'Making ABN AMRO’s property portfolio sustainable is happening faster than expected'

One year ago, ABN AMRO took on the challenge to become the most sustainable real estate bank in the Netherlands. So where does the bank stand now? Rutger Schuur, Head of Real Estate & Public Sector Clients, says, 'It’s full speed ahead.'

The process of making ABN AMRO’s property portfolio sustainable is going faster than Rutger Schuur, Head of Real Estate & Public Sector Clients, ever expected. He says, 'So many stakeholders in the property market are committed to sustainability. One main area of activity involves addressing vacancy rates in the sector. Last year, ABN AMRO was involved in the transformation of 180,000 sq m of real estate, which means our goal of reaching 300,000 sq m by 2018 is well in sight. It’s full speed ahead.'

But there’s still plenty of work to be done. ABN AMRO aims to help reduce carbon emissions from the built environment. A year ago, only 1% of ABN AMRO’s real estate clients had been awarded an A label. Today that’s 7%. 'Things could be moving faster in this area,' says Rutger, 'but the process needs more time. That’s just the way it is with public awareness and government regulations.'

Rutger is particularly optimistic about the ease with which the real estate sector has taken up the cause. 'Sustainability is now a key factor in business cases and property valuations,' he says. The government could speed up the process even more by introducing new legislation to meet its own sustainability objectives. 'But the property sector can’t just sit back and wait,' says Rutger. 'It’s up to stakeholders in the sector to take the initiative themselves.'

Rutger says he’s seen a number of positive trends emerging in the sector over the last year. One such development involves property valuers: 'ABN AMRO has a large network of valuers in the Netherlands with whom it’s working to make the sector more sustainable. We’ve agreed together that sustainability should now be a criterion in the valuation of all properties and valuation reports. It’s fantastic that the bank, as a financial backer, gets to play a role in this area.'

Sustainable investment tool

The timing couldn’t be better. Low interest rates mean opportunities for those looking to invest in the property market. Rutger says, 'ABN AMRO can help here, too. We launched our sustainable investment tool back in March which performs a quick scan to give companies a breakdown of their energy costs, carbon emissions and the measures they can take to reduce these.'

The bank has allocated €1 billion to this initiative. 'It's important to us that the property market is more sustainable because the label is going to be an increasingly decisive factor when it comes to investment,' says Rutger. 'De Nederlandsche Bank (the Dutch central bank) classifies labels D to F as mediocre to unsatisfactory and assigns them a high risk profile. It’s these risk profiles that will be the subject of increased monitoring by the supervisory authority in order to be able to assess the bank’s own risk profile.'

Property developer OVG has managed to cut carbon emissions from four office buildings (two in Amsterdam and two in Rotterdam) by 30 per cent – or 750 tons – thanks to a recently completed redevelopment project of 50,000 sq m of newly available office space. Rutger says, 'The buildings went from a G to an A label. ABN AMRO provided OVG with a green loan to develop these properties.'

For eight years, the old tax office at Stationsplein in The Hague had stood empty until Geste Groep transformed it. The building now boasts 155 student apartments and 750 sq m of shops and restaurants. 'They gutted the building. Literally everything is different now,' says Rutger. 'Plus the transformation is really having a positive effect on the whole neighbourhood. After all, most people don't want to live or shop near vacant property.'