The greenest

developer

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Owen Zachariasse is the Manager of Innovation and Sustainability at Delta, a small sustainable building company with the goal of being ‘the greenest developer”. It’s a bold ambition, so we decided to talk to Owen to dig a little deeper.

 

Delta started in 1998 and has always been a family owned and operated business. Their own sustainably built offices are located in the innovative development Park 2020 near Amsterdam’s Schipol airport.

 

We began by asking Owen what drives him. “We’ve always aimed to be the top ‘cradle to cradle’ developer in the Netherlands,” he told us, “It’s important to be authentic and we use our business to enact our vision.”

 

Authenticity to Owen is all about people, “We are all human beings!” he smiles, “We’re in the people business - we just happen to make office buildings.”

Planet and people can
add value to a firm

What difference can Delta’s people make? “Our industry is full of unhealthy practices so we’re using our business as a vehicle for positive change. Ghandi said “Be the change you want to be” and I believe that crisis drives innovation. We’ve also proved change can have a positive impact on the balance sheet.”

 

So like any business, it’s all about the bottom line? Not quite, according to Owen, “We are often asked to think of ‘people, planet, profit’ as ‘the triple bottom line’, but we prefer to think of it as ‘the triple top line’. We believe it’s time to see things 180 degrees around, where planet and people can add value to a firm. These things work in symbiosis with the natural world, so we look at people and planet as ‘value drivers’.”

 

But what about profit? “Profit is what we get when we do everything the right way,” states Owen, who tells us his motto is ‘Improve, optimize’, not ‘reuse, recycle’. 

“We are often asked to think of ‘people, planet, profit’ as ‘the triple bottom line’, but we prefer to think of it as ‘the triple top line’"
Philips Office - Triple top line infographic people, planet and profit

Our approach is not only good for the planet and people, it’s good for profits.

Next, we asked Owen about the kind of developments Delta is working on. It’s a varied list covering commercial, retail and hospitality - but there are some constant themes. Says Owen, “We build to suit. Ideally we have a tenant and a long term rental agreement in place first, say 10 years plus. That way the tenant becomes an active contributor to the project and an active participant in the development."

 

Ideally we engage with the CEO and the ‘vision people’ in the organization. We don’t want to talk about a building as four walls, we want to talk about a building as a tool for corporate performance – people occupy a central point in our development."

We reform new things
and endlessly reuse

Delta seems to fully embrace the circular economy, “We reform new things and endlessly reuse. After all, you have to keep up the level of quality so we can reclaim it in 30 years. There is a finite amount of materials and we have to respect that fact. Scarcity pushes up pricing so we need to be smart in our thinking and reuse."

 

We asked whether Owen felt this is a wider trend. His view was positive, “We’re starting to see businesses change to 'sustainable thinking' and it’s interesting to see businesses that feature in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index outperforming other leading companies.” In fact, he sees sustainability as a prerequisite, “We’ve reached saturation now: it’s hard to let a building without a BREEAM or LEED rating.”

Owen Zacharaisse the greenest developer on sustainable building
Increase in steel value between 1997 and 2012

 

An unsustainable building can be worth less than the land it stands on – the book value is artificial."

Owen describes his own company’s buildings as being “designed to be taken apart”. He explains, “If you answer the question ‘How do you take this apart so we can look at what we can reuse?’ you automatically answer the question ‘How do I build it?” “We design ‘inside out’” he explains, “We do the interiors first, then wrap an exterior around that.” Delta even goes so far as to get a demolition company involved when they build, because their business model is based on the residual value of buildings. The results, says Owen are invaluable insights such as ‘make the doorways wider so it’s easier to take materials away during demolition’.

 

"It's a truly different and unique approach to building, but one that makes a huge amount of sense in circular thinking"

 

We asked him his view on energy savings. Again, this is high on Delta’s agenda, “We invest an immense amount of time in time and resources in trying to drive down cost using the 80/20 rule – 80% gains for 20% investment."

People drive
performance


In many businesses, Owen complains “Human beings have become ‘human capital’ and that’s terrible. People drive performance and it’s extremely expensive to rehire and retain a new employee.” With the costs of recruiting and retaining great employees rising each year, the Delta approach is to empower employees to input into the office design process, engaging them in creating flexible spaces that are great to work in and will make them want to do their best work every day. Keeping staff keen and loyal.

 

“We look at the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration and concentration and contemplation. We try to always involve HR in planning developments and we ask companies to do surveys about how much time people spend in each area”. Creation is our fifth C – that’s often an outside space, or an active space, like a gym.” By using flexible walls in their developments, Delta also look to providing spaces that can change with the needs of the people that use them, a win-win solution.

We say, 'Join us to
help make people smile'

When Delta makes strategic partnerships with other companies, for example Philips, Owen says their proposal is simple and human, “We say “Join us to help make people smile – here’s my budget, give me the best you’ve got.”

 

Philips is an interesting partner, “because they have adopted a circular economy approach and are making the move towards service based agreements” where the responsibility of that asset lies not with the building owner or occupier but with a service provider. The result is ‘pay per lux’, ‘leasing light’ or ‘operational leasing’. Owen explains that it’s part of IAS 17 documentation, “You can do this with anything that isn’t part of the structure of the building.”

If I can have a 5% effect on something I’ll shoot for the biggest influence: the person."

infographic; Owen Zacharaisse predicts building lifetimes may decreases from 100 yrs. to 30 yrs. with more sustainable building

Owen predicts timescales from development to demolition will reduce from 100 years to 30.

We asked him what he predicts for the future. Owen sees the reuse of existing buildings as increasingly important, “Historically, buildings were built to stand for long periods, 100 years plus. Now we plan on reuse after 30 years when materials and space can be repurposed.”

 

Finally, we asked Owen to sum up Delta’s philosophy. Quite simply, he states, “We are using our business as an engine for change. Our circular economy approach is not only good for the planet and people, it’s good for profits.”

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