Article

04.05.2018

Digital technology will make smart cities inclusive

With the cities of tomorrow incorporating large-scale digitalisation, a new participatory eco-system is currently on the rise. Digital technology already offers citizens the possibility of taking part in city life. Very soon, it will become a means of inclusion. The smart city won't leave anyone behind.

By significantly increasing the capacity for communication and connectivity between individuals, digital technology is driving the collaborative economy and leading to the emergence of a new social model, less consumer-oriented and based on sharing. The city of tomorrow will not lose its soul because of the greater use of technology. Quite the opposite. Whether in matters of education, citizen action, supporting marginalised groups or even looking after the elderly, digital technology enables new solutions to be implemented.

Applications and platforms have become effective vectors for driving social innovation and making it easier to share. The key principles of collaboration and participation are intrinsic to the concept of the smart city, since hyper-connectivity links everyone together. It's a paradigm shift. If the smart city is to work well and fulfil all its promises, it must be built on a new, more inclusive model. Digital technology now offers a significant number of possibilities to make cities more cohesive.

Sharing economy

The collaborative economy will reach 570 billion euros by 2025

Development of the collaborative economy has accelerated considerably over the past few years. It can now be found in all types of communities. Its evolution into a complete and separate economic model has been supported by digital platforms, which provide it with the ideal infrastructure. Moreover, by establishing itself as a parallel economy and an alternative to the crisis, more and more people are being convinced. Whether you want to find a job, offer your services or sell something, all you need to do is log in. Disrupting the economy is now as easy as getting on to the internet.

If you believe the statistics published by auditing firm PwC, it's a booming market. The total amount of transactions in the collaborative economy currently stands at 28 billion euros and could, according to the latest estimates, grow twenty-fold to reach 570 billion euros by 2025. Bold figures that attest to a real increase in power. Start-ups have recognised the many advantages to be gained from this new market and are developing more projects in this area, giving greater impetus to the emergence of the collaborative model. Hence the social network Smiile, supported by the French insurance company MAIF, offers its members a whole range of services, from car-pooling, to group purchases and sharing goods and skills, it was designed to be driven by proximity and exchange. Smiile currently has 340,000 members and aims to reach a million within a few months.

Expert view
"We want to go beyond the purely virtual aspect of social networks by enabling those who live in the same neighbourhood to meet and create social links"
David Rouxel, Founder of Smiile

But this new type of social network is not simply restricted to connecting individuals. It is also an integration platform for start-ups and businesses in the collaborative economy. It has formed partnerships with almost 7,000 manufacturers and traders for their group buying offers, and also with companies such as Koolicar in order to secure a quality shared mobility service for its members. Even more significantly, David Rouxel, the founder of Smiile, is simultaneously developing Smiile City, which uses the same model but is aimed at town halls, local authorities and housing associations. It reinforces dialogue between residents of the same neighbourhood to make it easier for them to report specific problems, such as those to do with the road network for instance, by flagging information up to the mayor. Already piloted in several eco-neighbourhoods, Smiile City wants to become the indispensable tool for the smart city of tomorrow.

In the cities of the future, applications will have a special place. On the one hand, because their use will be made even easier and they will reach even more people due to hyper-connectivity. On the other, because they constitute a response to fears about massive job losses and the vulnerability felt by less highly-skilled workers. And there's more. Digital technology goes even further than reshuffling the cards in the world of work.

Fighting exclusion

 By digitalising its neighbourhoods, the Smart City will be able to better identify and account for marginalised groups. Digitalisation will bring considerable improvement to the living conditions of these groups thanks to an applications ecosystem. People suffering exclusion will therefore have a panel of specific Web 2.0 services at their disposal.

