Steffen Walvius (JLL): There’s no time to spare on sustainability

The path that led Steffen Walvius to be named JLL’s Head of Sustainability Services and ESG was hardly a straight line. In a sense, it began on oil rigs in the North Sea, where he worked as an engineer. Having seen firsthand how the raw material of CO2 emissions was produced, he began to worry about his role in global climate change. “I worried that if my kid asked me ‘what did you do try to avoid this?’ I would have to say I was making lots of money on an oil rig,” he recalls. Since he’d studied statics in university, he decided he could make the biggest difference in the real estate sector, which is estimated to be produce up to 30% of global CO2 emissions and to account for 40% of global energy consumption.

After working at P3 for a while, you set up your own consultancy. Now you’re returning to the corporate fold. What lay behind that decision?

It was attractive for me to join JLL because I had a resources problem from the very beginning. If you want to do sustainability well, you need an energy modelling engineer, you need legal expertise, analysts and others. Sustainability is so broad that if you want to provide a complete package then you need a lot of expertise. I didn’t have that and it was very hard to get as well. I agreed to join JLL because in London they have a big sustainability department, with a giant network and a lot of resources. It’s nice because suddenly I have a much bigger reach and I can make a bigger impact.

If I want to be carbon neutral as a landlord, do I have to pick tenants whose energy demands don’t exceed the amount of green energy that I can provide?

If you want to be called carbon neutral, you have to look at all the emissions, whether you are in control of them or not. The purpose is to stimulate your tenant to be more efficient. You also need to provide a very efficient building so the tenant doesn’t have to consume a lot.

Realistically, do you expect it to lead to developers to prefer tenants with lower energy demands? Will there be a higher value placed on such clients?

It should stimulate this because it’s all about price. If the developer is compliant with SBTI (Science Based Target Initiative), then he’s forced to calculate all his greenhouse gas emissions and to make sure that he’s neutral. If there’s a tenant that pollutes a lot, it means the developer has to do more to compensate, so it could eventually mean higher rents for higher polluting tenants. I haven’t seen that yet but what is moving slowly to CEE are green leases, or leases with green clauses — such as sharing data on energy consumption. Because as a developer, I want to know how efficient or inefficient my building is. There can also be clauses in which tenants have to install very energy efficient equipment, manage resources efficiently or even cost-sharing arrangements on investments towards energy efficiency.

I can imagine someone reading this interview and saying, “the state is trying to control us all.”

It depends very much on who you ask and how old the person is. Because if you ask the younger generation (and me) the regulations can’t be tough enough. We look at what’s happening, like this summer, and it’s insane. You can still deny it’s climate change but when are you going to realize that it is climate change. We’re going to see what happened this summer more and more. It’s getting exponentially worse. It’s once per 10 years now but it could be several times a year within a decade. Something has to happen.

So, your answer to all the dinosaurs over 40 years old is to get out of the way? That this is the future. Or the only way we’re going to have a future.

If they cannot switch to long-term thinking? Absolutely. It’s the only way we’re going to have a future as we know it. People may not like regulations when they affect them. But if the playing field is even and everyone has to play by the same rules, which is a very big challenge, then everyone agrees.

With industrial buildings, it’s comparatively simple for owners to put photovoltaics on the roof. But producing power is always going to be more difficult for office buildings.

Offices are an interesting case because on-site generation is quite hard to do. You can procure green electricity or have your own off-site generation of power and use the grid to send it. We can think about increasing efficiency by adopting passive design principles so that it doesn’t need much energy. With real estate there’s no magic bullet. We’re doing small, tiny bits everywhere, from improving facades or windows, or installing more efficient HVAC, having smarter lighting, or rooms that are only lit when people are in it. On top of that, we should also look outside the sector boundaries for collaboration opportunities. For example, work together with the energy and transportation sectors.

If this way of thinking is so popular with young people, why is it so hard for companies to find people to do your job?

I think it’s hard because there’s no set career path to get there. You have to find your own way. I’d love to help with this so I’m now a lecturer at ‘’which is sharing this knowledge for free to people that are interested. I’m also a guest lecturer for several universities. Knowledge is power, but only if you share it. I’d love to work with JLL’s peers in CEE to get them up to speed and have them get the expertise as well. Of course, we will compete some but if we want to make a difference then we should share our knowledge and have a healthy competition. It’s also a mental shift that has to be done. If we want to move to next level society then we have to look at Quality, balance, ambition in a mindset of trust instead of quantity, excess, pessimism, in the mindset of suspicion.


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