Business park sustainability needs momentum

Duurzame bedrijventerreinen
12 January 2021

Much is currently being done to make built-up areas energy-neutral in the long term. An obvious example is how consumers’ dependence on natural gas is being reduced. However, a currently underexposed area with enormous potential for energy savings is business parks. For example, on average one business park is directly or indirectly responsible for producing nearly 9,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions. That’s about the same as the emissions of some 2,300 homes and reason enough for TNO to take action.

At the end of 2017, Stichting BE+ was launched to support initiatives in business parks. The basis for this was formed by a quick start guide with which business-park entrepreneurs can collectively take practical measures to increase sustainability. But the time is now ripe to review these insights. TNO experts recently toured business parks to interview park managers and energy consultants. The result is a brochure full of insights and recommendations (pdf) for policymakers, particularly those from municipalities.

“Local partners can help to underscore fruitful collaboration between entrepreneurs and municipalities”

Encouraging companies to be more sustainable

“Reducing CO2 emissions is, of course, important for society, but at the same time there’s also a lot of energy – and therefore money – to be saved by entrepreneurs,” insists TNO researcher Laurie Hermans. “Collectively, they can pluck a great deal of low-hanging fruit through fairly simple measures. And trusted partners can play a key role in stimulating this.” Hermans’ colleague, Nicole de Koning continues this train of thought by explaining that during discussions it soon became clear that trusted partners are often an important catalyst in encouraging entrepreneurs to become more sustainable. “They also form the link to the municipality. The focus of the latter is mainly on making neighbourhoods less dependent on natural gas, almost ignoring the fact that business parks could make a substantial contribution to realising climate objectives.”

Bridging the gap

The discussions also highlighted the relevant success factors, as well as the potential pitfalls. It might be difficult, for example, for entrepreneurs to connect with civil servants. And for their part, civil servants would sometimes like to have more influence in business parks. Often, the best way to break such a deadlock is for a third party to act as an intermediary on behalf of entrepreneurs. Someone who is aware of the problems faced by entrepreneurs, is able to represent their interests with the municipality, and thus eventually underscore the kind of fruitful collaboration between the two that will lead to greater sustainability.

Joint approach

A trusted partner, possibly working in tandem with an energy consultant, can identify the wishes and opportunities of entrepreneurs, explore sustainability measures that have the potential to succeed, help draw up a (joint) business case and select suppliers for the chosen solution, while all the while keeping an eye on financial, organisational and legal aspects. This bigger picture in itself should inspire the entrepreneurs to become more sustainable. The long-term involvement of a local trusted partner is important here. At the end of the day, entrepreneurs take action when it benefits them. If a central-heating boiler breaks down, for example, rather than just calling the standard installer to fit a new one, the entrepreneur could, instead, contact the local trusted partner for information on a more sustainable solution. It goes without saying of course, that the entrepreneur should already be acquainted with the trusted partner, who should be ready and willing to help the entrepreneur.

“If entrepreneurs have some certainty about municipalities’ sustainability plans, it will make it easier for them to take it more seriously themselves”

Security in the long term

It helps if municipalities have a long-term strategy with which entrepreneurs can align their plans. “If they have the necessary certainty on what their municipality intends to do to make business parks more sustainable, including from a budgetary perspective, it will make it easier for them to take it more seriously,” says Hermans. In defining their transitional vision, municipalities would therefore be well advised to give business parks a full place at the table, alongside residential areas and industry. Making business parks more sustainable could even go hand-in-hand with the approach taken for neighbouring residential areas.

Joining forces

Given that business parks can make a substantial contribution to the energy transition, it would be good if municipalities were to offer the necessary financial security. To get them to take sustainability seriously, business parks and their park managers or consultants should be offered a starting budget. There should also be a subsidy to facilitate energy scans, to which entrepreneurs themselves contribute financially. “These energy scans show in concrete terms what can be done to increase sustainability. As such, they form a good basis for municipalities and entrepreneurs to join forces,” concludes De Koning.

Insights and recommendations

How a business park can tribute to climate goals.