Is this the world’s most sustainable building?

Alphons van Erven
Image caption Mr van Erven says the money saved by the environmental measures means they will pay for themselves

The UK government is not doing enough to encourage companies to be more sustainable, the business lobby group CBI has told the Victoria Derbyshire programme. What can be learned from the world’s most sustainable industrial building in the Netherlands?

Climbing out of a triple-glazed window onto the roof of an enormous logistics warehouse in the Dutch city of Tilburg, you are met with an ocean of solar panels – over 13,000 of them to be exact.

The building is owned by the Dutch arm of Rhenus, a multi-billion pound logistics firm with 660 buildings and 31,000 employees worldwide.

The site produces not only enough energy to power its own production, but also feeds back into the country’s general supply lines – powering approximately 750 households on an annual basis, according to its senior vice-president Alphons van Erven.

In May this year, it received the highest-ever rating for an industrial building from British sustainability assessors BREEAM, which has analysed the design and concept of more than 500,000 buildings in over 70 countries to look at green credentials.

Image caption The roof is covered in solar panels

The building is completely airtight, meaning no heat escapes in the winter. The roof also houses two large pumps that draw heat from the air outside and use it to keep the inside of the building warm. There are electric boilers for exceptionally-cold days, which the company estimates are only used on ten days each year.

Along the side, and at either end, are huge glass windows, allowing light to flood into the building.

Not only is it thought to improve the wellbeing and productivity of workers, by making it a nicer environment, but it means they used 70% less electricity in lighting the premises.

Sustainability measures even extend to the toilets, which use rainwater collected on the roof while flushing.

Mr van Erven says he is “quite convinced” that companies who are not already taking such measures should be forced to by governments.

“There is a discussion here in the Netherlands that companies with big carbon footprints will have to pay a penalty on the amount of C02 they are exposing to the air,” he said.

“We have an advantage because we don’t have any C02 pollution anymore, so in the future it will pay off in itself.”

Critical months

Image caption The CBI says business rates offer a disincentive for businesses to use new technology

The CBI, the UK business lobby group which represents 190,000 firms employing seven million people, said the British government needed to do more to encourage companies to invest in sustainability.

”We really need to see action now, and the next few months will be critical,” said James Diggle, the CBI’s head of energy and climate change.

“I don’t believe we have a clear cross-government strategy yet.

“In particular with the national challenge of energy efficiency – we think it should be a national infrastructure priority.”

Mr Diggle said companies also faced an additional barrier of business rates, which “actually disincentivises the use of new technology”.

“If a company lays out the capital for green energy products like solar wind, the value of the property will increase. That in turn will raise their business rates as they are based on the cost of the property.

“It’s a lose-lose for a business financially, as they are laying out capital investment to install things and then will be charged higher business rates for doing so.”

Extra productivity

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “Climate change demands urgent action, and businesses have a crucial role to play in helping us reach our net zero emissions target by 2050.

“We have set a clear ambition to enable businesses to improve energy efficiency by at least 20% by 2030, and we’ve put schemes in place such as the Industrial Heat Recovery Scheme and Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme to help businesses achieve this.”

For Mr van Erven, every business should be looking at going more green.

“Either they will be forced by law, or they take sustainability seriously,” he said.

And if environmental factors are not a driving factor, he says the profit his company has made as a result – such as selling the excess electricity from the solar panels and saving money in heating – should be.

“There can be profit in getting more productivity out of the building,” he explained.

“Why wouldn’t you invest money in it?”

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