Five questions for Bouwe Taverne

A sustainable investment

How sustainable is investing in the construction industry? According to Bouwe Taverne, former board member and sustainable business consultant at the Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO), there is no clear-cut answer. You have to look at it business by business. What makes a business interesting is its contribution to social issues.

February 24, 2016

How do you assess a company on sustainability?

As far as we are concerned, sustainability goes much further than winning an extra point for something like an EPC standard or reducing CO2 emissions. I believe it is essential that the firm uses its range of products and services to respond to a social need. There are enough construction firms that are only in business for themselves. I expect more from a listed construction firm. It must be able to fulfil its social role in society. It must contribute to the quality of living and working environments and public spaces.

Do you believe that Heijmans responds adequately to this?

Heijmans responds well to spatial and urban issues with a number of products and innovations. Take, for example, the Heijmans ONE, which responds to the housing needs of young professionals and at the same time can breathe new life into undeveloped urban areas. 

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With the VBDO, Bouwe Taverne (left) and colleague Ingmar Schuurmans support the interests of institutional and private investors who wish to contribute to sustainable development.

But there is room for improvement, or it can in any case be made more transparent. What is the vision of Heijmans on, for example, the way in which you can respond to the influx of refugees in terms of housing? What solutions does Heijmans have for the higher-earning social tenants problem? Which social goals can you achieve through the transformation of existing buildings and how can you thus give new impetus to an area? Show how the company sees it, identify possible solutions and what this means for all parties involved. That is how you can contribute to public debate. Challenge the world and therefore also yourself.

How does the construction industry perform in terms of sustainability, and how does Heijmans rate?

The VBDO does a lot of research on the sustainability performance of listed companies and also benchmarks them. The construction industry ranks somewhere in the middle. In recent years, however, the business process and the end products have become significantly more sustainable. A phenomenon such as the CO2 performance ladder has certainly been a contributing factor. But in addition, it is important that construction firms are intrinsically motivated to become sustainable. And not just because the client demands it.

Sustainability plays an important role within your business strategy “The contours of tomorrow”. Meanwhile, this has also led to innovations such as the sustainable Greenway LE asphalt. Heijmans is also proactively engaged in themes such as nature-inclusive construction and thinking in terms of natural capital. It is therefore not surprising that Heijmans shared first prize last year in our benchmark for the construction industry.

Which challenges do you see for the construction industry in the coming years?

I see significant challenges in terms of sustainable renovation and transformation. You cannot make it with new-build alone. “Zero on the metre” initiatives for the existing housing stock, making buildings energy neutral, offering suitable housing for every generation – particularly the younger generation. There is much profit to be gained in that area. The government cannot resolve everything; businesses must take action.
Furthermore, the construction industry can take even greater steps towards a more industrialized building process. The basis is to think more conceptually and from there realize more prefab. That has both economic and social value. It is cost effective, enables faster building with less risks, less hindrance and under better health and safety conditions.

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Together with MX3D, Heijmans prints a metal bridge across the canal on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The MX3D project is the next step in the development of a more automated building site.

And which task do you specifically see for Heijmans?

Heijmans is truly innovative in many areas, but must now use this innovation to scale up. Actively present that challenge to the client and make them a partner in order to take the next step together: from a pilot project to a broader application, such as the Glowing Lines. It therefore involves letting go of thinking in projects and much more in terms of thinking in programmes. A sustainable production method is not the issue here but more a hygiene factor: you must be able to assume that that is OK in any case.

And last but not least: restoring profitability is the biggest task for Heijmans. A sustainable company is a company that can offer continuity and added value to clients, employees, partners and investors from a stable financial basis.