• Home
  • Latest
  • TV
  • Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions - Shaping Cities - Sustainable Solutions for the City of Tomorrow

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions - Shaping Cities - Sustainable Solutions for the City of Tomorrow

Posted on 8 December 2020

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

In this session our panel considered what the real estate and construction sectors can do to help turn the tide on climate change.

The panel, moderated by Liz Hamson, Editor of Property Week, comprised:

  • Amanda Levete CBE, a RIBA Stirling Prize winning architect and Founder and Principal of architectural practice AL_A
  • André Gibbs, Partner at Argent and Joint Lead on Argent Related’s development of Brent Cross Town
  • Brendan Wallace, Co-founder and Managing Partner of VC fund Fifth Wall
  • Professor Carlos Moreno, Associate Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris, Special Envoy for Smart Cities to the Mayor of Paris and creator of the '15 minute city' concept.

As part of our discussion we heard from the founders of three innovative businesses on the solutions they are providing to the sustainability challenge:

This live session was held on 26 November 2020. All information was correct at time of recording.

Susan Freeman

Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us.  I’m Susan Freeman.  I’m a Real Estate Partner at Mishcon de Reya and we’re delighted to be hosting this stellar panel as part of our shaping cities series. 

Before I hand over to our moderator, Property Week editor Liz Hamson, the shaping cities debate is focused on sustainable solutions for our cities and we know that the real estate and construction industries are responsible for some 40% of carbon emissions and the question is what can we do as a sector to turn the tide on climate change? There was concern that Covid would distract from the climate emergency but all the indications are that many see Covid as a wake-up call and an opportunity to transform our way of life and act in a more environmentally conscious way.  So, we have a fantastic panel today and as part of the session we’re also going to hear from three entrepreneurial businesses.  We have UK-based data company, Qualis Flow.  From the Netherlands, RanMarine Technology with their intriguing WasteShark drone.  And German company VoltStorage on their energy storage solution.  So, all three offer novel and very different tech solutions that can help to deliver real change within our industry. 

So, now I’m going to hand over to our moderator, Liz Hamson to introduce our excellent panel.  So, over to you Liz. 

Liz Hamson

Thanks very much, Susan and thanks everybody for joining us.  So, joining us today on the panel are Amanda Levete, who’s a rebirth Stirling Prize-winning architect and the Founder and Principal of the London-based architectural practice ALA.  And joining us from Paris is Professor Carlos Marino, an Associate Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris and the special envoy for smart cities to the Mayor of Paris.  From the US, we’ve got Brendon Wallace, the Co-founder and Managing Partner of venture capital firm Fifth Wall, which earlier this year launched a sustainability venture fund.  And last but no means least, we’ve got Andre Gibbs, a Partner at Argent and a joint lead on Argent Related’s development of Brent Cross Town in North London.  The interesting I think, starting point here is where we really are now in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the sustainability agenda.  What impact do we think it has had to date?  Has it been what we expected?  Worse that expected?  Better than expected?  Can I put this question first please to Amanda?

Amanda Levete

I think that what it’s done actually is made sure that sustainability is seen as an essential agenda.  I think that there is a realisation now that everything and everyone is interconnected and we all have to take responsibility whether it’s political, personal, institutional to make a difference.  And I think the other thing that the pandemic has done is brought into sharp focus the power of nature and the need to bring nature closer in our cities.  It’s healthy.  It provides solace.  It provides joy.  It speaks of a different rhythm of life and it’s, it's what we need right now.  It's such a complex all-embracing issue.  It is not just about CO2.  It’s about social sustainability as much as anything else. 

Liz Hamson

And Brendon, can I bring you in here at this point?  What’s your sort of take on this?  I mean, you’re seeing it from a slightly more international perspective. 

Brendon Wallace

The pandemic and the climate crisis are both inherently gigantic collective action problems and we’ve seen that at national scale, at sub-national scale and if you don’t have cities, the private sector and Governments all working together you simply can’t effect a change.  The timescales are obviously very different between the pace of a pandemic and its consequences and climate change, right? Climate change is happening over decades.  The pandemic happened over the course of weeks and months.  But the point you made, that real estate, I think that Susan made, that real estate is the single biggest contributor of CO2 emissions, more than any other industry by orders of magnitude, that it’s really not intuitive to most people.  And so I guess the, the optimistic lens would say, “The pandemic has thrust real estate and its responsibility around big public issues into a spotlight it didn’t previously inhabit.” 

Liz Hamson

Yeah.  I think that’s an interesting point.  It isn’t going to be intuitive to people but it’s that sort of juxtaposition isn’t it, of the sustainability agenda and the public health agenda and the sort of physical manifestation of that is your… the space that you use and the real estate that you use.  For those who aren’t aware, Professor Marino is widely credited as the architect of the 15-minute city and it’s a concept that nobody had heard of last year and now a lot of people are talking about it. 

