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Exclusive interview with Sabine Desnault, Executive Director R&D, Innovation and CSR at GECINA Group

Urban ChroniclesTM invites you to learn more about GECINA’s CSR strategy through an interview with Sabine Desnault, Executive Director of R&D, Innovation and CSR at GECINA Group.

Gecina Group is a French real estate company that owns and manages residential and office buildings (97% in the Parisian region). Gecina has recently renewed its visual identity launching YouFirst, to align sustainable innovation at the heart of its business and anticipate its customers’ expectations through high-quality services.

Green Soluce: Gecina is a recognized actor for its commitments to sustainable development, which has built its CSR policy around 4 main priorities: low carbon, circular economy, comfort and well-being of the occupant, and biodiversity. Why and how did you choose these major axes?

Sabine Desnault: These are the historical axes of GECINA’s CSR policy; a policy which has been built as a global response to the ecological challenges of our activities, particularly the “low-carbon” and “circular economy” are priorities.

Our action for biodiversity is more a matter of a strong commitment by GECINA than a market expectation. Everyone must consider their business model and its overall impact on the environment. It is for this reason that we are committed to the preservation of biodiversity.

For Gecina, increasing the well-being of users is simply our idea of life in a building, whether they are tertiary or residential. Although this subject is relatively easy to establish as a priority for real estate players, we address it according to different approaches:

– a technical approach: air quality, light or acoustic;

– a functional approach through the layout of spaces;

– a service-oriented approach that can be offered to our users;

Green Soluce : Climate risk has become a central issue for the real estate sector, how do you specifically address this issue, particularly to get your employees involved in this subject?

Sabine Desnault: This issue is addressed in different ways at GECINA.

Specific analyses on the climate vulnerability of our office buildings in particular have made it possible to better qualify the risk. The geographical location of our park, mainly in Ile-de-France, is an opportunity. Apart from exceptional floods, our buildings are not subject to major climate risks.

Our ambitious “low-carbon” policy is also part of our response in terms of adaptation to climate challenges. As such, GECINA aims to reduce its CO2 emissions by 60% in 2030 compared to 2008 and be carbon neutral by 2050.

To support this dynamic, particularly within the Group’s teams, an internal carbon fund was set up at the end of 2018. This innovative industry-wide scheme taxes each of GECINA’s Business Units according to its CO2 emissions. This makes it possible to deploy the “low-carbon” policy at the group and employee level, and impact the financial metrics of the business units as to innovative on projects that accelerate the ecological and energy transition.

The key is to unite employees around the challenges of climate change and energy transition, and give them the means and tools to act. In this sense, each employee is involved through the CSR objectives to be achieved. The climate issue has been the subject of in-depth and educational work with the various GECINA departments to specify and define these objectives, the indicators and the means to achieve them. To complete this educational work, 100% of employees will be made aware of climate issues in the coming months through a fun training platform.

Green Soluce : You are currently working on circular economy issues, can you tell us a little more about them?

Sabine Desnault: The issues of the circular economy in the real estate sector can be segmented into two main groups. The circular economy in the construction phase is more involved in the management of materials, in particular in their reuse through exchange platforms. This is a more and more mature practice in the real estate sector that is already in place at GECINA and that we are consolidating.

The circular operating economy, on the other hand, is not yet sufficiently developed. This is a real challenge for an owner-manager such as GECINA, who wishes to manage their real estate assets over the long term by recovering fatal energies, recycling more waste or reusing rainwater, for example. The circular economy in operation is, in my opinion, a forward-looking subject that requires an inventory of the solutions that could potentially be applied to our fleet under construction but also in rehabilitation.

Green Soluce : Gecina is determined to place CSR at the heart of its strategy, how does this translate into concrete action? In particular, do you manage to link between CSR performance and financial performance?

Sabine Desnault: CSR and financial performance are closely linked at GECINA. For example, the CFO is the sponsor of the internal carbon fund, which was co-built by the Finance Department and the CSR Department.

In addition, GECINA has set up two green loans that are indexed to a certain number of non-financial performance criteria that we strive to respect with great rigour. These financial mechanisms that have been set up with the help of the Finance Department have a direct economic impact by reducing the cost of money.

What is clear for the Finance Department but also more generally at GECINA level is that CSR performance is a factor that contributes to the value of the real estate portfolio as a whole. This idea of sustainable value-in-use, strongly supported by Méka Brunel and the General Management, fits perfectly into GECINA’s model, which seeks to instill the greatest possible value at the time of the acquisition of a building.

Green Soluce: In conclusion, what is Gecina’s message behind the recent change in brand identity? 

Sabine Desnault: YouFirst is GECINA’s shift from a classic B2B brand to a relational and service-oriented brand that directly meets the needs of its end customers. Our ambition is to place the end user at the heart of GECINA’s approach to support and simplify their lives.

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Green SoluceExclusive interview with Sabine Desnault, Executive Director R&D, Innovation and CSR at GECINA Group
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