients a scan, advice, and financing.’