Getting down to business: the bank, too, is making its branch offices more sustainable

ABN AMRO is encouraging its clients to make their homes and business premises more sustainable. But this ambitious goal also applies to the bank’s own offices, and it’s losing no time in making them as energy-efficient as possible. “We’ll be actively sharing with our clients all the knowledge we gain,” says Jordi Scholten of ABN AMRO Facility Management.

During the day, the ABN AMRO Koningskade branch in The Hague is always pleasantly cool. But that’s not because the air conditioning is on. Instead, an innovative material in the ceiling absorbs heat from the environment and cools the air. Or the other way around, depending on the ambient temperature.

This is just one of the many changes introduced to make the branch office as sustainable as possible. ABN AMRO has, in fact, been implementing a coordinated initiative since 2012 to make all its branches more sustainable, explains Jordi Scholten, a strategist with ABN AMRO Facility Management. “It’s part of the bank’s aim to make Dutch real estate more energy-efficient and thus reduce carbon emissions from the built environment – Mission 2030,” he says. Crucially, a concrete objective has been set: all properties belonging to the bank itself and its clients must have earned an average energy label rating of A, awarded to only the most energy-efficient buildings, by 2030.

Zero-energy bank branch

To meet this objective, ABN AMRO is encouraging its clients to make their homes and business premises more sustainable. On top of that, the 250 plus properties the bank itself uses have also been evaluated. “Energy-saving measures can significantly reduce the carbon emissions generated by our branch offices,” says Scholten. And the approach is proving to be successful. “Since the beginning of the project, we’ve cut energy consumption at the branches by more than a third. Now half of all the square metres the bank uses have an average energy label rating of A, the score given to only the most energy-efficient buildings.”

These are properties that the bank both owns and rents. “Our aim is to bring all the office space we occupy as a bank to energy label A level by 2023,” continues Scholten, “even though office buildings will only be legally required to have an energy label of C by that time.”

The radically renovated branches in cities like Alkmaar and The Hague will serve as a blueprint for other offices. “Since it was converted, the Koningskade branch in The Hague, for example, is all-electric, meaning it uses no fossil fuels for climate control purposes. In addition to being all-electric, our Alkmaar branch in Bagijnenstraat is zero-energy. Thanks to the combination of energy-efficient climate control and solar panels, in addition to many other innovative features, this property, which was built in 1965, now generates as much energy as it consumes.”

Low-hanging fruit

Although Scholten is proud of the success so far, there’s still much to do. He says, “You might say all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. Big offices can be made more sustainable relatively quickly, which means you can make a big impact in a short period of time. Making smaller buildings more sustainable requires more time and effort. And the level of investment is relatively higher,” he says.

Facility Management looks at each property individually to determine what steps need to be taken. “We always try to introduce changes at a time that makes sense,” Scholten explains. “For example, if a building needs a new roof, we’ll go ahead and have solar panels installed as well. After all, they’re efficient and bring down costs.” An added advantage of this customised approach is the experience gained. Scholten explains, “We’re working to become a centre of expertise in sustainable real estate and a point of contact for relationship managers who want to be well prepared when advising clients.”

Scholten continues, “The costs of sustainability are not a reason to close branches or not make any improvements at all. It’s important that we make the right changes based on our clients’ needs, ensuring that all our premises earn at least an A label.”

Energy-efficient rental properties

In its sustainability efforts, the bank hasn’t forgotten about the properties it rents. They, too, will need an A label in the future. Scholten says, “Obviously, we’ll need to liaise with the owners. But many are prepared to invest in their properties, especially if we can give them certainty about the rental period. After all, if an owner makes changes to ensure the property is more energy-efficient, those improvements will have paid for themselves in seven years’ time on average.”

Scholten stresses that energy-efficient buildings are often worth more. “The government is making things easier, too, with new legislation. By 2023, all office space in the Netherlands must have at least an energy label rating of C in order to be rented out. In most cases, it’s more cost-effective for us and our clients to seize this opportunity to bring the buildings straight to A label level.”

The right to copy

The bank believes it’s important to share the knowledge it has acquired. Relationship managers share their expertise in the market, and property owners are regularly given tours of branches where sustainability measures have already been implemented. Scholten says, “Whenever a relationship manager wants to offer a client this extra service, all they have to do is contact us.” That way, clients and non-clients alike can benefit from the bank’s experience in a range of areas, like innovative, energy-saving technology. “We believe people should have the right to copy us. After all, it can only be a good thing, since we share the same goal – making the built environment more sustainable.”