A very specific example: the English IT engineer and start-up founder Alex Stephany has just launched the Beam platform, short for 'Be Amazing', in order to help homeless people transform their lives. Beam is a social crowdfunding site which aims to raise funds and enable people who have their sights set on finding a job to get training or return to education. Beam uses the same model as all job centres everywhere: a manager is allocated to each member to take stock of their skills and professional aspirations in order to set up training opportunities. Then a budget is drawn up which includes all the necessary costs, such as accommodation, food and transport. Next the crowdfunding campaign is launched using targeted messaging supported by social networks, as well as distributing newsletters for each project.

Another relevant initiative that foreshadows what tomorrow may bring in using digital technology to care for the most disadvantaged is the Youth Homeless Databank, launched in England in 2016. It aims to provide accurate data on young rough sleepers so they can be cared for more effectively by social services.

Thanks to an application that pools data from local councils, welfare organisations and accommodation providers, it is possible to learn how many young people are living in vulnerable circumstances, and who and where they are. By sending this information to associations working with the homeless, the Youth Homeless Databank now plays a central role in helping to find them accommodation and reintegrating them into society. Here digital technology forms a link between institutions and associations, helping them to work more effectively in the field.

Finally, the increasing potential of the sharing economy and Web 2.0 solidarity undoubtedly only illustrates the transformations in the world of employment and social upheavals that Jeremy Rifkin foresaw in The Third Industrial Revolution. Better care can be provided for elderly people, both now and in the future, thanks to the internet of things and applications that monitor their health in real time. Vulnerable groups are better identified and more easily supported; the unemployed can find work thanks to collaborative platforms. African, Asiatic and South American countries can keep up thanks to Fab Labs which drive local social innovation and focus on 'co-making' and 'co-decision'. All this progress associated with the digital world represents the building blocks of the smart city, which, if it wants to fulfil its potential, must include as many citizens as possible in its project. The city of tomorrow will be collaborative and inclusive if it truly wants to become a reality.

Source : L’Atelier

The young Belgian Cohabs renovates town houses and turns them into well-equipped, comfortable and stylish cohousing projects. The social and environmental aspects are also important in their story.

"The real estate market has been very tight for a few years. Finding a house or flat in the city is not easy. The economic situation is not ideal for new housing projects, but demand for housing remains high”, explains Youri Dauber, CEO of Cohabs. “The challenge? To curb parcellation and concreting by densifying cities. We also need to make buildings more energy efficient and, last but not least, find solutions to loneliness, which many people suffer from across generations.”

Cohabs has 2.500 rooms, spread adcross 150 buildings in Brussels, Paris, New York, Madrid and Luxembourg. The rent includes all costs such as internet and a Netflix subscription, as well as a cleaning service and the use of the gym, a cinema room, the garden and a coworking space. To make living together easier and avoid any frustrations, Cohabs supplies a number of basic products in all houses, such as toilet paper, washing-up liquid, olive oil and salt and pepper. The Cohabs residents of a city keep in touch through an app and can meet each other at a party held every month.

Not just young professionals

"When we started out in 2016, we had a target group of 25-35-year-olds in mind. But we immediately received a lot of applications from people over 50,” says Dauber. "My own parents, who are 75, pushed me to open up the concept to their generation too. We realised that cohousing is not just for young professionals. There are also people in very different stages of life who are going through a kind of transitional period. This is often accompanied by loneliness, as in the case of a divorce or someone who has lost their partner. We also think about what we can offer families. They need larger communal spaces and well-defined conditions. Like any young and innovative company, we’re evolving as we go along. We learn by trial and error.”

Solidarity and social coexistence

The young managing director is regularly amazed by the social adventure that coliving can be. "We had a 45-year-old Syrian refugee who saw something in cohousing. We thought living with a group of twenty-somethings would never work out. But we were wrong. The relationships built there proved so rich that we’re now working with the French NGO Singa. In the meantime, we offer solidarity rooms in some forty of our houses.”

