Sustainable entrepreneurship is close to Paul Gheysens’ heart. “As a company, we’re at the heart of society. We feel involved and want the best for people. They’re our end-customers. If our projects contribute to employees’ well-being and job satisfaction and boost their productivity, that means a win-win situation for everyone.”
“Sustainable technologies are essential in that endeavour. Cooling, ventilation, and light are essential factors, influencing productivity. That’s where we make the difference. Not just in user experience, but also in energy costs.”
Gheysens’ focus on sustainability stems partly from his background. In the case of Ghelamco’s founder, that background is farming. “That’s why I’ve always been interested in the environment.” But first and foremost, Gheysens sees the economic logic. “Sustainability shouldn’t be considered as an extra cost. Quite the contrary — at the end of the day, it’s what the client wants.”
“We’ve learned a lot from the big international players renting our offices”, Gheysens explains. “Multinationals like Google, our biggest client, want their people to work in the right environment — offices with good daylight, for example. Cooperating with those multinationals gives us the chance to learn, ensuring we keep pace with the latest developments. In this respect, adaptability is our greatest weapon—adapting to the client and to the environment.”
“Adaptability is our greatest weapon.”Paul Gheysens CEO Ghelamco
Ghelamco has acquired a great deal of experience through operating in the international context of the Polish capital Warsaw, where real estate developers from all over the world meet and compete. “Sustainability is a hot topic, though most of the talk on this topic is just hot air”, says Gheysens.
“Sustainability has been in our DNA for twenty years — in fact, we were trailblazers. For example, energy consumption in our buildings is a third lower than average. This explains why all our buildings achieve an average occupancy rate of 97 percent, even the very first one.”
Light and oxygen
Gheysens holds strong views on the developments in his industry. “I’ve always been opposed to passive buildings” is the example he gives. “Having smaller windows to cut down energy consumption is an outdated concept. Ventilation, light, oxygen—that’s what it’s all about. A healthy environment, that’s what people want.”
According to Gheysens, water is set to be tomorrow’s No. 1 issue. “We develop buildings which collect all rainwater and recover and reuse wastewater. The importance of water is hugely underestimated. Water is an invaluable commodity, to be used sparingly.”
Ventilation is another topic that gets far too little attention, Gheysens feels. “If you’re in a badly ventilated meeting room with ten people, everyone is bound to doze off after a while. That’s why we invest extensively in CO2 extraction and oxygen supply.”
Due to its focus on sustainability, Ghelamco is specialized in new builds, steering clear of renovations. “We always put up new buildings. Restoring buildings is often pointless. An old building will always be an old building. Often the construction is wrong, for example with ceilings too low. The right technologies, that’s what makes or breaks everything.”
And if there’s a new building in which sustainability isn’t important, Gheysens would rather give it a miss. “There’s plenty of work. We’ve got the luxury of having a large land portfolio. This means we can pick and choose where and what we build. Why do something we can’t add any value to? And why build something we can’t take any pride in?”
In the Silver Tower in Brussels, Ghelamco is installing the most efficient air-conditioning system available – a system based on industrial technology. The Silver Tower consumes just 35 percent of the primary energy used by what was — up to now — the most efficient air-conditioning system for office buildings. As a result, the building’s occupant, the Brussels-Capital Region, will have the lowest air-conditioning costs in Brussels, without detracting from people’s comfort.