Carlos Marino

In the city of Paris, we wanted to fight against this double crisis.  The crisis of climate change and the crisis of Covid-19.  We wanted to propose this new paradigm based on the proximity for developing the activities in cities for on the one hand, the preserve the emission of CO2 in order to reduce in particular, the most important contributor in this case in Paris the mobility by individual cars in particular and we wanted to reduce the time for commuting people from home to work and at the same time to reduce the physical distances for preserving people of the Covid-19 crisis.  This is the concept of the city of 15 minutes. 

Liz Hamson

Where do you see technology taking the agenda in the next 10 years?

Brendon Wallace

I think in the last four years in the US, we’ve had probably the most regressive federal administration around a sustainability agenda and that’s probably going to inflate in January to the single most progressive agenda the US has ever encountered from a private sector perspective.  So, I think the US real estate industry is about to be caught pretty flat-footed and you know, how it is going to react to the United States re-entering the Paris agreement.  Carbon neutrality laws likely enacted in the majority of American cities over the next five years.  And most likely what that will translate to is literally trillions of dollars of spend from the real estate industry on climate tech.  Here is the shocking thing though.  We analysed how much the US private sector, real estate private sector has spent on climate tech, investments into operating companies and R&D.  And over the last decade it totals under 100 million dollars.  So, just to put that in perspective, you’re going to have to go from under 100 million dollars to trillions of dollars.  So, it’s going to be probably the single most important thing that the US and I think global real estate industry will ever have to react to. 

Andre Gibbs

The area in which we have to think of technology in its wider sense is any future construction is actually how do you build that without emitting carbon?  In terms of the development side, the real estate business is, is dealing with embodied carbon and I think a lot of that will be how manufacturing.  A lot of it will be about timber technologies.  A lot of it will be about things like hydrogen steel.  How do you use renewable energy in making materials that we’re using and how do we you know, make… use renewables in terms of our freight transport, in moving things around?

Liz Hamson

Do we need to repurpose big city buildings?

Andre Gibbs

Yes.

Liz Hamson

I think the answer is yes.  And you know, how would you go about doing that?

Amanda Levete

I think that there’s… we obviously can’t have empty buildings whether they are office buildings or residential buildings and there are many empty buildings sadly in London.  I think the jury is out still in you know, what… will people return en masse to the big high-rises in the city to work?  London’s success as a city is its continual ability to adapt and change over the century but it is much more difficult I think to adapt high-rise buildings.  So, is it acceptable for example to you know, keep the basements of high rise? To keep the circulation cause but to strip off all of the external cladding and repurpose them you know, in terms of their function so that it becomes a mixed-use building rather than just a predominantly office building, for example.  But I think that its probably an extremely difficult economic balance to achieve to be able to do that and I’d be really interested in what other people on the panel think. 

Carlos Marino

Today, this is the new opportunity for de-centralising the mass incorporation in the corporate towers in order to develop a new ecological and labour responsibility for localising with algorithmic the possibility for imagining the decentralised enterprise for proposing new places similar to the co-working but dedicated for the corporate companies. 

Liz Hamson

What lessons can we learn from what you’ve done at Kings Cross?  I mean is there some element of a blueprint of a more sustainable future that, that is offered up by that or from Brent Cross town?

Andre Gibbs

What it is about cities that people like is, and attracts them, people to them, is the one thing that we’ve been deprived of for the past nine months, which is actually being together with people and physically seeing them.  You have to balance that with the stressors of getting to and from it and the idea of a 15-minute city as a concept is really you know, it,  it sums up quite neatly a lot of things that we’ve been thinking of in terms of our mixed-use developments. 

Liz Hamson

I’m going to bring in Brendon for a second here.  You said that the real estate industry needs to step up and take responsibility.  Which stakeholders do you see as being sort of most influential?  I’m talking here about the decarbonisation please. 

Brendon Wallace

I think you know, the real estate industry is actually being held accountable right now.  I would say by three major stakeholders.  The first are local and federal regulators.  The highest Government office in the United States is going to be holding the real estate industry accountable for its carbon emissions in a way that it never has, over the next four years.  Local Authorities already have done the same thing.  The second is capital markets.  Large capital allocators, buyers of REIT equity, buyers of real estate debt, insurance companies, have basically made it such that you have preferred borrowing costs and preferred costs of capital if you have lower carbon footprint real estate.  And then thirdly, is tenants.  So, you know it’s actually happening from the demand side.  So, I think the real estate industry is going to be faced with this kind of shocking reality of, if you don’t have lower no-carbon footprint real estate you’re going to be fined into oblivion at a federal and local level because of carbon neutrality laws and carbon taxes.  Because no-one’s going to buy your debt or equity.  It’s going to basically become un-investable to operate as a real estate company.  And thirdly, you’re not going to have demand for your space. 

