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This Swedish real estate developer sees financial return in social approach

Translated by D/DOCK from this Dutch version– On the courtesy of Duurzaambedrijfsleven.nl – Author Rianne Lachmeijer 

Tina Lindh, property developer at Swedish property owner Kungsleden is convinced of a social approach and a focus on the environment. Based on these principles, she hopes to build a new neighborhood in a city in Sweden soon. “We believe that urban planning can be used as a means for sustainable and social development.”

Real estate has a major impact on public space and the environment. That is why Kungsleden also collaborates with studio D/DOCK. This design agency now focuses on their real estate development branch with which they share the same vision with the Swedish organization. For example, the Dutch built environment is responsible for almost 38 percent of the total CO2 emissions. What if we use that impact positively? That is the idea with which Tina Lindh, property developer on behalf of the Swedish real estate owner Kungsleden, gets to work.

The insight that a positive impact on sustainable and social themes yields financial returns gradually developed with the real estate developer and led to a strategy change. The company is one of the largest real estate owners in Sweden and started with a short-term strategy: buying and selling at a profit. In 2013, the company exchanged that strategy for a long-term strategy. This changed the focus from sales to management. “We believe that the financial returns can be a lot better and higher if we work with social and ecological returns,” says Lindh. Kungsleden wants to put that vision into practice.

Measure wellbeing
The real estate developer is now working on a method with which they can measure the wellbeing of tenants. In this way they want to demonstrate the financial return of wellbeing. Lindh expects things like a safe, green and healthy environment to contribute to financial returns, because those characteristics ensure that people stay in one place for a longer period of time and make use of the facilities there.

To influence that feeling of wellbeing, it is important to develop as large an area as possible. In this way, the real estate developer not only influences the quality of the houses, but also the other facilities in the neighborhood. Lindh is surprised that this holistic approach is new. “I didn’t realize it was something new I was working on.”

Lindh uses the words “symbiotic district”. In Kungsledens annual report one can find out which factors make a building symbiotic according to Kungsleden, these will be comparable to characteristics for neighborhoods. The real estate developer mentions four cornerstones for the creation of a symbiotic building. The first is health. A building must be good for health and thereby promote creativity, efficiency and performance. The second cornerstone is service. A building must create a sense of community and provide support with services that make life simpler, such as parcel delivery. The third cornerstone consists of intelligent and smart technologies, such as technology that encourages movement. Kungsleden describes the last cornerstone as “close to nature”, which means that the company is referring to the use of greenery in the building.

A concrete case
In a Swedish city, Kungsleden wants to develop an area in which sustainable and social impact go hand in hand with financial returns. Kungsleden does this together with the Swedish architecture firm Wingårdhs, the international consultancy and engineering organization WSP and the Amsterdam based D/DOCK. For the development of this neighborhood, Kungsleden uses a special approach that surprised some partners. “Why are we here if you don’t want us to draw something?” the architects said on forehand.

However, Lindh believes it is important to start with a vision. “We have to start with the realization that we need to develop before we put buildings in the neighborhood.” One of the things she wants to achieve is that the neighborhood becomes inclusive: a place where every city dweller feels at home. A prerequisite for this is that the area is “still nobody’s” and easily accessible.

A director’s role
“If we can build the city from the ground up; how would we develop the city?” According to her, that question should remain central, from the beginning to the end of real estate development. To guarantee that, it is important that one party takes a director’s role. Kungsleden wants to take that role for themselves, but believes that the municipality could do that too. Partly for this reason Lindh wants to involve the municipality in the project. When Lindh first visited the municipality she was slightly tense about how they would respond to her message: “I want to work on sustainable and social development and I want to earn money with it.” She could imagine that the municipality would be afraid of the combination between social development and making a profit. At the same time, she believes that a company should not be ashamed if it makes a profit with the improvement of the city and society.

When talking to the municipality, she found out they have major objectives in this area of social and sustainable development and they are not afraid at all of organizations wanting to make profit. But it was clear that also the municipality is still searching for ways to process data about the wellbeing of tenants and residents, data needed to base your goals on.

Lindh believes that for good cooperation between the municipality and the business community, goals must be measurable. “You have to make it concrete in one way or another to achieve common goals.” She is convinced that a model where social, environmental and financial returns come together is getting off the ground. If it doesn’t work here, then it will be in another city. “The time is right.”