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
Article

15.01.2021

In the future, will we use CO² to build?

It sounds somewhat futuristic, but today building with CO² is possible. Thanks to accelerates carbonation, CO² is used to produce building material. A sustainable footpath in Ghent illustrates how promising this new technology is.

In mid-December, CO2 Value Europe, a think- and do- tank representing the carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) community in Europe, held a webinar about the use of CO2 to create building material. Concrete examples of this sustainable technology were given to illustrate the potential they can offers, especially in the hard-to-abate construction sector. BNP Paribas Fortis and CO2 Value Europe are partners in issues related to financing innovative and sustainable technologies. As an institution, we work hard to promote corporate sustainability.

The second-most polluting industrial sector

As well as being one of the largest in the world, the cement industry's high levels of flue gas emissions also make it one of the most polluting. Cement is a crucial component in concrete, which is vital for the building sector. A sustainable alternative to cement could make a huge difference. One option here is carbonation, also known as CO2 mineralization. While this CCU technology is not yet well known, it has the potential to play a crucial role in mitigating climate change.

Giving nature a helping hand

Carbonation is a natural process, where minerals react with CO2 to create e.g. limestone and dolomite. In nature, this process takes thousands of years, but today, thanks to innovative methods, this time can be cut down to some minutes. This process requires relatively small amounts of energy and can be used to create several different products, including bricks where CO2 is sequestered permanently.

CO2 all the way

The development of CCU technology has accelerated sharply in recent years. We now have cement alternatives that meet the building sector’s technical requirements. There are various ways to store CO2 into construction materials. For example, CO2 can be injected as an alternative to water for hardening cement. What’s more, CO2 can be used to convert mineral waste from steel and mining industries into new products such as aggregates, which can be used as a basis for paving or building blocks.

Good for the planet

Mineralization of CO2 has a significant impact on the environment, because it has an effect at different levels. The annual global reduction in CO2 emissions is estimated to be 250 - 500 million tonnes by 2030 (source CO2 Value Europe).

  • CO2 can be captured from flue gas emitted by industrial processes used to create steel, cement, and chemicals, with no need for concentration or treatment.
  • CO2 can be captured directly from the atmosphere to create negative carbon emissions, i.e. carbon removal.
  • In both cases, the CO2 will be stored permanently in building materials.
  • Mineral waste and even construction waste are used together with CO2 to make new building materials, so it reduces landfills and the associated costs.
  • Recycling carbon and construction wastes means fewer new natural resources are exploited.

What’s the catch?

New developments are never without their challenges, and this is no exception. Offering a competitive, quality alternative to concrete in a circular economy requires investment and adaptation.

  • Factories will have to adapt their plants. Locating them close to significant sources of CO2, like a steel factory, is recommended so the CO2 and the waste fractions do not have to be transported.
  • Manufacturing new products takes energy and creates CO2 emissions, even if the products are made using carbon dioxide and waste. It is why renewable energy should be used as much as possible to increase the sustainability of the processes.
  • The commercialization of accelerated carbonation technologies is quite recent, and some processes are not optimally equipped for this yet.
  • The lack of appropriate regulatory frameworks is also a drawdown to allow for a fast deployment of CCU technologies. This is an area CO2 Value Europe is especially working on.

Despite these challenges, Andre Bardow (Professor of Energy & Process Systems Engineering, ETH Zurich) told us during the webinar that he is convinced CO2 mineralization reduces the CO2 footprint from a life cycle perspective, even more than carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Zero domestic waste

There are already companies producing low-CO2 construction materials around the world. One of them is in Limburg. Orbix, in Genk, has successfully extracted minerals from steel production waste (known as slag) which are used as a basis for eco-friendly concrete stone. Not only is liquid CO2 used to produce concrete stone rather than polluting cement, but residual waste that would otherwise be dumped in landfill is also recycled. 

There is a great example of this in Ghent, where Orbix worked with the Flemish research institute VITO to create the Stapsteen project for the city. Visitors can walk on Belgium’s first-ever circular economy footpath in the Leewstraat: 100m2 made entirely from sustainable bricks, saving a full 2 tonnes of CO2.

Do you have sustainability plans for 2021? Our experts at the Sustainable Business Competence Centre can provide advice about innovations like CO2 mineralisation and support your sustainable transition.

Article

15.12.2020

Sunglasses that can help save the oceans

Yuma Labs makes sunglasses from recycled PET bottles. The Belgian firm has grown from a one-man startup into a company that manufactures items for other brands as well. But can the firm combine growth with sustainability? At BNP Paribas Fortis we certainly think so.

