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edition 12 (226)
December 2017
Green projects

Home, certified home

A certification boom may just be around the corner for the residential sector

Tomasz Cudowski

Home, certified home
“The eco-certificate became a kind of guarantee that our stated policy had been carried out,” says Aleksandra Goller of Skanska Residential Development Poland

The Polish Green Building Council’s list of eco-certified buildings so far includes seven residential projects by three developers. However, as many as four green certificates are also currently on their way to residential properties, while a fifth is in the pipeline

The popularity of residential building certification, as was the case with commercial real estate, first took root on the Polish market when international developers arrived. Some transferred their environmental know-how from other countries and some brought it in from other sectors.

Difficult choices

One of these, Skanska, has been one of the pioneers in this field, as its Mickiewicza estate was the first residential project in Poland to be certified under the BREEAM system. “In 2015, when the estate was being constructed, few people were even aware of what BREEAM was,” says Aleksandra Goller, a project manager at Skanska Residential Development Poland. “We were faced with the challenge of introducing a new product, by which I mean the certificate, onto the market,” she adds. It was worth the risk – the majority of the apartments found buyers before the occupancy permit was granted and the final ‘green unit’ was sold two months after the permit was issued. The developer is planning to start the second stage of the project soon. “Thanks to the certificate clients did not just have to take our word for it when we claimed the building would be made out of the best materials. The certificate became a kind of guarantee that our stated policy had been carried out,” explains Aleksandra Goller.

But where did the decision to choose this particular certificate stem from? Every developer insists to its clients that their system is the most appropriate one, even though in their next breath they usually have the grace to admit that every means of improving a project’s quality and reducing its environmental impact is good. “HQE is undoubtedly one of the leading global certificates used on the construction market,” claims Pierre Vincent Pasquet, the director of the Warsaw branch of Bouygues Immobilier Polska. “The scope of the criteria it employs is very comprehensive. It covers the entire investment process – from the analysis of the plot, to its design, through to the construction and operation of the building. HQE’s requirements focus not only on a building’s energy efficiency but also on general environmental and natural resource conservation.

“The LEED system is the most commonly used ecological certification for Vastint’s office and hotel buildings, and so we have also opted for LEED for our residential projects,” reveals David Pettersson, a senior project manager at Vastint Poland. His company has just begun the application process for its first Polish certificate for a residential project. “All certification systems have their pros and cons. They can be compared to each other, but it is difficult to determine which one is the best. One of the assets of ‘our’ LEED system is the fact that as a developer we have full control of the certification process,” he adds.

Greening vs greenbacks

Home buyers would certainly like to know whether certification costs have an impact on the price of apartments – because surely it is they who will end up paying for the costs of certification? “Sustainable development principles, particularly energy efficiency, are an obligatory element in the design and construction processes of Vastint’s projects,” counters David Pettersson, who goes on to add: “Certification confirms that we have done things properly and it has no major influence on the cost of the project.”

The company’s rivals also gave some rather indirect answers when asked about the costs. “There is a concern in the construction industry that the buyer will have to pay a hidden surcharge for the certificate. However, this is not exactly the case with our projects, such as those we have in Warsaw’s Targówek, Włochy and Bemowo districts,” claims Pierre Vincent Pasquet of Bouygues Immobilier Polska. “It’s worth considering the long-term benefits for the buyer, who pays lower operating costs and whose apartment is lit in the most efficient way thanks to the fact that the building has been optimally designed for doing so,” he explains.

It seems that with the great variety of apartments on offer, green certificates are an obvious way for developers to attain a competitive advantage and to position themselves as companies that care for the natural environment and their residents’ well-being. However, this advantage has so far only been available for projects in the premium segment. “I am convinced that as time goes by clients will care much more about their quality of life, health and well-being, and this can generally only be obtained in projects that have been designed for all this using the right materials,” explains Pierre Vincent Pasquet. “Focusing on a healthy lifestyle and the quality of the product is an approach that is clearly visible in many other sectors of the economy, including the grocery, cosmetics and clothing segments. It will certainly continue to gain in importance on the real estate market and will become a major factor in Poles’ residential choices, as they become more aware and demanding consumers. The growth of this market and the demand will create ideal conditions for increased sales of apartments in certified projects,” adds Pierre Vincent Pasquet.

“Buyers’ ecological awareness has been growing as have their requirements when it comes to the quality of the space they live in,” agrees David Pettersson. “I think that buyers will appreciate the fact that a property is eco-friendly, provides comfortable living conditions and is economical at the of operation and maintenance stage,” he believes.

