Creating a Green Future, One Building at a Time

July 15, 2021

It looks like a plain, sprawling warehouse by a highway in Bucharest, but it’s at the center of something big that’s unfolding across the world.

The Stefanestii de Jos warehouse is one of the greenest buildings in Europe. It uses at least 20 percent less energy and water than other buildings, makes use of efficient, sustainable lighting and takes care of waste reduction. The warehouse is developed, owned and rented out by WDP, a logistics real estate company with warehouse locations in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, Germany and Romania. Mickael Van den Hauwe, WDPs’ CFO, calls it ‘Warehouses with Brains.” “Through innovation and measures for sustainable improvement and supported by green financing, we offer energy-efficient warehouses to our customers,” he says.

Around the world, the buildings sector accounts for 28 percent of energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions, through day-to-day energy use from powering lighting, heating, and cooling—but also resulting from the amount of carbon generated through construction.

With the advent of new techniques and building technologies, green buildings can revolutionize the industry including existing buildings to the point of being an effective tool for reaching net zero emissions across the logistics and manufacturing chain. And that’s not all. Green buildings can spur low-carbon economic growth, generating more than nine million skilled jobs in both the renewables and construction sectors by 2030.

They represent one of the biggest investment opportunities of the next decade—$24.7 trillion across emerging market cities by 2030—$881 billion in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. And with the explosion of online shopping brought on by COVID-19, followed by a booming resumption of trade, green logistics buildings for e-commerce could be one of the most lucrative businesses to emerge from the pandemic.

Stefanestii de Jos warehouse, a green building in Bucharest, Romania.
Stefanestii de Jos warehouse, a green building in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Courtesy of WDP

Romania: a laboratory for green growth

That’s what Jeroen Biermans had in mind with the warehouse on the outskirts of Bucharest. As the general manager for Romania of WDP, he’s responsible for building resource-efficient warehouses and commercial properties across the country. In April 2020, IFC provided a green financing package of approximately €205 million for the project. IFC’s first green loan to the property sector in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, the financing is expected to save 12,083 tons of carbon dioxide every year. “This financing package is a recognition of our mission to develop high-quality logistics infrastructure and promote sustainability across the supply chain in order to support the real economy,” Jeroen Biermans adds.

WDP has now achieved EDGE certification for 48 of their logistics buildings in Romania. Short for Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies, IFC created the program as a blueprint to democratize the use of green residences and business properties across the world.

There’s another industry that will rapidly benefit from EDGE: the information technology sector. Romania happens to be one of the global hotspots in terms of computer skills, help desk functions and developer communities. About 200 miles from Bucharest, IFC supported the construction of an eco-friendly information technology and communications complex in an underdeveloped area of the city center of Iasi. This is timely, given the increased need for digital services amid COVID-19, spurred by a surge in e-commerce and remote working.

Additionally, with several companies housed in this complex in northeastern Romania, graduates from local universities will have better career prospects.

The €73-million financing will allow Palas Campus, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iulius Holding, to attract and retain foreign investors and businesses. Apart from driving economic growth, the project will reduce energy consumption by 41 percent compared with a regular office building in Iasi. It will further help reduce emissions by 1577 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually.

“Palas Campus is an important project for the economic growth of the region, with our partnership with IFC offering new perspectives on how businesses can grow while being people oriented,” said Raluca Munteanu, Business Development Manager, Iulius Holding.

IFC also invested in bonds issued by Globalworth Real Estate Investments Ltd for the development of green-certified commercial buildings in Romania. A landmark office and research and development center, built for Renault Dacia in Bucharest, was the first project in the country to be awarded two green certifications—BREEAM Excellent and EDGE. About 81 percent of Globalworth’s assets are certified as green.

A green office and research & development center, built for Renault Dacia in Bucharest, Romania. Photo: Courtesy of Globalworth Real Estate Investments Ltd.

Improving living standards

Over the years, IFC has been working on a range of green housing projects in other parts of the region. In Ukraine, for example, IFC partnered with the state-run Energy Efficiency Fund to work with homeowners’ associations on energy-efficiency renovations. With over 670 residential buildings participating in the program, the Fund will help channel up to $171 million to support investments, allowing over 65,000 Ukrainian families to make their homes more energy efficient.

In one of its earlier efforts to develop the energy-efficient buildings market in ECA, IFC funded low-to-middle-income housing in Tbilisi, which enabled the construction of around 2,000 energy-efficient apartments by the end of 2018.

IFC also advised ProCredit Bank Georgia—with its head office in Tbilisi having already been EDGE certified—to offer incentives for making buildings energy efficient and getting certification.

And IFC supported financial institutions in the Kyrgyz Republic to increase energy efficiency and access to improved housing conditions for low-income people, saving around 103,000 tons of coal along the way.

ProCredit Bank Georgia’s head office in Tbilisi, an EDGE-certified building. Photo: Courtesy of ProCredit Bank Georgia

Tomorrow’s frontier

With 68 percent of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2050, green buildings are emerging as a viable and effective solution to fight climate change, one of the greatest challenges of our times. In response, IFC has to date invested over €4.9 billion globally in green buildings while the implementation of EDGE standards helped save over 410,000 tons of carbon dioxide across the world.

In 2017, global investments in green buildings accounted for $423 billion of the $5 trillion spent on building construction and renovation. This means, less than one percent of the gross lettable area of all types of buildings across the region are certified as green, presenting immense growth potential.

Building on this possibility, green buildings are all set to spark a major shift in Europe and Central Asia’s real estate sector and contribute to a resilient and inclusive growth trajectory.

Published in July 2021