Yuma Labs (originally named YR Yuma) is the brainchild of Sebastiaan de Neubourg, explains his business partner Lenja Doms. She tells us: "Sebastiaan was working as a consultant, but he was itching to set up his own business.  His idea was to use a 3D printer to make sunglasses from recycled plastic. He then found out at first hand why no-one had tried this before. Because it proved to be quite a bit harder than expected,” laughs Lenja.

Crowdfunding

By 2017 Sebastiaan had a workable prototype and he started a crowdfunding campaign for his sustainable sunglasses. It was an immediate hit.  However, the project wasn’t first and foremost about achieving successful sales, reveals Lenja. “Sebastiaan saw the sunglasses primarily as a tool for making people aware of the basic principles of the circular economy. There’s no such thing as waste. A used Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle provides the raw material for a new product, such as a pair of sunglasses.” And to complete the circle, the customer is encouraged to trade the sunglasses back in at the end of their life, in exchange for a new pair at an attractive discount.

More expensive

Sustainable manufacturing, as Yuma Labs does it, inevitably means that the final product is more expensive. “Fully twice as expensive,” Lenja points out, explaining: “We certainly don’t want to see the circular economy pigeon-holed as the province of the elite. We already take account of the entire life-cycle of a product, and we take responsibility for the recycling and re-use of the materials.  And let’s be quite clear about this: that’s more costly than just putting a product on the market without worrying about what happens to it later.”

Aiming for growth

In summer 2019, Lenja Doms and Ronald Duchateau came on board the Yuma team. This provided an opportunity to broaden the focus and look further than the consumer market. This month, Yuma Labs announced a collaborative project with a major fashion company. This upscaling will enable Yuma Labs to reach out to a much larger audience.

A good mix

In order to grow, a business needs financial resources. Yuma Labs has looked into quite a number of possible solutions, says Lenja. “These days there are a lot of initiatives designed to support sustainable businesses – from banks, the government and private investors. We’ve always tried to find the right balance between our own capital and external finance, and to achieve a good mix of different forms of finance between capital, grants and loans.”

Lenja has a golden tip for other businesspeople in the circular economy: "All too often I observe that the economic side of the story is neglected because companies keep on trying to find the perfect solution or the perfect product. There’s no sense in that.  You shouldn’t try to be whiter than white.”

Creating added value

At BNP Paribas Fortis, Maxime Prové is the Account Manager for Yuma Labs. He endorses Lenja Doms’ view on this. “Entrepreneurs who set out to do sustainable or social business must also have a desire to create added value, otherwise the business won’t last,” Maxime points out, underlining: “You can’t pursue a sustainable, environmental or social business model unless it’s underpinned by a profit-making scenario. That’s the only way you’ll be able to grow, hire more people and make a greater impact.”

Photo: Karel Hemerijckx

Article

07.12.2020

Scale-up concludes mega contract in the midst of the coronavirus crisis

The Antwerp-based scale-up IPEE transforms ordinary toilets into innovative products. BNP Paribas Fortis is more than just the financial partner. IPEE have already come into contact with the right people via the bank’s network several times.

“The traditional urinal has no brain. The infrared eye simply detects that someone is standing in front of the urinal. The result? A lot of wasted water and misery”, says Bart Geraets, who founded IPEE in 2012 together with Jan Schoeters.

The scale-up devised new measuring technology that makes it possible to detect through the ceramic of a urinal when someone is urinating or when the urinal is blocked. With this innovative technology, the scale-up designed urinals that use half as much water and toilets that can be operated without touching them.

Sleek design

“IPEE is an atypical scale-up that innovates in a sector where little has changed in the past few decades”, says Conchita Vercauteren, relationship manager at the BNP Paribas Fortis Innovation Hub.

Jan Schoeters: “At first we mainly focused on durability. But we soon felt that with non-residential applications, the potential water saving is subordinate to the operational aspect. We had to be able to offer added value for each stakeholder in the purchasing process.”

We opted for sleek designs to appeal to architects and end users. The simple installation attracts fitters and maintenance people see the advantages of the sleek design - that is easy to clean - and toilets that do not overflow.

New investors

Until 2015, Schoeters and Geraets, along with Victor Claes, an expert in measuring methods and originator of the IPEE technology, put their energy into product development and market research. The financing came mainly from money that they collected in their network of friends, fools and family.

They had to go elsewhere to obtain the funds for production and marketing. Geraets: “We had a product, but it wasn’t ready to sell. To take that step, we needed investors.”

Looking for new investors was a challenge. Schoeters: “We aren’t software developers and we don’t work in a sexy sector. So we miss out with a large target group of investors.”

The young scale-up attracted the attention of Ronald Kerckhaert, who had sold his successful company, Sax Sanitair, at the end of 2015. “He pushed us to think big, more than we dared ourselves. And he never headed for an exit. His express goal was to put our product on the world market”, says Schoeters.

