Article

17.04.2018

Sustainable finance as a driver for green economy in Europe

In line with the Paris Agreement on climate change and the United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development, the European Commission has unveiled its strategy to bring in the financial system to support the actions of the EU in relation to climate and sustainable development.

Integrating the financial sector

Shifting the paradigm has become inevitable in order to respond to the challenges of today and those of the future: top priorities are the depletion of resources, climate change and their consequences in all domains (demographic, societal, etc.). In this sense, the EU has opted for the path to a cleaner and greener economy. A commitment based on the adoption of the Paris Agreement and within the context of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. First concrete developments: the EU 2030 Framework for climate and energy, the energy union or even the Circular Economy Action Plan. Advances that highlight the tangible objectives:

  • reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% (compared to levels in 1990);
  • increase in the share of renewable energies to at least 27%;
  • improvement of energy efficiency by at least 27%.

Without major financial investments – close to EUR 180 billion extra per year – Europe will not be able to achieve its aims in this area. Hence the need to make the financial sector a key player in this "sustainable" revolution.

The concept of "sustainable finance"

To this end, Europe has now equipped itself with an action plan for sustainable finance. What does the idea of "sustainable finance" mean? A different approach in terms of investments and financing, which not only relies on financial return, but which also offers longer term vision, which is more "responsible" and incorporates environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors. Through its action plan, Europe hopes to energise the role of finance towards more sustainability, but also to "ensure the stability of the financial system, and foster greater transparency and long-termism in the economy". As highlighted by the European Commission, reorienting private capital towards more sustainable investments "requires comprehensive rethinking of how our financial system works".

Concrete actions on the table

This action plan – which also supports the efforts already made to establish a Capital Markets Union (CMU) – took shape in 2016 with the creation of a working group made up of 20 experts from various distinct backgrounds: civil society, the financial sector, academics, commentators. Concrete priority areas were identified on the basis of their recommendations:

  • Offer more reliable information, in particular by working on a definition of a common language in terms of sustainable finance and the creation of labelling for "green" financial products;
  • Clarify the requirement for asset managers and institutional investors to integrate aspects of sustainability in the investment process;
  • Impose requirements on insurance companies and investment companies to inform their customers based on their preferences concerning sustainability;
  • Integrate sustainability into capital and reserves requirements in the banking sector;
  • Reinforce transparency in terms of information made available by the companies.

Now the course is set, there is still a (long) way to go to realising these measures, both legislative and non-legislative... 

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

08.03.2024

Businesses stand to benefit from switching to electric and multimodal mobility

BNP Paribas Fortis is ready for the mobility of tomorrow. And Laurent Loncke, General Manager Retail Banking and member of the bank’s management committee confirms this when he says “We do much more than lease electric vehicles”.

How can companies leverage mobility as part of their transition?

"If we look at vehicle usage alone, switching from fossil fuels to electric energy can reduce CO2 emissions by a factor of four. This transition is being encouraged in our country more than ever by tax incentives and tax breaks. From 2035, the European Union will also ban the sale of cars with combustion engines. Whether it’s for the company fleet or company cars for employees, electric driving is the way forward, alongside other forms of mobility."

Are all businesses aware of this?

"These days, two out of every three new vehicles are company cars. And 80% of those orders are electric vehicles, a trend that is also apparent at our partner Arval."

So companies are playing a pioneering role in this transition?

"Certainly. First and foremost because former company cars find their way to the second-hand market at some point, making electric driving more accessible for everyone. Secondly, by choosing an electric car, you can encourage your friends and family to follow your example. Our recent Profacts survey (only in Dutch and French) showed that 85% of electric vehicle owners are satisfied to very satisfied that they switched to an electric vehicle. However, 42% of Belgians are still reluctant. Half of them are worried their battery will run out before they can get to a charging point."

Is their fear justified?

"Not really. Most drivers only feel comfortable with a range of 500 kilometres, even if they only drive a few dozen kilometres a day. It’s true the charging network does need to be developed further. Many people, especially those living in cities, cannot install a charging point at home. BNP Paribas Fortis is contributing to the expansion of the charging network through its participation in Optimile. This Ghent scale-up offers software solutions for charging electric cars and is developing strategic partnerships for the installation and maintenance of charging points."

Can an electric car be part of each employee’s remuneration package?

"Today, there are already less expensive vehicles on the market, making electric driving an option for middle and lower-management. The Total Cost of Ownership of an electric car is the most important factor, however. And this is still much lower than that of a vehicle with a combustion engine. Leasing is often the best solution. We have a comprehensive, tailor-made offering for all companies, regardless of their size and needs."

What exactly do you mean by a 'comprehensive offering'?

“In addition to leasing, we are able to offer charging solutions at home or at work, a charging card for public networks, the automatic reimbursement of electricity consumption at home, an app to find charging stations, and electric driving training through our many partners.”

So a complete ecosystem?

