This is what we learned from the sustainable makeover of our headquarters

As from this summer, ABN AMRO's head office on Gustav Mahlerlaan in Amsterdam is officially among the top sustainable buildings in the Netherlands. The facility management team's efforts have been rewarded with a BREEAM Excellent certificate.

BREEAM is an international sustainability standard that sets high requirements not only for the construction, but also for management and use of commercial premises. Our head office is now one of the few buildings with the second highest certificate.

Rob Vermeij and Rob Kuipers, Senior Product & Contract Managers at ABN AMRO, have created a road map to make the bank's property portfolio more sustainable. Doing nothing is not an option, Vermeij believes. ‘If nothing is done, by 2050 we will need three Earths to sustain our needs. Another benefit of choosing sustainability is that the value of sustainable buildings holds up better.’ ABN AMRO has set a good example, and clients with commercial property are already starting to follow suit.

‘Over the past few years, we have improved the quality of a total surface area of 350,000 square metres to “A” grade, qualifying for BREAAM's “very good” certificate. That is nearly half our total property portfolio. A number of locations will be closing their doors in the next five years. Meanwhile, we are making the remaining offices more sustainable, We have started with the largest buildings, and want to work our way down to the smaller offices.’

The Gustav Mahlerlaan head office is the showpiece of the project. The building already scored well in tests performed in 2012, but the facility management, IT, and HR teams have taken us to new heights. Vermey elaborates on the steps that were taken to accomplish this.

Building: cleaner and more energy-efficient

‘Fortunately, the head office, which we moved into in 1999, had already been built with sustainability in mind. But there was still a lot of room for improvement with regard to energy consumption. Now, we have switched to Dutch wind power and biogas to cut CO2 emissions to zero. With smart measures we have tremendously reduced our energy consumption. For temperature control, for example, we have installed infrared film on all glass surfaces. As a result, the sun does not heat up the building as much and it needs less air conditioning. When we do need air conditioning, we pump up cold water from the bottom of a nearby lake.’

Facility management: purchasing more sustainably

‘We are putting great effort into managing the building and installations we use. External parties keep an eye on things. In future renovations sustainable materials should be used, and waste minimised. We have also introduced a new environmental policy. It is an extensive document in which we describe the exact requirements for items that are used in the office. Everything is included: from printer paper down to the food sold in the restaurants. We also measure the number of transport miles the items travelled and the working conditions under which they were produced.’

Changing staff habits

‘Improving sustainability is not just limited to the building, it involves the people who work there as well. We investigated how exactly our staff travels to work, and checked if we can make this more environmentally friendly. Right now energy labels A through C are allowed for cars, but we want to gradually raise that standard. Additionally, we are targeting staff with information campaigns to encourage sustainable behaviour. We can install water-saving taps, but that does not make any real difference if people just keep the water running idly.’

Future: circular economy

‘We have to continue improving if we want to keep the certificate. BREAAM is releasing new guidelines in 2016, and of course we want to keep up. The next big step is introducing circularity. When purchasing new inventory, we have to be more mindful of product life span and whether the materials can be recycled or reused. For example, we have already started using carpets that, when worn out, are returned to the manufacturer to be reused. We will keep experimenting to be a trendsetter in this practice.’

Infographic BREEAM