Growth path

IPEE has achieved impressive growth since then. The product range was expanded and new sectors were broached: educational institutes, office buildings and hospitals. The technology is now used by Kinepolis, Texaco, Schiphol and Changi Airport (Singapore).

“We very soon turned to Asia, because new technology is embraced more quickly there”, Geraets explains. The IPEE technology is distributed in Singapore - where the scale-up has its own sales office - China, Thailand and Vietnam, among other places. About half the turnover comes from abroad, although the coronavirus crisis will leave its mark this year.

Supporter

“My biggest headache is achieving healthy growth”, says Bart Geraets. One advantage for IPEE is that in coronavirus times, hygiene stands high on the agenda. The scale-up's  touchless toilet facilities meet that demand.

At the same time, the shortage of water and the need to use water sparingly is very topical. Geraets: “We notice that in these strange times we are gaining an even bigger foothold. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis we concluded a contract with the world’s biggest manufacture of toilet facilities. Now it’s a matter of further professionalising our business, the personnel policy and the marketing.”

The company’s main bank is an important partner here. Schoeters: “It is more than just a financial organisation. We have already come into contact with the right people via the bank’s network several times. Our bank feels more like a supporter that is also putting its weight behind our story.”

Article

18.11.2020

Joining forces for a low-carbon economy – our bank's contribution to CO2 Value Day Europe

The fourth CO2 Value Day took place online on 10 November. The event, which we helped set up as one of its partners, focused on the progress made in developing the CCU industry.

At BNP Paribas Fortis, we were delighted to help stage this event. The subject of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) lies close to our heart as we strive toward a low-carbon economy.

About CCU and CO2 Value Europe

Carbon capture and utilisation encompasses all industrial processes aimed at capturing carbon dioxide – from industrial sources or directly from the air – and converting it into usable products. Today, carbon is not simply a waste material; it can be reused as a raw material for a host of applications, including building materials, fuel production and in the chemical industry.

CO2 Value Europe, a European organisation founded in 2017, aims to promote the development and market introduction of these sustainable industrial solutions and thus contribute to reducing global CO2 emissions and diversifying the raw material base away from fossil fuels and gas. The organisation brings together more than 50 companies from various sectors across Europe, including 12 multinationals. As its only financial partner, we support CO2 Value Europe by giving the organisation access to our expertise and network.

The event

The CO2 Value Day is a unique opportunity for all members of CO2 Value Europe to assess the overall progress made in developing the CCU industry. This year, the event was once again a mix of plenary presentations, keynote speeches and interactive workshops.

After a welcome and introduction by Stefanie Kesting, Chair of CO2 Value Europe, Sebastien Soleille took to the floor. As Global Head of Energy Transition & Environment at our bank, he discussed the role banks play in supporting sustainable development. This is a responsibility that we do not take lightly at BNP Paribas Fortis, and we've been helping companies with their sustainable transition for years through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre. We focus on four pillars: decarbonisation, the circular economy, human capital and smart cities.

Vincent Basuyau, Policy Officer at DG GROW, then shed some light on CCU when it comes to current EU policy. This primarily concerned the Innovation Fund, established by the European Union to invest in innovative projects that decarbonise industrial activities in Europe.

The plans for 2021 were also unveiled. In the coming year, CO2 Value Europe will focus above all on the ongoing development of and market uses for CCU technologies. The aim is to coordinate the many different players involved in CO2 use in Europe, integrate their efforts into the value chain and become the ambassador of the CO2 user community towards policy-makers and financiers. After all, a favourable legal and market framework is a prerequisite for the commercial roll-out of CCU solutions.

CO2 Value Europe aims to encourage the ongoing development of CCU technologies by:

  • offering solutions to decrease net CO2 emissions from hard to abate sectors, such as energy-intensive process industries (e.g. cement and lime mortar, chemicals, steel and other metals) and the transport sector;
  • creating negative emissions in sequestering CO2 in building materials resulting from the carbonation of mineral waste;
  • providing an alternative raw material for the production of chemical building blocks and to replace fossil fuels and gas;
  • facilitating the storage and transport of renewable energy, speeding up the transition of energy systems in the EU;

There was also time for two break-out sessions, with the first focusing on developing a strategy to create a regulatory framework that supports the deployment of CCU technologies.

The second session concerned projects and financing. Aymeric Olibet, Sustainable Business Advisor at BNP Paribas Fortis, talked about a range of topics, including the solutions we offer companies through our Sustainable Business Competence Centre, financing sustainable projects through green bonds and green loans, and blended finance (a mix of public and private funding).

Finally, attendees had the chance to meet other participants during online speed meetings.

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