Interview: How do you make the greatest possible sustainable impact? A number of practical tips

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How do you achieve a sustainable impact? Cycling to work, separating waste and installing solar panels on your roof: then you’re already doing pretty well in terms of sustainability and carbon reduction. But suppose you also implement sustainability in your work, how big would your impact then be? Roel Wever discussed this with Wibaut Nouwens, who is responsible for increasing the sustainability of the ASVZ mental disability care organisation, which has a substantial 270,000 m2 property portfolio.

Why are you driven to make buildings more sustainable?

“Sustainability has been a green theme in my career so far. In my first job in a hospital, I was working on a residual-materials management system. As head of the technical department of a nursing home, I came into contact with building maintenance and technology. As a building coordinator, these elements were also a recurring theme. I still benefit from this background, together with my studies in industrial engineering and management. About 15 years ago, I was introduced to energy management. My job brought me into contact with the environmental management department and at the time energy awareness was already an issue. I remember that we wanted to save 2% energy every year and even made a sport of it, with success. It does surprise me though that now – 15 years later – energy monitoring and energy management is still a far cry from some.”

How great is your impact on making buildings more sustainable?

“On my own house there have been 13 solar panels for a while now. I’m also becoming more aware of a lot of things, so I’m making sustainable choices more often. But there’s always room for improvement, for example by cycling more or eating less meat.
But I also see that in my current position I can maximise my impact, much more so than I can do at home. That is because I can influence 270,000 m2 of buildings, the consumption of 9 million kWh of electricity and 3 million m3 of gas. If we, together with more than 5,000 colleagues and almost 3,000 customers who reside at ASVZ, can save at least 50% in the run-up to 2030, that will have a major impact. I am very aware of this impact and also of the responsibility it brings.”

My appeal to colleagues would be: use the influence you have at work to make sustainable choices. Think for example of energy consumption, your method of procurement (grey/green), circular refurbishments, renovations, but also regular maintenance. Because why would you do it at home and not at work?


– Wibaut Nouwens, Sustainability Advisor at ASVZ

ASVZWhat would you advise colleagues who want to make an impact and influence real estate, energy and sustainability?

  1. Involve the management board in your sustainability objectives
    Make sure to show the results, both financially and socially, in other words in euros and in carbon reduction. Then you can see what impact your organisation has.
  2. Find the people who are already intrinsically motivated
    Create a ‘green coalition’ to initiate the movement within the organisation.
  3. Be aware that every decision has long-term impact
    This could be imposing requirements for new buildings, such as being energy-positive, or imposing a policy rule: from now on we will choose a sustainable variant for every maintenance replacement, such as LED lighting or adding extra insulation to a roof renovation.
  4. See Stewart Brand’s 6S model
    Some decisions you make for 30 or 50 years, like those relating to the shell of a building. These decisions have an effect over a longer period of time and any higher costs can be spread out over a longer period. After all, the returns are also for a longer period. This also makes other forms of financing possible and the additional costs do not have to come solely from operations.
  5. Involve stakeholders, both within and outside the organisation
    Think of colleagues, management, regions, clients and their families, the bank and the accountant. But also suppliers, based on good commissioning practices. And also the area in which you operate, such as municipalities and environmental services. Inform them about your plans, but also ask them about the plans and ambitions of the municipality. Perhaps the two will come together in, such as in connecting to a heat network.

In your tips you mention cooperation with municipalities. While we’re on the subject of municipalities, how do you assess the current legislation that buildings must comply with?

“That’s a good question. I’m actually surprised that everyone is so focused on the legal requirements, while the law actually only sets the lower limit. As an organisation, you should already be above that and that’s possible by looking at the longer term. If you always follow the law, you are actually always behind the times and it is therefore often less profitable to implement the measures. I am not saying that you should proceed straight to the final goal, but you should work towards it in steps and anticipate it. Because you know the final goal is: no mains gas and carbon neutral by 2050. That’s where we need to go. Not because of the law, but to save our planet.”

So far, we’ve been talking mostly about sustainability. Is that the main focus for you in real estate?

