Biodiversity: real estate players are part of the problem and part of the solution

  • CSR


  • Sylvie Gillet

    Director of Development and Head of the "Biodiversity & Economy" Unit, ORÉE

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68% of artificial land cover is due to housing (CEREMA, 2020) and the real estate sector is supposedly responsible for up to 30% of the loss of biodiversity worldwide (source: Business for Nature). However, the sector itself, which is both part of the problem and part of the solution, is becoming increasingly committed. Explanations by Sylvie Gillet, Head of Development and Head of the Biodiversity & Economy Division, ORÉE.

What are the links between biodiversity and the real estate sector?

Sylvie Gillet : In terms of biodiversity, real estate players are at the heart of some truly “dangerous liaisons”. Their professions contribute towards the erosion of biodiversity, particularly through land take and fragmentation, the overexploitation of natural resources, deforestation, pollution and, naturally, climate change, which is one of the sources of pressure on biodiversity identified by the IPBES, the equivalent of the IPCC for biodiversity. This is therefore a real challenge that requires sector players to incorporate nature into all their business lines and value chains. They must anticipate environmental issues and incorporate them in their projects from the design stage onwards in order to re-establish a close connection with nature. Avoiding or reducing the impact on biodiversity is henceforth a permanent feature of their initiatives. By acting in favour of biodiversity, the real estate sector complies with existing laws (in line with the “avoid, reduce, compensate” sequence), but also takes a step further: committing and innovating by creating resilient urban ecosystems. To do so, the sector creates its own labels, which are often stringent and guarantee the sustainability of buildings. Architects are also drivers of discussions and proposals in order to move the goalposts and view nature as a key component and a living material. Simply put, we must consider biodiversity as a truly dynamic system, like a bicycle: you have to keep pedalling to move forward!

How does ORÉE support real estate players?

Sylvie Gillet : ORÉE brings together a network of committed players, providing support on major environmental issues, working alongside them to help incorporate these issues into their strategies by sharing best practices, methods, experiences and technical expertise with players from other economic sectors. Fostering relationships and emulation helps fine-tune ambitions, adopt a tailor-made approach for each project and apply innovative principles. Moving forward also involves opening new lines of discussion and construction and submitting proposals to public authorities. The topic of biodiversity brings people together and requires collective effort. Dialogue with stakeholders (local authorities, design offices) must also be as transparent as possible to ensure that everyone wants to move forward in the same direction.

Why must we act to protect biodiversity?

Sylvie Gillet : The real estate sector is striving to adopt a responsible approach and to ensure its own resilience. Improving practices involves applying ecological management techniques, having become aware of the fragility of land, its capacity to regenerate rapidly following the restoration of soil permeability and its many different uses. To incorporate biodiversity into real estate, we must cover all the sector’s components: materials, water management, intangible services, well-being, health, and so on. The biggest favour we can do for the natural environment is to preserve wildlife as nature intended. This approach also benefits residents, by fostering their awareness and preventing them from being cut off from nature. However we must beware of poisoned chalices, with regard to greening for example, and implement a programme that makes sense for a given building. Crucially, reconnecting with nature improves people’s well-being, as proven by numerous tangible examples. Research has shown that children who play in school playgrounds where land take has been reversed fall ill less often than those who play in asphalt playgrounds, as their microbiome is healthier thanks to contact with natural soil. Similarly, scars heal better when patients convalesce near garden areas. When working on a property development project, it is important to have an overall vision of the area and its ecosystems in order to preserve them, using reversible ecological engineering solutions rooted in nature, and to know when to leave nature alone. Remember, from an economic standpoint, half of the world’s GDP depends on biodiversity (source: World Economic Forum)! Bearing in mind that nature’s services are free, the maths soon add up. Respect for biodiversity is vital…but also profitable.