At the 2016 Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Conference, keynote speaker Owen Zachariasse profiled his company’s Park 20|20 development; with its closed loop energy and water systems, human-centered design, and innovative construction. An condensed version of his presentation aired in Metro Vancouver as the first episode of the 2017 season of The Sustainable Region
Zachariasse opens his afternoon keynote address with an impressive statistic.
“In the last ten years we have developed over a million square feet of real estate, specifically from the principles of ‘cradle-to-cradle’ and the circular economy and I can tell you it’s the most profitable stock in our portfolio, so it really does make very good business sense to be doing this.”
Their flagship development is Park 20|20, a business park near Amsterdam with an impressive list of innovations such as onsite food gardens that supply produce, closed loop energy and water systems, buildings designed for ease of disassembly, and consideration for the environment throughout –right down to green spaces optimized for bee and butterfly habitat!
What we are actually doing is building systems.
We are building communities
Zachariasse stresses that their approach is to begin with their intentions in mind – the ambitious goals chosen as first principles informing their work at every step.
“If I am doing my job right, our buildings should produce more clean energy than they consume. Our drinking water that exits the building should be cleaner that the water that comes in and when we take apart our buildings, what we deliver back to our communities is healthy, safe topsoil in better condition than we we took it; for farmland. That is our design intention at the Delta Development Group.”
The $350 million dollar project features 92,000 square metres of work space, onsite amenities such as a hotel, restaurant, and parks and is master planned by renowned architect and author William McDonough, whose 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (co-authored with Michael Braungart) outlined an innovative, zero-waste approach to manufactured goods and the built environment. McDonough was also the opening keynote speaker for the 2015 Metro Vancouver Zero Waste Conference.
Some of the big-name occupants of Park 20|20 include Bosch Siemens, The FIFA players’ association, and Plantronics, but the development’s planning also considers the needs of the surrounding community. Notable is the green space on the 5.5 hectare site, landscaped to act as a breeding ground for an endangered butterfly species and home to a greenhouse and social farm that not only provides produce for the on-site restaurant, but also employment opportunities, and community gardening spaces for seniors moving into supportive housing and no longer have their own gardens.
“We pay everyone who works here,” notes Zachariasse, “it costs us about $50,000 a year, but it’s not about the money, it’s about creating community, and this is one of the most important aspects of our park.”
If we really want to create systemic change
we have to do so through the system, not pushing against it
And while the park and its positives may not be about the money, Zachariasse concedes that costs and return on investment can’t be ignored.
“The first question I get is how much more expensive is to build these buildings,” he notes. The answer is counter-intuitive.
“We are 1.4% under budget, our rents are outperforming the market by about 15% to 30%, (and) our exit yields are about 40 – 80 basis points outperforming the market. One (statistic) that I’m particular proud of is a 95% user satisfaction rate. Our equity investors asked for a 10% return on investment and we are actually right now delivering over 13%. So, it is a highly profitable project and I say this because I don’t run my business on ideology. If you do so, you can quickly go out of business.”
Zachariasse goes on to outline the closed loop water and energy systems at Park 20|20, noting with a self-deprecating smile that they use canals as part of the water treatment, because they are Dutch and that’s how they do things (with canals) but he also delivers this impressive aside.
“I am proud to say that at this point we are producing more clean, renewable energy than we are consuming and that’s a feat let me tell you.”
We are to date the largest purchaser and supplier
of Cradle-to-Cradle certified materials in the world
A key feature of Park 20|20 is the planning that has gone into its eventual decommissioning.
“Our buildings… are designed 100% to be disassembled from the day that we start designing them. We are actually designing them to be taken apart, not to go together, notes Zachariasse. “That way you inherently answer the question (of) how it should go together, but you are able to take it one step further.”
Even before the buildings reach the end of their useful life, the Delta Development Group has built flexibility of use into their planning. Owen Zachariasse explains, “All of our buildings are designed to be housing. They are offices, but we designed them to be housing so they can easily be transformed into housing should the office market erode in this area in the future and we can quickly and cost-effectively change them out to make a new play on the market.”
We no longer buy elevators. We lease vertical transport
Zachariasse sees the 5.5 hectare Park 20|20 as just the beginning of an evolution in building. His company is also involved with a much larger circular economy project in a subarea of the Schiphol Trade Park called ‘the Valley.’
“It’s Netherlands’ national showcase project for the circular economy,” explains Owen. One whole side of the (3.5 sq km) park is dedicated to growing bio-based feedstock that will go into bio-based polymers and help feed the biological revolution. The second half is called the technosphere. This is the part where we are putting plants, re-manufacturing, re-polymerization of textiles.”
He adds, “The Valley is at human scale. We are modelling the Dutch farm and embedding it deep into the landscape. This is all about human connectivity. The thing that I want to drive home is that nobody rents square metres in the Valley anymore. What we do is rent work stations and when you are working in the Valley… it’s a really open source collaboration area where we are working on solving circular problems.
Zachariasse says they are trying a radical business model for the project.
“What we’ve done is strike contracts with the companies supplying the land, the infrastructure, the core and shell of the building, the installations, the interior, the furniture, and the services. These companies maintain ownership of all these things. We close contracts with them… at a fixed price service guarantee that they are going to provide us with a level of quality for a given amount of time. It creates a better margin for us that we can pass along to the tenants.”
He goes on to explain how this approach is also creating $2 billion in economic activity, by seeking commitments from various organizations to commit at least 2% of their budget to purchasing within a circular economy framework.
The human factor is a big part of the plan for the Valley. Zachariasse outlines how the design of the spaces offers areas for collaboration, concentration, and contemplation, and seeks to supply an oft-overlooked ingredient in innovation.
“How do you plan for serendipity, so people are bumping into each other and new ideas are cross-pollinating across industries?”
He closes with a piece of advice that he believes has been key to their success and an accurate reflection of the interconnected nature of doing business in a circular economy.
“Get people that are smarter than you and empower them.”
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