Design, upcycling and an app

The young company is firmly committed to design. To that end, it works with Lionel Jadot, the Belgian pioneer in upcycling. His approach fits perfectly with Cohabs’ environmental philosophy, which itself also uses recycled materials for renovations. Solar panels and rainwater recovery are also part of this story. "Achieving an EPC score of B or C is our goal. This is exceptionally good for old buildings,” Dauber adds. "We are carbon neutral and a member of 1% for the Planet.”

Ready to push boundaries together

Cohabs was able to count on the support of BNP Paribas Fortis for investments and the purchase of new buildings. “They’ve been part of our story since our third property. Back then, we were just a small company, but we were asking for significant sums of several tens of millions of euros. But they supported us and granted us loans, which allowed us to grow abroad as well. It’s really a collaboration. They put their trust in us and believe in the potential of our concept."

Cohabs is ready to change the world. Discover even more inspiring entrepreneurial stories.

Quotes

“In forty of our cohousing houses, we offer solidarity rooms for people who want to reintegrate into society.”

“My 75-year-old parents pushed me to open up the concept to their generation as well.”

The Brussels-based scale-up Optimy brings together corporate volunteering, donations, patronage and sponsorship activities all on one platform. On it, their impact on society is concretely measurable.

"Originally, I didn't think of myself as a social entrepreneur, even though I was involved in sponsorship. At the request of our customers, my partners and I have developed an entire provision of services that has become the most comprehensive platform on the market," says Kenneth Bérard, CEO of Optimy.

One of these customers was the BNP Paribas Fortis Foundation, which wanted to make a greater social difference and also give these actions more visibility. "It's a must for companies to contribute to society. This generates added value for the company and fuels a positive spiral. But that social impact has to be measurable. How many children have been helped? How many trees have been planted? What effect does this have on employee satisfaction, image and turnover? Our model offers all of this. This means that companies don't have to purchase new modules every time they want to add additional activities. I think that’s our great success factor. We are the market leader in Europe in our sector and the only company operating in both Europe and North America."

Personal support

"Many companies are full of good intentions. They want to have a positive impact on society, but they often lack a good method to do this efficiently," the entrepreneur notes. "They tend to see all their efforts in isolation. The Optimy platform offers a solution for this. It's easy to put together and it's service-oriented. We adapt to the processes of each business unit and company. It doesn't work the other way around," assures Bérard. "Our customers are not looking for technology; they're looking for guidance. We invest in personalisation, and it's paying off, as a customer satisfaction survey shows."

Structuring actions

The first piece of advice that Optimy always gives companies is: don't shred your efforts, they should form a whole. "We recommend that companies structure their actions using our tool. The corporate social responsibility policy must be in line with the company’s values, DNA and broader strategy. And of course, the actions must be transparent and well executed."

The right partner

From the beginning, the connection Optimy had with BNP Paribas Fortis was decisive for the company’s growth. "The fact that the bank follows us has increased our credibility with our partners, investors, customers and also internally. Now it's setting up a factoring service for us to further support our growth."

Optimy's growth was initially supported by cash flow, which is unusual for a technology company. Financing came into play beginning in 2019. That's when a Canadian fund specialising in software as a service (SaaS) companies and affiliated with the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) became a shareholder.

Multicultural enrichment

As with increasingly more companies, one of Optimy’s biggest challenges is recruiting new talent. “We've been able to convert that challenge into an asset,” concludes Bérard. "We attract talent from abroad. Sixty people from twenty nationalities work in our Brussels branch. This multiculturalism is a huge enrichment and has helped us break through internationally."

“The corporate social responsibility policy must be in line with your company’s values, DNA and broader strategy”.

Article

06.09.2023

New mobility: driven by technology

Can technology drive the transition towards more sustainable mobility for businesses? See what Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert, has to say on the matter.