"We want to contribute to the mobility of tomorrow. By financing it, through credits or leasing, and with insurance, but also by working with partners outside our traditional activities. Like Optimile, and Touring, an organisation that is synonymous with reliability."

But mobility isn't just about cars, is it?

"We believe we need to rethink our relationship with the car. Given the climate targets and the increasing scarcity of resources, it is simply not possible to replace every internal combustion engine with an electric car at the moment. Arval offers its extensive expertise to companies considering a different approach to mobility. We help them analyse their needs, propose alternatives to the car, establish a mobility budget or draw up a mobility policy. We offer bicycle leasing, sometimes in combination with car leasing. We strongly believe in multimodality and mobility-as-a-service solutions: the option to combine different transport modes and pay for them without too much hassle. This is also one of the specialities of our partner Optimile."

Are companies and their employees open to this idea?

"The idea of employees no longer saying 'I have this amount for my car in my salary package', but rather 'I have this amount for my mobility'  is gaining traction. People are already paying for use rather than ownership in gyms or for streaming services. Mobility is going down the same route, with car-sharing and flat-rate subscriptions, making costs more predictable for businesses and private individuals. But the pace of change will also depend on the success of the federal mobility budget. For now, uptake is slow."

 

BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV – Montagne du Parc/Warandeberg 3 – 1000 Brussels – VAT BE 0403.199.702 – RPM/RPR Brussels

Optimile SA/NV – Sassevaartstraat 46 bus 204, 9000 Ghent – RPM/RPR Ghent – VAT BE 0648.837.849 – www.optimile.eu – BNP Paribas Fortis SA/NV holds a greater than 10% stake in Optimile SA/NV.

Arval Belgium NV, Ikaroslaan 99, 1930 Zaventem – Brussels Register of Companies – VAT BE 0436.781.102.

Touring SA/NV, Koning Albert II-laan/Avenue Roi Albert II 4 B12, 1000 Brussels – Brussels Register of Companies – VAT BE 0403.471.401, is registered under this number with the FSMA, Rue du Congrès/Congresstraat 12-14, B-1000 Brussels, and acts as an associated agent on commission for AG Insurance SA/NV. AG Insurance SA/NV owns a greater than 10% stake in Touring SA/NV.
Article

01.12.2023

Investment grants for your business

Belgium’s three regions provide a range of grants for companies and self-employed people making investments. Our experts can help you make sense of the situation and submit your application.

The terms and amounts of investment grants vary greatly from one region to another. The applicable rules depend on the location of the operational entity making the investments. The company’s registered office is not relevant and can be located in any country. You should also bear in mind that applying for a grant is still a fairly cumbersome administrative process. That’s why our experts take care of all the steps, from submitting the grant application to collecting the grant money.

Flanders: a range of grants

Various types of grants are available in Flanders, the most important of which are support for strategic transformations, the ecology bonus, strategic ecological support, the SME e-wallet and the SME growth subsidy.

Each type of support targets different types of investment and different companies. Subsidy levels also vary widely, from 8% for a strategic investment by a large company to 50% for consultancy fees paid by an SME.

Our experts can help you identify subsidy opportunities and then arrange for you to meet a specialist from VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who will then help you with the rest of your application.

Wallonia: traditional and ecological aid

In Wallonia, investment grants are reserved for companies operating in a limited number of eligible sectors. Excluded activities include retail, transport and the liberal professions.

The terms and conditions also differ according to the size of the company. Small businesses must invest a minimum of €25,000. Large companies need to reach higher thresholds and invest in a development zone.

Examples of eligible business investments include buying/building a property, buying land and buying new business equipment.

The basic grant varies from 4% to 6%, but can be higher if the applicant creates jobs, takes an innovative approach or diversifies abroad, for example. A larger grant, up to 20%, may be obtained for projects that promote the sustainable use of energy and environmental protection.

Please note that it is essential to submit the request before any firm investment commitment is made: investments for which you have already accepted a quote can no longer be subsidised.

Our experts can guide your company through the entire process.

Brussels: the most generous

The Brussels subsidy for investments in goods, property or works is open to most sectors. In total, around 80% of the capital's economic activities are eligible for grants. The two main exceptions are education and real estate.

To qualify for a grant, the investment project must be worth at least €10,000 for a start-up business and at least €15,000 in other cases, depending on the size of the business. In addition, it must aim to develop or improve an existing activity: simple replacement expenditure does not qualify.

The aid can amount to up to 30% of the investment, although the average is 12.5%. The level of subsidy depends on a number of criteria, such as whether the company is a start-up and whether the investment will increase the number of people employed by more than 30%.

Over the course of 2024, reforms to the aid system will increase incentives for sustainable and circular economy projects.

Please note that it is essential to submit the request before any firm investment commitment is made: investments for which you have already accepted a quote can no longer be subsidised.

Our experts can guide your company through the entire process.

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