Caspar de Haan and De Variabele: realising carbon neutral social real estate together In the spring of 2022, NPM Capital took a majority stake in a new organisation, founded through the merger of two regional family businesses active in the maintenance and sustainability management of social real estate. Cas de Haan, Director at Caspar de Haan maintenance & renovation, and Joep Burghouts, Process owner of Market Development at De Variabele, have a shared ambition to realise fully carbon-neutral real estate portfolios for housing corporations and care facilities by 2050. In the process, they aim to reinvent themselves as well: as a sustainable national player and a knowledge partner connecting parties in circularity and innovation.
On the website of Aedes, the Dutch association of housing corporations, the Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality 2050 has gotten a prominent place. It's a clear indication of the industry's efforts towards a carbon neutral energy supply for all homes in 2050 – including both new and existing buildings. Both Caspar de Haan maintenance & renovation and De Variabele are serving, each in their own home regions, a large number of those housing corporations. “At the moment, we are working with these clients to evaluate the pace of sustainability improvements to their assets, taking into account their varying cash flows and investment capacities”, said director Cas de Haan. “Our point of departure is our group's shared vision: that housing is here to facilitate comfortable lives today, but also as a valuable asset for tomorrow's generations.”
Since housing corporations own almost 2.4 million homes in the Netherlands, the sustainability challenge for the sector as a whole is both immense and extremely complex. That complexity has led both his own company and De Variabele to re-evaluate the best way to organise themselves in response, said De Haan.
From waste to value
Renovating and improving the sustainability of homes often means old materials, like roof tiles, isolation material and window frames, are removed. Typically, construction companies sign contracts with waste processors that separate and repurpose the waste flows, usually for low-value uses. Both Caspar de Haan and De Variabele are now investigating other options, such as partial circular reuse of building materials. De Haan gave an example: “A standard single-family home is covered by about a thousand roof tiles. So if you are renovating 8000 homes, you end up with about eight million of those. Of course you can have them indiscriminately processed into crushed stone for road construction, but you could also use a drone to inspect the roofs, identify what areas can be re-used, and adjust your construction logistics accordingly. Many roof tiles might easily last another twenty years.”
Joep Burghouts, Process owner at De Variabele, said: “It is our responsibility to raise awareness and ensure our clients are well-informed about the choices they are making, and to do that, we need access to a lot of knowledge. Including things like the sustainable processing of waste flows, reusing materials, or adopting new materials with a limited ecological footprint that can ideally be integrated in circular processes. In the coming years, we want to develop into the primary knowledge partner of housing corporations on all of these issues.”
All that is made even more complicated, said De Haan, by the interconnectedness of sustainability management and the energy transition as a whole – and there are certainly still a few snags to overcome in that process. “It may be hard to disagree with the calls to shift to all-electric houses, ideally overnight, but our electricity network isn't equipped for that at all. Despite all the ambitions, that means we sometimes have to settle for suboptimal temporary solutions”, said De Haan.
All this complexity makes it difficult for a stand-alone, medium-sized regional business to both manage clients' sustainability roadmaps while also scouting, developing and implementing innovative technologies. That is why Caspar de Haan and De Variabele joined forces in 2022 and decided to pursue future growth together. “Scale is becoming increasingly important, because it is linked to investment capacity. More than ever before, in the future we will have to collaborate with multiple parties and combine innovations in various fields in a smart way. That is easier to do when you operate from a national perspective, rather than a local or regional one”, De Haan said.
Burghouts added: “At a tactical level, we want to provide the necessary knowledge and support to help clients bring their long-term plans to fruition. To be able to do that, we have to learn from other industries, from leaders in academic research, think tanks, and IT, to connect our questions and challenges to technological and data-driven developments. As a national player, it is easier for us to get in touch with 'forward thinkers' in these sectors, and that helps both us and our clients make progress.”
Meanwhile, De Haan and Burghouts also want to play a pioneering role themselves, for example in the use of ‘biobased’ building materials. De Haan explained: “We work according to the principles of The Natural Step, an international framework for sustainable development. Among other things, we are rewriting their ‘red list’ of materials and resources that are ecologically harmful into a list of ‘green materials’, that is, materials that don't just have an interesting ecological footprint, but that are also affordable and compliant with our lifespan requirements. This way, we want to make it easy for our organisation and for our clients to make the right choices day in, day out.”
When asked whether all their (potential) clients are also prepared to pay what may amount to a higher price for those 'right choices', De Haan responded: “We believe we all need to grow towards a new value system. Right now, that's still largely unexplored territory, because long-term ecological damage can be hard to measure and there are many variables involved. If we fixate on the short-term bottom-line, there is a real risk that new materials and technologies won't be given a chance, because they are initially a little more costly. Fortunately, most housing corporation boards are prepared to do the right thing and more often than not, they share our convictions that using ‘biobased’ or circular materials creates more value in the long run.”