Liz Hamson

Okay.  It’s time now to switch to three entrepreneurs who are focused very much on the solutions side of things and they are going tell us about their particular solution to a sustainability challenge and any wider application to the real estate industry.  So, first of all I’d like to introduce Richard Hardiman who’s the Founder of the Dutch company RanMarine Technology, which has produce WasteShark, which I think’s just a brilliant name and it’s the world’s first autonomous drone designed to remove pollutant material from urban water.  Richard.  Take it away. 

Richard Hardiman

Liz, thank you very much.  So, we have developed what we call around here the WasteShark.  So, it is a drone that floats through waters.  It’s scrapes off the surface 37 metres down and swims around autonomously.  So, it goes around looking for trash that is  in the water, be it in a canal or city, in a lake or river and removes that trash out.  So, as our autonomous drones swim around we can gather data such as the pH level, the depth of the water, the temperature, the nitrate levels that are in there, and anything else that might be worrying a smart city.  Our drones are all around the world at the moment.  We use them in ports.  We use them in marinas and we use them in cities like where we are right now, in Rotterdam, which are based on water. 

Liz Hamson

And how many pollutants can you actually remove?

Richard Hardiman

We’ve just developed an OilShark so we’re very much into trying to remove hydrocarbons now from ports and from marinas.  Typically, in an average day we would remove plastic biowaste and now oil as well.  But anything that’s in the water we can take out including its data. 

Liz Hamson

Let’s bring Brittany in here now.  So, Brittany Harris is the Co-founder and CEO of Qualis Flow which is a UK-based data-driven tech company that enables construction projects to manage environmental risk. 

Brittany Harris

Hi guys, thanks so much for having me.  So, it’s really interesting hearing what you’ve all been talking about and I think one thing that I think gets missed out and I think Andre, you kind of touched on it and Amanda as well, is that there is actually the opportunity to cut your embodied carbon of your development by about 10% without having to use different materials or without having to use a different transport infrastructure.  And it’s actually in the way that we manage materials and waste.  So, you’ve talked a lot about the context of the other environment has a massive impact but I think a statistic that gets lost sometimes is that about 13% of materials that come to a site go direct to waste without actually being used.  That’s because they’ve been mis-ordered, they’ve been damaged, there’s all kinds of things that go on and the industry as you know is actually being asked to fix this and the. the pensions funds are pushing this down to our developers or Amazon is pushing it down to the real estate and the real estate are pushing it onto contractors and the construction industry is kind of panicking.  So, we have a big problem that the way that we currently do this onsite relies on a lot of very intensive manual data capture which results in a lot of information going missing and just basically no-one really knows what’s going on onsite.  So, people like Amanda spend lots of time doing these beautiful designs and then you hit ground on construction and no-one knows what’s happened.  So, we’re addressing that with Qflow.  So, what Qflow does is it automates the real time data capture on construction sites.  It audits it in real time so if you’ve had the wrong material delivered it will tell you and then it also takes all that information and it analyses it to identify opportunities to basically eliminate waste, eliminate carbon and save money. 

Liz Hamson

Thanks very much, Brittany.  And finally, we’ve got Felix Kiefl who’s the Co-founder and CPO of VoltStorage, a German start-up that develops and produces solar energy storage systems for private homes. 

Felix Kiefl

There’s still a challenge we are facing as even though solar panels are set up on private homes for example, you can imagine that the sun of course is not always shining and especially in the private sector most of the electricity in fact is consumed at night when there is no electricity from your solar panels available.  So, you need to bridge that gap and it’s clear that we need a massive scale of energy storage in the future and starting with the private sector, residential sector we’ve traded an energy storage unit that can be installed in every private house with solar panels to store the excess solar panel, make it available in the night to like increase the self-consumption and also save you money on your electricity bill.  We’re using a technology that’s unlike, very much unlike all the battery technologies you’ve probably seen before.  It’s called the vanadium redox flow battery.  Sounds pretty fancy, in fact it’s a very clear and simple technology.  It’s storing the energy in the liquid.  The liquid is stored in tanks and then pumped through a cell where the conversion to electricity is happening again and you can imagine that it’s a technology for 18:05 applications that can be scaled pretty easily to much larger applications than just residential buildings by just using larger tanks, amounts of fluid and you can really go for high capacities to increase the amount of renewable energies integrated into the power grid.  So, the whole system is fully recyclable and it’s going to be super important that this becomes more the focus in the future when we need large amounts of energy storage to capture renewable energies.  It’s not flammable so it’s a perfect product you want to put in your private basement and yeah, has a large lifetime which is always important in this application.  You can charge and discharge it almost unlimited times without losing capacity. 

Liz Hamson

Thanks very much for those three presentations.  I thought they were really interesting.  Thanks ever so much everybody for your time.  I thought that was a really fascinating discussion. 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit Mishcon.com. 

How can we help you?
Help

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

Crisis Hotline

COVID-19 Enquiry

I'm a client

I'm looking for advice

Something else