Now more than ever, businesses need to rethink mobility so that it forms part of the sustainable transition that needs to take place in our societies. Since 1 July 2023, the regulation meaning that company vehicles with combustion engines will no longer be longer tax-deductible by 2026 has started to have an impact. At the same time, Belgium’s Federal Mobility Budget and its recent developments are making this (r)evolution much more concrete and practical. And one thing is for sure: technology – and especially apps – have a key role to play. Philippe Kahn, Mobility Solutions Expert at Arval BNP Paribas Group, explains why.

1 July 2023: a key date

“In the few weeks that have passed since the pivotal date of 1 July 2023, we have already seen a change in the needs expressed by our corporate customers,” says Kahn. "Some of them had already taken practical steps towards sustainable transition. But nowadays, more and more of them also have to address the specific questions and concerns of their employees. How will I be able to use an electric car when I live in a city and have no charging stations available? Do I want to search for a reliable place to charge every day? And am I ready to fundamentally rethink how I get around? Providing a satisfactory answer to these questions is inevitably a priority for employers. As well as the end-to-end management of company electric vehicles – including the question of charging them – more and more companies are starting to rethink their overall mobility policy, analysing all existing alternatives, particularly multimodal solutions. And that’s great news, because it’s essential for their future. So I think the demand for such solutions is only going to grow. Technology, and apps in particular, are key tools for a smooth transition".

Anticipating change to serve companies better

Whereas this issue is only just emerging for many companies, it has been a priority for Arval BNP Paribas Fortis and Philippe Kahn for years. "For more than five years now, we have been anticipating the changes that are now taking place, ensuring that our vision of mobility and expertise go far beyond leasing. We now have an entire department that deals with these matters exclusively. This enables us to meet and even anticipate the needs of companies that have no experience of these issues, and who sometimes feel a little lost when it comes to this revolution in travel.”

A simpler, smoother experience thanks to technology

But why and how is technology playing an important role in this transition to more sustainable business travel? "It’s making the experience of new mobility easier and smoother for its users. And that's where the latest developments in the market are heading," says Kahn. "In fact, that's also what our new Mobility Arval App now offers our corporate customers. It makes it easier for employers to manage the mobility budget established by the federal authorities. This budget, its three pillars and recent developments are crucial factors when a company is rethinking its mobility. But at the same time, it involves some regulatory complexity. That’s why, five years ago, we started developing a whole range of technological tools to help companies deal with these matters. For example, we  make it simple for our customers to manage the combination of an electric car and bicycle within this mobility budget. In this spirit of innovation, and aiming to improve the user experience, our app integrates all facets of new business mobility, which are all accessible from a smartphone. Use of public transport, shared mobility, taxis, and even parking – even though this is not one of the pillars of the mobility budget – everything is in one place. The app also makes it easier to manage transactions: low-value mobility transactions, such as buying a bus ticket, are automatically captured and validated, so manual checks are no longer needed. Similarly, there is no longer any need to advance money to employees or reimburse them for anything, and no need for them to keep and present tickets or any other proof of purchase. In short, our app translates the entire mobility budget, which can be pretty complex, into a user-friendly tool where all the important components are taken into account: car, bicycle, scooter, multimodal solutions, public transport, shared mobility, etc."

Technology as a strategy accelerator

Arval Belgium’s innovations perfectly illustrate why technology is an important accelerator when implementing new mobility strategies. And it goes without saying that what exists today will evolve very quickly, leading to an ever-richer user experience. As Philippe Kahn says, "there are a lot of innovative tools out there already. But one of the challenges, linked to the complexity of the situation in Belgium, is to bring together all the players involved under the same umbrella, so that the result of this collaborative work can be found in a single 'magic' app. The solutions that exist today in Belgium are often local in scope. This is a limitation that doesn’t exist in the Netherlands, for example, thanks to their OV card.  Belgium’s urban planning realities are also a challenge:  outside the major urban centres, it’s less easy to set up mobility hubs in which all modes of travel are accessible."

