What are the requirements that an ÖGNI-qualified building has to fulfill?
The ÖGNI certification process is similar to those already known, LEED and BREEAM, but this originates in Germany. The main criteria of the process focus on the design, on how does the building fit in its environment, are there plans to reduce the usage of poisonous or hazardous materials, can the materials in the whole structure be recycled later on, is the design user friendly, is there enough window surface, natural light, are there any efforts for alternative energy supply or low-energy solutions, are traffic connections taken into consideration, and how bicycle-friendly is the whole building and the underground parking. The process lasts for a couple of months. We started it in the early springtime and could finish that in the middle of the year.
Most of the newly built offices are designed to be certified by BREEAM or LEED. Why did RE decide to apply for the ÖGNI certification?
This is quite simple. BREEAM is the British qualification standard and LEED comes from the US. If we look at the history of a company, where they are coming from and where they have their main business partners, this usually decides, according to which standard they are going to qualify a building. ÖGNI is the Austrian qualifying company, the certification standard itself is the DGNB, a German standard. We have made a principle decision a couple of years ago in Vienna, that we are going to certify all our buildings according to the DGNB standard, as most of our business partners are coming from German speaking territories. This was the driving reason. DGNB was developed seven years ago, nevertheless, at the moment, this is the most complicated one. Completing the certification process is quite a difficult task.
Is it only more complicated than the two other ones or stricter as well?
In some respect, it is a little bit stricter. At DGNB the building has to reach a minimum amount of points in every condition, otherwise it can’t be certified at all. We are proud that our buildings met all these standards.
There must be very few property developer companies in Hungary, that have three office buildings with a green certification. How does it feel like to be one of them?
It is a question of philosophy. Of course we are proud that we belong to the few companies who have at least three buildings certified, at Gold level, especially. But this is a part of our principal philosophy that we attempt to create only really high quality buildings. Originally we didn’t plan to qualify these projects. If we had done so, we could have done it already from the structure work. So we started to qualify at the end of the year after finishing, and it was a much more difficult way, but we have been really happy that we could achieve the Gold level anyway. It’s a special certificate and a valuable feedback of our overall philosophy how we are making such kind of buildings at all. And in that respect, we are really proud about it. Even if we did not build them with the purpose of achieving a certification, still this is the way we were creating our buildings in the last ten years already. It is something that really fulfills the highest standards. This is a principle decision.
REsidence Office Buildings were originally designed and developed by RE, while Rumbach Center has been refurbished after an acquisition. In what extent was this situation different?
Rumbach Center was a special case. When buying an existing property, one can scratch the surface to see what is in, but what’s really in, can only be seen when demolition is already started. We originally planned to preserve certain parts of the whole technical equipment and the fit-out. But finally, when we started to demolish, we realized that we can’t follow this strategy. It would have made it more complicated if we had kept any of these parts. So we virtually stripped the building, we had only the concrete skeleton, and accept the façade everything else was rebuilt. And this was finally the luckier situation, which enabled us to get a DGNB Gold certificate for existing buildings. If we had kept some old parts, we couldn’t have even started the qualification.
Was the situation the same as REsidence Office Buildings? So when you demolished one part of the building, at that moment, did you try to go for the certification?
No, at that time we didn’t plan that. And then we said why don’t we try it and see? We have the same conditions and the same philosophy in mind. Of course we suffered a lot, because we had to look up several old documents and plans, and this made it the longest lasting process at all. But at the end of the day it turned out that we could make it. Rumbach Center was qualified as an in-use building. Important to mention, that even with the same conditions like a brand new building we would have been able to catch Silver! With the simplified conditions of in-use buildings we could get Gold.
How many ÖGNI-certified buildings do you have in the overall portfolio of RE in the region?
We have qualified all the office buildings in Vienna and several small city centers and other commercial property developments in the neighboring countries – around 20 projects altogether so far. This is a part of our philosophy that every new and ongoing project will be certified. From 2010 every development has been qualified.
Do you think that green certifications will be an important factor for tenants when they decide which office building to choose? Do they appreciate the efforts that developers make for sustainability?
Many people believe that certified buildings will bring higher rents. It is simply not true. But if a tenant has to choose from a certified and a non-certified office and they are of the same quality, they will go for the certified one. So it is a small advantage in the competition, but it is not an advantage in financial terms. You won’t make money out of it, but in terms of catching a client, yes, it has some advantages.
So it’s something emotional…
Not only emotional. I would rather say that it is a principle question. It is like shopping: if someone has two products in hand, one has a domestic origin certificate or other special feature, and the cost is the same, the customer simply takes the certified one. People say if it is certified, than it is a good one. If I have to pay more for it: no, I’ll take the other one. If the question is only whether it is rated or not, they will take the rated one.
Do you think that these certificates will lose some of their importance in terms of competition between different property projects as more and more buildings will be certified according to one or another standard?
It will definitely lose some of its status of exclusivity. Everyone who is looking to act on international competitors’ level simply has to qualify. It’s obligatory. Property funds will only purchase certified project, so in the medium term future, if a developer wants to sell a building to institutional investors, those must be qualified. One has to distinguish if it is a project that will be sold out, one that has a lot of clients with international background, or it is a project that will only be offered to businesses on the local market. Of course, the more office buildings are rated out there, the less exclusive it will be. So this will definitely lose a little bit of its value.
What do you think will come after these green certifications will become an ordinary standard? Perhaps in ten or twenty years all the existing office projects will be certified on various levels. What’s next?
The next step in my mind, if we think about the 20-20-20 agenda of the European Union, is that focus will be more on energy saving and alternative energy at all. This will be the next level in property development. The overall approach is already about low energy level, and environment-friendly building materials, user-friendly design, etc. It will become a general approach to the whole business, but looking for zero emission buildings, or maybe surplus energy buildings, there is still a lot of room to go. Nobody knows, how the office needs will change. We already have a lot of future plans how the office layout of tomorrow will look like. Than we have the generation Y growing up with smartphones and laptops and with all kinds of communications tools. Will we need a traditional office at all? Do we need a desk, or do we need rather a corner to sit in a relaxed atmosphere, while remaining highly productive in work? Which way all these new technologies will still develop? It will turn out later…
It will probably become harder and harder for developers to keep up with the accelerating pace of tenants’ needs. What can be the key to success?
It surely will. Today it seems strange, that in the past, when the design of cellular, individual offices was created, that was the design for 50 years. And if we look at the changes of the last 20 years, if we take a look at an office building built in 1990: now that seems old fashioned. These cycles get shorter and shorter. We should now predict the future, but we don’t know how it will be, we are only guessing. As a developer we have to be really intuitive to be able to follow the ever changing trends and unique needs. Some tenants have extraordinary requests and some expect a traditional office layout. There are great contrasts, but the building has to serve all the needs. And this is the challenge of the future, the challenge of the next generation. Remaining flexible is a must.
Is it important for RE to show a good example to other developers with these efforts, or is it rather for your partners / tenants?
Basically we never do anything for ourselves. Taking tenants’ needs into account is the main driving force. If we have a good idea and some of our competitors copy that, we will be happy. But if the clients don’t like it, it makes no sense. Of course if we see a good idea out there, why not take it? But we don’t do anything without reason, we should try to make the best out of our solutions.
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