10 years of partnership between Bopro and UPSI-BVS

Interview with Peter Garré and Olivier Carrette

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After 10 years of partnership between Bopro and UPSI-BVS, it is high time to look back on the past decade together with our Managing Director Peter Garré and CEO of UPSI-BVS Olivier Carrette and especially to look ahead to what the future has in store.

Hi Peter, why partner with a professional association?
What does BVS mean for Bopro?

Peter: Prior to the banking crisis in 2008, we had a period where the sky was the limit. It was a signal to me that we urgently needed to use our resources in a more sustainable way within the real estate sector.

While developing our strategy, we encountered a reluctant market, a lack of knowledge of sustainability among its players, and a lack of a legislative framework to provide a level playing field. BVS understood our vision and we focus on the same target group.

When Olivier contacted me in 2012 about the possibility of becoming a structural partner, we quickly agreed on common objectives. All major real estate players are represented at UPSI-BVS. The partnership facilitated contact so that we got easier access to potential customers on the one hand and on the other hand we could share and build up our expertise with these market parties.

This way, we can quickly test our innovation with the market and capture the needs of the market faster from a design thinking approach.

What is the current status of sustainability in the real estate sector, and what is the role of the EU Taxonomy in this?

Olivier: I see the EU Taxonomy as a catalyst that has brought about an enormous change. Peter might say this change came rather late because he has been working on it for 10 years.

Peter: Indeed, but better late than never.

Olivier: Yes, Peter was a visionary at the time, but he was alone. 10 years ago, the sector was much less willing to understand, let alone implement, the sustainability story.

Sometimes change has to be imposed from above to give a sector a push to take action. I hate to say this, but it's the way it is, proactiveness and real estate don't always go hand in hand. But we have made huge leaps as a sector. We have to because if you don’t become compliant with the EU taxonomy rules, your story will soon stop. If you do not understand: what it is, what the consequences are, and how to develop in the coming months - because it is not about years, but about months - then you are doomed. Our sector is very aware of this.

In terms of sustainability, I'll be the first to say that that legislative push was necessary. But this doesn't prevent me from having a problem with its complexity.

How have you seen BVS evolve over the past 10 years?

Peter: Personally, I note that BVS is evolving from defending interests and preserving what has been acquired, to an actor that wants to work towards a sustainable and fair society, responding to the EU's "Just transition" while still safeguarding a fair distribution of the burden of the transition we are facing.

Olivier: That’s nice to hear that from you, Peter. In terms of size and budget, our association has doubled in the last decade. Also in terms of activities, in 2008 there were five committees, while there are now 13.

We are extremely professionalized. And that is also necessary because society has simply become much more complex. What worries me is the quality of services. I’ve really seen this decline in recent years. Everyone experiences this, both professionally and privately. And I see this in both government and companies. Quality is essential for a trade union movement. This must remain a point of attention, certainly for BVS.

How does Bopro commit itself to the sector association?

Bopro introduced BREEAM to the Belgian professional real estate market. Because it is an international standard that objectively guarantees the quality of new and existing real estate in a cost-conscious manner. BVS has always supported this approach and vision, which was not always easy within our complex state structure.

At the request of BVS, Bopro brought and continues to bring its insights and knowledge to the table so that qualitative and future-oriented actions can be taken on both the legislative framework and market forces. At appropriate times, Bopro brings its international experience to the table and we help BVS and its members how to effectively implement these new sustainability regulations. This includes the EU Green Deal, EU Taxonomy, and the entry of SFRD.

Olivier: Our youngest committee around ESG and EU taxonomy is a good example of how this collaboration works. At the request of chairman Stéphan Sonneville and committee chairwoman Sandra Gottcheiner, we have limited the number of members to 13 in addition to Bopro and Deloitte. The members are important real estate players with a great deal of expertise in this field.

This working group reports every two months to the members of BVS on the state of affairs, the evolution, and the position of BVS on behalf of the real estate sector.

It is essential that we follow this legislative framework at a fast pace, otherwise, we will be caught in speed. In this context, BVS will take a clear position on behalf of the real estate sector during discussions with the government.

We represent the project developers and investors. It is important that we find the greatest common denominator so that we as a sector can come forward with one point of view on behalf of the entire real estate sector. By subsequently consulting with the other interest groups (eg the contractors), we know each other's points of view and we can also take them into account.

The new chairman Stéphan Sonneville says and I quote 'BVS is heard but not listened to enough. The way in which the dialogue with political leaders is conducted must therefore change.' What does that mean concretely?

Olivier: Our sector still has too often a negative perception and is too often regarded as a cash cow. That is a short-term view. Because without private capital, among other things, there is no social development. Our sector has an important social responsibility because we literally develop the cities of tomorrow - as BVS we must therefore participate in this challenge in a constructive & sustainable way!

In my opinion, there is little respect for private initiatives in Belgium. This is simply not in our DNA, like it is in the US, for example. If you do business there and take risks, people think it is logical that you also earn a decent living with it. In Belgium and in Europe, this isn’t seen the same way. Success is less appreciated.

Peter: Yes, okay, but I also think that we sometimes make too little effort to communicate about what we do as a sector. You can also say: look at what we do for society. And if you add that to our tax rates, so to speak, our sector has a huge contribution.

If you calculate the return on capital employed per year, taking into account the length of time that your capital is tied up during a construction project, then it is not all that exorbitant. We’re talking about large amounts, but if you plot profits against the gigantic capitals that are being mobilized, returns are not that absurd. There is great competition in our sector and margins are really not what some people imagine.

Olivier: What is often forgotten is that there are also a lot of projects where you lose money - there are projects that you have been working on for ten, fifteen years, where nothing has happened yet. You have to take all these things into account when setting an acceptable margin, to continue, otherwise, you’ll simply run out of business.

What does Bopro expect from BVS in the coming period? What does the strong sector association of tomorrow look like for you?

Peter: The real estate sector creates space for human activities in all their diversity. This space is scarce and has to compete with the space for mobility and food. Three sectors with excessive CO2 and nitrogen emissions.

If we find an affordable solution within these three sectors, we have found a solution to the climate problem. This is a challenge but also an incredible opportunity! With the real estate sector, we have a direct impact on housing, through its location and mobility. By contributing to innovative solutions in food production, we can also contribute to reducing emissions from agriculture.

We must break away from the doctrine that we should above all retain acquired rights and position ourselves as a solution to the climate problem and affordable housing. With the private investments that the members of BVS allocate each year, we can make a positive contribution to the social challenge. The dynamism that the EU brings to this is a good start.

The image of our sector will benefit from this. Taking on this role and bringing it to a successful conclusion is my expectation for BVS. It will ensure the dynamics of the next 10 years within BVS. Bopro has therefore reconfirmed its partnership with BVS after 10 years and is happy to contribute to this!

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