One thing is certain: for companies, the transition to new forms of mobility is well underway. And the new Arval Belgium app is a valuable tool for those companies. “This technological innovation now makes it possible to mitigate the regulatory complexity for employers, and to make multimodal transport a very fluid experience for employees,” concludes Kahn.

Arval Belgium SA, Ikaroslaan 99, 1930 Zaventem – Registered with the Brussels trade register – Belgian VAT number 0436.781.102.  Company with an ancillary insurance brokage business, registered with the Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) under number 047238 A. Subject to acceptance of your request.

Arval Belgium SA is a subsidiary of BNP Paribas Fortis S.A.

Article

22.06.2023

Shipping: focus on the impact of decarbonisation and energy transition

At the end of May, BNP Paribas Fortis and the University of Antwerp brought together a number of experts to discuss the many challenges involved in decarbonising the shipping sector. What are the key points to remember?

Established 12 years ago, the BNP Paribas Fortis Chair in Transport, Logistics and Ports - linked to the University of Antwerp - conducts in-depth research to find concrete and innovative ways of creating an increasingly resilient – and sustainable – maritime ecosystem.

Building on the success of its first two major events in 2017 and 2019, the Chair has decided to do it again this year. On 25 May 2023, a number of experts and stakeholders from the port and maritime transport sector gathered at the BNP Paribas Fortis premises in Antwerp to discuss the impact of decarbonisation on the maritime ecosystem.

Here are their main findings...

1 – We need to move up a gear

Shipping is currently the most carbon-efficient form of commercial transport in terms of CO₂ emissions per tonne and kilometre. But it can do better.

So far, industry players have favoured quick wins, such as modifying ship propellers and adjusting speeds. But on 25 May, the experts agreed that now is the time to experiment with new fuels and technologies, and move towards (near) zero emissions. The pace of change is accelerating, but there's no silver bullet yet. The costs (and risks) are huge.

2 – International regulation, please (and only one)!

The regulatory framework is complex and constantly evolving.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which reports to the UN, is committed to reducing the carbon emissions from all ships by 40% by 2030 and by 70% by 2050 compared to 2008.

The European Union has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. By 2024, an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will apply to all ships of more than 5,000 gross tonnes sailing to or from EU ports.

In short: things are moving, and in the right direction. The problem, according to industry players, is that numerous regional and supra-regional programmes continue to coexist. This leads to administrative and financial overload.

On 25 May, all those involved agreed on two points: firstly, that a single international policy is essential, as this is a global sector; and secondly, that players who do not comply with the rules must be sanctioned.

3 – The transition to carbon neutrality will be costly 

The investments required to build new greener ships is estimated at $5 trillion by 2050. The cost of modernising the existing fleet is not yet known, but it will not be zero. In addition, the investment required to renew port infrastructures promises to be huge.

4 – Fuel and/or preferred technology: uncertainty reigns

What will be the fuel or technology of the future? Opinions are divided.

Many types of low-emission fuels are likely to coexist for some time. Electricity will only be used on coastal vessels, ferries and some tugs. Large ships will use liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), methanol, ammonia and possibly even biofuels.

Long-distance shipping will initially depend on heavy fuel oil, possibly with carbon capture and storage. Hydrogen has potential, but its density, storage and handling raise questions. Wind, solar and nuclear power are also in the mix.

But the real problem at the moment is that while the number of ships that can run on cleaner fuels is increasing, these fuels are not yet sufficiently available internationally. In other words, supply is much lower than demand.

5 – Banks play a key role

Banks have a key role to play in financing the energy transition. In 2019, eleven financial institutions – mostly European, including the BNP Paribas Group – launched the Poseidon Principles to support the transition to low-carbon shipping. This global framework makes it possible to measure and disclose the carbon intensity of bank loans in the maritime sector. There are now 24 signatories, including Japanese financial institutions. And that’s good news.

Want to know more?

Presentations, videos and photos from the 25 May event are available on this page.

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