We are all now trying to do our bit to improve sustainability and reduce our impact on the environment, whether it be reducing our plastic use, recycling at the office or composting at home. However have we got the focus of our activities wrong and can we in the real estate industry be doing more while preserving a healthy return on our developments?

Marco Abdallah Head of Engineering at Drees & Sommer, speaking at a Bisnow event in London last week, thinks that the real estate industry can and must. The construction industry in Europe accounts for almost 50% of raw material consumption and is responsible for almost 60% of waste generated. As Marco put it, while we are obsessing over our plastic bag consumption, we should really be looking at the supermarket building itself.

Drees & Sommer are at the vanguard of a construction movement called “Cradle to Cradle” (C2C). The concept is that, with sustainability rising higher and higher on the agenda particularly amongst the younger generation of investors, and with raw materials increasing in cost and declining in availability, developers should be looking to design their buildings around a circular economy and to build using products that are either biodegradable and can return to the natural nutrient cycle or be broken down into pure raw materials after use and returned to a technical cycle.

The inevitable question of course from investors will be “what will it cost?” Drees & Sommer insist that with smart design, the answer is not as much as investors might fear, and highlight a number of additional benefits. Construction costs can be reduced by reusing raw materials and the market value of the property may be higher on the basis that it is free from pollutants, has recyclability, and can be disassembled. In contrast to conventional new buildings, no costs are incurred for the disposal of hazardous waste. Unlike conventional new buildings, the sale of disassembled and sorted raw materials can potentially result in considerable revenue.

In short, Drees & Sommer believe that C2C designed buildings will mean that investors and principals can cut construction costs and investment volume and occupiers will get high-quality, healthy buildings at competitive prices. More than 30 buildings in Europe have now received “C2C” certificates and more are planned.

Is this the future of clean development? Watch this space…