Sustainability is not new to Forum Estates. Forum Estates has been working on healthy and sustainable growth for years. The real estate portfolio of Forum Estates is composed with care. Every new asset undergoes a thorough due diligence in which the sustainability and future-proofing of the asset is scrutinized.
We look at sustainability at the real estate level from a dual perspective: the sustainability of the location and the building. In addition, we are taking various greening and sustainability initiatives, and we are incorporating a sustainable focus into our business operations.
Forum Estates is committed to locations that will retain their appeal for future generations. Our neighbourhood stores are embedded in the urban fabric. Very often, residential or other functions are integrated into the building. Standalone supermarkets or hardware stores are structurally built so that they can be easily repurposed in the future, should that ever be necessary.
Our retail clusters and retail parks make shopping very efficient for consumers. In addition to their periodic shopping trips, consumers can also go there for other items and services, which greatly reduces the number of trips they have to make. We also strive to make our assets accessible to alternative modes of transport. The majority of our portfolio is already easily accessible on foot, by bicycle or by public transport.
We continuously monitor our locations to see if we can link additional services or destinations or redeploy them in alternative ways so that our locations remain vibrant places with an acceptable environmental impact.
In addition to making and keeping the portfolio composition future-proof, Forum Estates is also working on making the assets themselves more sustainable. This is not always an obvious task, as the assets are usually leased ‘shell’. Precisely because heating and ventilation are very much dependent on and aligned with the retail concept of the tenant, the tenants very often own their technical installations such as cooling, ventilation and lighting.
At the end of 2020, the initiative was also taken to conduct a sustainability analysis of our largest assets during 2021. Our Asset Manager has done this analysis in consultation with the Property Managers who know the sites inside out. The intention is to implement the recommendations arising from the analysis as much as possible during 2021 and ’22.
In 2021, it is our ambition to draw up a multi-year maintenance plan for each building. This will allow us to obtain a timeframe per asset and to align possible interventions with the tenants as much as possible. For example, the roofing replacement can create momentum to combine this with the replacement and greening of the HVAC installation.
Greening and Sustainability Initiatives
Half of our buildings are “commercially equivalent” and fall under the co-ownership system. Since we often have a large share in co-ownership, our vote at the General Assembly is often decisive. Forum Estates always votes for climate-oriented investments, such as roof insulation, solar panels, or a heat pump installation, in one vote of the projects. For the other half of the buildings, Forum Estates can move more quickly in making assets more sustainable. For example, the roofs of the retail park in Estampuis (Mains & Sabots) already house a solar panel installation. Also, on the roofs of the Retail Park in Jumet, Forum Estates allowed the tenant Match, without compensation, to install solar panels on the roof in order to make its electricity consumption in the supermarket significantly more sustainable. Discussions are currently underway with an electric car manufacturer to install charging stations for electric vehicles at a number of our sites. This will increase the coverage for electric vehicles and avoid some displacement as the driver can do the shopping while charging.
One of the objectives of the sustainability analysis conducted in 2021 is to identify feasible greening and sustainability projects.
In certain projects, we are already discussing a “green lease” with the tenants. Through such a commitment, the tenants commit to replacing their facilities with cleaner technology, if a replacement is in order, and to provide, for example, water-saving toilets, faucets and other sanitary installations. The ambition is to roll out the green lease policy further.
Sustainable Business Operations
Even before the COVID-19 measures, several team members were already working from home for part of the week to reduce the number of miles driven.
Waste at the office has long been collected separately. At the end of 2020, the Forum Estates office moved to a new and more sustainable office building. This office building is aimed at efficient square meter usage, among other things, by sharing certain facilities such as meeting rooms and the canteen with other users. The building also features the latest energy and water-friendly technologies.
Although the new office at Poortakkerstraat 93 is no longer located within the Ghent city ring road, the site is easily accessible by bicycle, public transport and by car. A covered bicycle parking is provided. The distance by bicycle from the SNCB station Gent-Sint-Pieters is exactly 2.1 km (8 minutes), of which about half over a “bicycle highway” in a separate bed. At about 400 meters (Beukenlaan), the nearest bus stop is located. The tram stop at Flanders Expo is just a stone’s throw from the office, and there are a number of pedestrian tunnels. We urge the government and the managers of The Loop to work out the pedestrian route even better in order to bridge the distance between the Poortakkerstraat and the tram stop in a more pedestrian-friendly way.
The location near both the E40 and the R4 allows for efficient access to the office by car. Electric charging stations were installed in the collectively used parking lot.
Forum Estates has also opted to limit the emissions of its vehicle fleet by opting for company cars with low emissions. At present, all cars comply with Euro 6. Because our property portfolio covers the entire country, it has not yet been decided to include electric vehicles due to the limited range. However, we do not rule out hybrid and electric vehicles in the near future.
It is our explicit intention to further quantify and objectify our sustainability effort in the 2021 annual report and to set a number of ambitious multi-year targets.