Real Estate for a changing world

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Biodiversity and sustainable cities


Biodiversity is in short a way to describe the scope and variety that exists in the living world. The diversity of the living world is characterised by as many species, genes and habitats that make up our planet. It is as such, incredibly difficult to quantify and be limited to, a definition that depends on a specific perspective.

The definition can therefore be understood from different examples, like the tundra biome which is spread over more than 4,464,600 sq miles or a pond at the end of a private garden. Biodiversity is present in all our towns, cities and villages and humans are an integral part of the system, constantly interacting with other species. The ecosystem that we live in is therefore, by definition, a larger collection, inhabited by a community of living beings.  

Towns and cities make up for 3% of the space on the earth, produce more than 70% of the earth’s CO2 emissions and consume 60-80% of the world’s energy. It is therefore imperative that we find a balance that will safeguard both humans and the environment that they depend on. The responsibility for this is shouldered by each and every sector and so town planning and real estate must question how to develop spaces dedicated to biodiversity, whilst allowing the sustainable development of economic activity. 

Understanding why in order to face the crisis

The escalation of human activity, coupled with the rising population has, since the industrial revolution, provoked a rapid decrease in the number of different species. Through the overexploitation of certain resources and the increasingly artificial nature of our environment, natural processes established over millions of years are breaking down. These disruptions also manifest themselves through other phenomena, such as climate change.  

According to a report by the UN, of the eight million plant and animal species on the planet, one million could disappear within the next few decades. Author of the book, The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert relates this threat to the reasons previously confirmed by the majority of leading scientists. In an interview with National Geographic she explains, “We are responsible for the elevated extinction rates we see now. There are very few, if any, extinctions that we know about in the last 100 years that would have taken place without human activity.” The consequences for humans are direct, with the risk that food production and supply could disappear. For some scientists, the destruction of biodiversity created the prime conditions to allow for the spread of new pandemics, such as Covid-19. Pathogens have adapted to a new environment because of the increasing scarcity of natural hosts, a direct consequence of the escalation of artificial environments. What’s more, pets and humans have become the new targets for pathogens, as urban sprawl continues to swell. Research related to biodiversity tells us that infrastructure and the rapid growth and spread of urban areas are conducive factors to the emergence of new infectious diseases, transmitted from animal to human.

The destruction and the breaking up of habitats, urban sprawl, the over exploiting of certain resources, pollution and the proliferation of invasive species (for which marine transport is an important factor) are the reasons that call into question ecosystem services, the foundations of our environment and way of life. Ecosystems services are divided into four main categories; provisioning services (food, fresh water, wood, fibre, genetic resources and medicines), regulating services (climate regulation, natural hazard regulation, water purification and waste management, pollination or pest control), habitat (providing habitats for migratory species and maintaining the viability of gene-pools) and cultural services (non-material benefits obtained from ecosystems such as spiritual enrichment, intellectual development, recreation and aesthetic values). 

It is difficult to evaluate the market value of these services. One study from l’INRA-CNRS, published in Ecological Economics, found that pollination by bees was worth €154 billion in 2005, and it is only human beings that benefit from this food source. What nature offers us is thus immeasurable, and its preservation appears unquestionable. 

Catherine Papillon

Our ways of living and working are changing. Cities are adapting to these changes by encouraging actors, whether for offices or homes, to contribute to a way of life that is economic and social. We are here to develop the skills of our employees, to support disadvantage and to encourage diversity. In this way CSR is a vital cog which inspires innovation, the economic performance of our clients, partners and indeed ourselves

Catherine Papillon
Global Head of Sustainable Development/ CSR at BNP Paribas Real Estate

Real estate: a vital component for establishing a sustainable world

According to figures published by the UN, 70% of the population will live in a city by 2050. The setting out of concrete and regulated measures is now more important than ever. The real estate sector has for many years altered and destroyed natural habitats, but as an actor that advocates for change, sustainable strategies are now at the heart of real estate activity. The real estate sector is part of the  four priority actions set out in France’s Plan National Biodiversité (National Biodiversity Plan), which aims to considerably reduce the carbon footprint. 

This is made possible through different actions, including ecological studies of the ground before construction, the integration of different species in danger of extinction, the preservation of fragile ecosystems, the use of biosourced materials and natural elements in the design and management of a building and creating green spaces and space dedicated to the interaction between nature and the tenants of buildings. The benefits of nature are indeed obvious; to boost well-being, reduce stress and inspire creativity. In a study carried out by Sir Cary Cooper for the University of Manchester, focusing on the impact of biophilia at work, we learn that employee satisfaction at work increases by 40% when there are natural elements around, which contribute to better well-being, productivity and efficiency. 

According to Pierre Darmet, the previous Secretary General of IBPC (International Biodiversity Property Council), “It is vital that we are aware of three connected factors; the number of species that will benefit from certain actions that we put in place, but also the quality of the area and its connections to other green spaces within the ecological movement. A building in the centre of Paris will not have the same impact as one in the suburbs or the countryside. We must first choose which areas will become urban and then compensate for them, through establishing forests for example. This means finding specific solutions related to each place, in order to allow for the greatest amount of different species, and if possible connecting this space to others.” 

The French biodiversity law of 2016 sets out that biodiversity measures must offset, with no loss to biodiversity, if anything we must reach a gain. Real estate projects must not only preserve but also help foster and develop nature within our towns and cities. We’ve seen urban farms, parks, gardens, green buildings, shared spaces and secure areas blossom, which are made possible thanks to public initiatives and the residents of those living in these areas. 

Certain historic actors in the sectors have already implemented concrete measures, driven by their CSR strategies, aiming to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN. The 11th goal aims to make cities and human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. A number of labels such as BiodiverCity are solid examples of adapted real estate projects. The company Certivéa du Centre Scientifique et Technique du Bâtiment (CSTB) offers those in the building sectors the chance to enhance performance through sustainable construction, renovation and operations, throughout construction and infrastructure projects.  

The CEO Patrick Nossent estimates that the world post-Covid will be an opportunity worth seizing, in order to rethink cities as “sanctuaries against health and environmental issues”. He lists five keys areas for sustainable investment; build sustainable infrastructure, reduce CO2 emissions, establish energy reforms, favour short circuits and the circular economy, integrate the monitoring of energy consumption (Smart Buildings) and better share space. 

It is through these steps that BNP Paribas Real Estate has decided to integrate biodiversity into all our activities, using it as a driving force during the whole life cycle of a building (conception, construction, operation, refurbishment). These actions are part of our Biodiversity Commitments Charter, which is used by our business lines across Europe. The BNP Paribas Group lists seven concrete objectives, which propel this transformation: 

  1. Preserve, restore and develop biodiversity by integrating it into our product offers and service from the get go. 
  2. Support our clients in the development and the implementation of biodiversity within their sites and active assets. 
  3. Champion biodiversity performance in our operations through labels and certificates. 
  4. Mobilise and engage our employees by developing an expert biodiversity culture. 
  5. Educate and inform our clients and stakeholders about the benefits of biodiversity
  6. Take part in initiatives and work related to biodiversity 
  7. Measure, track and take into account our actions. 


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