“We take a holistic approach to sustainability in managing our real estate”

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Valeria Bianco, you are responsible for sustainability for AXA real estate. What does your job entail?

All sorts of things. I'm responsible for a variety of projects in this area, such as promoting photovoltaic panels on our roof spaces, expanding electric mobility and for the comprehensive data entry and reporting of our environmental footprint to stakeholders and our investors. I'm also continuing to develop our sustainability strategy to ensure that our targets are implemented in the various ESG areas. To do this, key aspects include developing comprehensive guiding principles and promoting the competencies of my colleagues in terms of sustainability. Sometimes I'm involved in very specific issues in building projects in an effort to implement our sustainability standards in a building. 


In Switzerland, AXA manages more than 700 properties comprising around 20,000 apartments, plus office and commercial spaces. What is the status of your sustainability efforts?

We have come a long way and have taken big steps forward when it comes to sustainability. For example, we take a holistic approach to sustainability in managing our real estate and factor in various aspects, such as energy efficiency and carbon emissions or barrier-free access and tenancy satisfaction throughout the whole life cycle of a building - and this applies not just to building projects. At times, our proactive approach is also based on AXA's fundamental conviction that a world that is 4°C warmer is not insurable. So, for instance, we signed the UN's Principles for Responsible Investment almost fifteen years ago and have already begun to replace our oil and gas heating systems with renewable energy sources.


A great deal can be done in the real estate sector, particularly when it comes to carbon emissions and energy consumption.

Yes, that's right. The portfolio of buildings in Switzerland is the second-largest emitter after traffic, accounting for around one quarter of all carbon emissions. Through the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance, we are aiming for our building stock to be carbon-free by 2050 at the latest. We want to do this by systematically using renewable energy for heating and power consumption and significantly boosting the energy efficiency of our buildings in business operations and during refurbishments. At the same time, we are increasingly turning our attention to resource-saving building and also trying to reduce carbon emissions in the building process as much as possible by using recyclable materials.


What challenges still concern you?

Climate change is definitely one of the greatest challenges of our time, but change also offers opportunities. I'm thinking here of electric cars, for example, which are much quieter than vehicles with combustion engines and do not pollute cities with exhaust fumes either. In future, we will also be able to convert our parked electric cars into mobile battery chargers, and maximize efficient energy consumption in buildings and districts between electricity producers and consumers through the use of smart grids. 


"If we'd like to counteract the effects of climate change, we have to make significant changes in the coming decades."

Valeria Bianco, Sustainability Manager at AXA Switzerland


Are there also problems that can't be solved?

I think the question is rather when will we have solved certain problems, as urgency is the key factor here. If we'd like to counteract the effects of climate change, we have to make significant changes in the coming decades. For example, I see a major challenge in the circular economy. Here there are already many exciting concepts as well as specific practical examples that have been successful, but the circular economy is not yet the standard, particularly in the building sector. If we wish to halt climate change and therefore the biodiversity crisis as well, there must be a global rethink in order to make whole supply chains recyclable. 


Sustainability is not just about the environment. Which areas is AXA still involved in?

Buildings have a crucial impact on our daily lives, so the well-being of our tenants is very important to us. In all our building projects, we place emphasis on the best air-conditioning, optimum imission protection and barrier-free floor plans. We carry out regular tenant surveys to highlight what specific scope we have for improvements. We've started on social-cultural properties in several buildings in the past two years where we encourage neighborly exchanges and a common community identity. And as an institutional investor, we were also one of the first to implement the concept of intergenerational living. 


Sustainability report

Real estate, in particular, has a major effect on sustainability, as environmental as well as societal, economic, and social aspects also play a role. Consequently, AXA always accounts for ESG criteria (environmental, social, governance) when making decisions. The new sustainability report shows what has been achieved in recent years and what contribution can be made to national and international climate goals.

About Valeria Bianco

Image Caption

Sustainability Manager at AXA Switzerland

Valeria Bianco works for AXA Investment Managers Switzerland where she is responsible for sustainability issues in the real estate sector. She studied environmental sciences at the ETH, majoring in biogeochemistry and pollutant dynamics. As an advisor to the Climate Foundation Switzerland, she also applies her expert knowledge for AXA in assessing funding applications, and helps to reduce the carbon emissions of Swiss SMEs.

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