Can-do Poles

One of the certificates that is available is Polish, but it has been holding its own among its international counterparts. The method used for awarding the certificate and the criteria it covers certainly differ from Western procedures, but the developer’s attention to the well-being of users still forms an important element of it. Therefore the ‘Building without Barriers’ [‘Obiekt bez Barier’] certificate, if awarded to a property, can also sway buyers in their choices. The Integration Foundation, a public benefit organisation that was established in 1994 for the almost 5 mln registered disabled people in Poland, has been issuing the ‘Building without Barriers’ certificate for around eight years. Obtaining this title provides confirmation that the building is accessible for people with disabilities. “The verification of new projects takes place in two stages. First we analyse its architectural design at a stage when we are still able to recommend certain solutions; then we audit the completed building. During these audits we use testers, including people with various disabilities, to assess the building’s accessibility,” explains Jarosław Bogucki of the expert services department of the Integration Foundation and who is involved in such cooperation with developers.

The building must be user-friendly and adapted for people with various disabilities (wheelchair-users, the blind, people with vision or hearing impairments), older users, people with small children and people with temporary disabilities (e.g. a broken leg or suffering from conjunctivitis). The current property design regulations in terms of the needs of people with disabilities are not only rather limited but they are also scattered across various legal acts. “We estimate that the Polish regulations would take up around 20 pages of print, whereas the European ISO standards on architectural accessibility would be around 150 pages of specific regulations and the American equivalent comes to more than 300 pages,” points out Jarosław Bogucki.

For example, the construction law has only included provisions related to the disabled since 1994, while those included in all the other acts are only of help to a certain degree. “For example, the law states that bathrooms should be accessible for the disabled but it does not state what form this accessibility should take,” says Jarosław Bogucki. “It is similar in the case of adapting stairs for the blind: it does not make clear whether only the first and the last step should be marked, or all of them. The Integration Foundation is pressing for clearer regulations based on global standards and expert practical knowledge.”

Almost 300 buildings have been awarded the ‘Building without Barriers’ title and include: the Presidential Palace, Belvedere and Miasteczko Orange (all in Warsaw), Skanska’s office buildings, Warsaw shopping centres Arkadia, Galeria Mokotów and Galeria Wileńska, Warsaw’s main airport and branches of PKO BP bank and the Polish Post. However, not a single residential building is among them – and such applications only began last year, when Skanska expressed an interest in certifying its estates.

One is not enough

It is worth mentioning those developers who set out to acquire two different eco-certificates for one project. “Our Holm House estate is being developed according to the guidelines of two certification systems: BREEAM and ‘Building without Barriers’,” reveals Aleksandra Goller of Skanska Residential Development Poland – and with some pride. “We are planning to start another stage of Osiedle Mickiewicza, for which we will also apply for BREEAM and ‘Buildings without Barriers’ certificates,” she adds. Bouygues Immobilier is another that is not satisfied with having just one certificate. “For some projects, such as La Melodie in Targówek, we have been working on double certification – HQE, which has already been awarded, and a BREEAM application, which is still in progress,” says Pierre Vincent Pasquet.

What is the future of ‘green’ certificates in the residential sector? Developers are in little doubt that they ARE the future. “Not only will existing residential project certification programmes be adopted, but new ones will also be established, although not straight away. “Certification will also become a standard on the residential market in the future,” believes David Pettersson of Vastint. “We should expect that in a few years’ time the certification of residential buildings will become the standard in Poland, as ISO has with management certification,” agrees Pierre Vincent Pasquet of Bouygues Immobilier, who adds: “We have a positive attitude towards this trend, as it certainly highly beneficial. In Western Europe it has already become the accepted standard that certificates have to be awarded to residential buildings.”

Piotr Mokrzański

a senior project manager at Go4Energy

Another certificate in the waiting room

The residential developers who are clients of Go4Energy opt to apply for BREEAM certificates. BREEAM International New Construction has already worked well in the commercial sector and provides confirmation of a superior standard and quality of workmanship. Furthermore, BREEAM is recognised across the world. More than half a million certificates have been issued so far and another 2 mln projects are under certification. The BREEAM system is also ideal in terms of the price. Only the Polish Green Building Standard (GBS), a certificate that has only been used to certify office buildings so far, is cheaper. The certification unit of the National Association for Sustainable Construction [Ogólnokrajowe Stowarzyszenia Wspierania Budownictwa Zrównoważonego] is currently adapting GBS for the residential sector and as far as we know this should be available as soon as H1 next year. It has been suggested that certification should only be carried out for superior standard projects, where quality counts for more, rather than just the price and location of the purchased apartment. Projects with a certificate are usually in demand from users who are aware of sustainability issues and thus are not indifferent to a building’s operating costs or its environmental impact. And there are more and more environmentally aware people on the Polish market. In our opinion the certification concept will continue to develop and will become increasingly popular in the residential sector. Given that developers as well as residents are paying much more attention to protecting the environment and energy emissions, this is a very natural direction to go in. BREEAM is currently a standard for commercial buildings. But as quality requirements increase, such standards will become an essential attribute of residential projects in a few years’ time.

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