“From experience, I now know that the focus is on the trinity: care, building and sustainability. These aspects are inextricably linked. After all, the care sector makes demands on the building and from the point of view of sustainability we also make demands on the building and the installations. But there’s more to it: If the building has poor technology or the technology is not properly adjusted, it is often too hot or too cold or the installations have to work harder to get the indoor climate right. For example, too much noise in a residential unit due to ventilation or having no influence on the temperature, making it too warm at night. This has a direct impact on the well-being of customers and their carers. That’s why I also ask whether we can’t do with less technology in buildings, instead of more and more and increasingly complicated.”

So as far as you’re concerned, functionality and sustainability come together in a building?

“Of course. If all goes well. what we are building now will still be there in 30-50-100 years. That means we have to build with the future in mind. Both in terms of functionality and sustainability. We need to build in the conditions for being energy-neutral or even energy-positive now. The shell of a building stands the longest, so it should be built to last 50-100 years. Installations and delivery systems are adapted in periods of 15 and 30 years. They will therefore have to be prepared for technical innovations that we do not yet know about. Adaptive building is difficult because you don’t know the healthcare demands in 10-20 years, but you have to erect a building that goes beyond that.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, dormitories were very common, we can’t imagine that now. And as recently as 10 years ago, it was permissible in the care sector to house more than two people in a room. Now the customers have their own rooms, an increasing number of them with their own sanitary facilities.”


– Wibaut Nouwens, Sustainability Advisor at ASVZ

EnergiebesparingYou’ve recently been given a new job. Or I should say: a job was created based on the work you were already doing. Can you explain?

“Yes that’s right,” says Wibaut laughing. “In my new position as Advisor for Sustainable Business Operations at ASVZ, everything comes together: Advice across the board: technology, energy, housing, care, finance and policy. And yes, it’s back to business administration again.”

What’s the first thing you did in this job?

What’s the first thing you did in this job?
“First of all, I started work by determining where we are now in terms of sustainability. By touring the locations and talking to colleagues, I found that more was already being done than I knew. In the groups, sustainability is a topic that is discussed and worked on. For example, reusing waste at the daytime activity centre and in green spaces. At the locations, too, there is an active focus on energy saving. Together with your colleagues from CFP, we have started a process to gain insight into each location.”

What has this insight revealed?

“The process consists of three parts:

  1. An ‘as built’ baseline measurement of all buildings
    After all, you first want to know where you come from and what your reference framework is for carbon reductions already achieved and to be achieved.
  2. Mapping out the current technical state of the building and installations
    Including the LED projects already carried out and the more than 11,000 solar panels that have been fitted.
  3. Mapping out actual consumption
    By means of energy management.

To gain insight into the consumption of all locations, we focused on both small and large-scale consumption. We have automated the insight into small-scale consumption by using the Energy Robot, linked to the smart meter. All large-scale consumption meters are read and deviations are reported by CFP. The solar panel generation is also measured. By offsetting purchase, generation and feedback, we got a good insight into our ‘net’ consumption and our consumption profiles, so we can also see the ‘waste’. Especially now, during COVID-19, this is important. We have closed some buildings and there is lower occupancy in several buildings. By responding, we have already saved thousands of euros and tonnes of carbon in a short period.

What do you see as the next step/dot on the horizon?

“Has the final goal already been achieved? No, we still have a long way to go. We can still improve a lot. I am thinking, for example, of all customer transport and transport of employees to the locations. But also waste, environment and food awareness. Fortunately, the groups are already focusing on this, but we can still get more out of it. I also want to take a more structured approach to sustainability, by planning it. It also includes a focus on our behaviour and that of our employees and customers. I see this as an important step in the embedding process.”

Do you have a final tip for people who want to focus on sustainability?

“Of course. Remember, sustainability is fun and innovative! So my final tip is: Make it fun! Positive energy connects and makes actions easier to implement. Look at what is possible. Challenge each other, both internally and externally, and above all yourself. How can you make even more impact? Maximize your impact on sustainability through the actions and activities you can influence.”

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