A Road to Sustainability and Innovation

In a rapidly evolving world, the education sector and, consequently, educational real estate must adapt. Amid ambitious sustainability goals to reduce CO2 emissions, the role of real estate, especially in the education sector, cannot be underestimated. Many existing buildings are outdated and do not meet modern sustainability standards, creating an urgent need for renovation and compliance with new regulations.

The creation of inspiring spaces
To address this complex issue, actions should be taken now to modernize existing structures with innovative solutions and design new buildings with all three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic)in mind. To achieve future-proof educational infrastructure, European regulations and sustainability must be integrated from the very first design stage. Creating spaces that inspire, motivate and encourage adaptability is vital. Flexible layouts, technology integration and sustainable designs are no longer optional additions, but essential elements of modern educational environments.

An international hot topic
In light of these challenges to create future-proof real estate, Drees & Sommer organized the international Expert Talk "Future-proof Educatiotial and Research Buildings”. A captivating program with experts in various fields from the Netherlands, Germany and UK at the innovative 'The Green Village' on the campus of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). The impulse speeches and panel discussions covered three main themes: Sustainability, Innovation and Campus Development.


TU Delft as a Sustainable Leader
Hubert Linssen, Program Manager for Sustainability at TU Delft Campus Real Estate, addressed the numerous challenges and opportunities facing the institution in its quest to become a sustainable leader in academia. TU Delft's vision to achieve a Climate Neutral Campus by 2030 reflects its commitment to environmental sustainability, circular practices, climate adaptation and improved quality of life for both the campus community and the planet.

Linssen emphasized that these days it is long past the "why" of sustainability, but mostly the "how" of its implementation. The university’s approach is based on three key elements. The first is “practice what you teach” by creating practical examples: building sustainable buildings on campus to inspire and teach students. Second, he mentions embracing scarcity as a driver for innovation: the scarcity of fuels forces us to think of creative solutions with fewer resources. In his view, sustainability should be integrated into property management rather than seen as an add-on. The third important element is the use of the university campus as a living lab: to scale isolated experiments and increase the robustness of innovation.

ECHO, the most sustainable TU Delft building
A good example of the first element Linssen mentions is ECHO, TU Delft's energy-generating interfaculty building. Jaap-Willem Kleijwegt, Senior Architect and Associate at UNStudio, shared his insights from his role as project architect for the building in his impulse speech prior to the panel discussion on the topic of Sustainability. ECHO embodies the university's sustainability aspirations and offers an adaptable and user-friendly design. It is a building that is as usable as possible and therefore as flexible as possible. It currently houses student workstations, a restaurant, lecture halls, case study rooms and a debate room, among other things, and is ready to be redesigned into something new if user requirements change.

During the sustainability discussion, a panel that included not only Linssen and Kleijwegt but also Hein van Tuijl (Managing Director of EPEA Benelux) and Richard Murray (Director for the Energy and Sustainability Division at AA Projects, part of Drees & Sommer) spoke on a variety of topics such as green roofs and striking a balance between carbon emission reduction, embodied carbon and a healthy living environment. The importance of innovation at different levels, including technical, social, financial and legal, was also emphasized together with the creation of a safe space allowing full scale experimentation to support its development.

Continuous exploration and innovation
Innovation is a core value for Drees & Sommer, with several innovation hubs worldwide. We encourage start-ups to keep exploring and innovating. During the Drees & Sommer Expert Talk, "Innovation in the Green Construction Sector" was therefore logically on the agenda including an innovation walk through TU Delft’s living lab 'The Green Village'. Four start-ups presented their innovative ideas. Linde de Jonge of Paviljoen III highlighted the potential of urban roofs in the energy transition. Her project, "the Pavilion Roof", aims to transform flat roofs into modular green spaces with sustainable installations.

Madaster Netherlands, the "materials registry" for buildings and products, has formally outgrown its infancy now that the platform is active in seven European countries. Managing Director Jeroen Broersma emphasized the importance of registering materials and products for circular construction. This initiative aims to reduce waste, lower CO2 emissions, promote responsible material management and enable its reuse through urban mining.

Marjanne Cuypers of BlueBlocks emphasized the importance of designing systems without waste. Their mission is to create sustainable materials and products that promote a healthy future for both people and the planet.

Perine Fleury presented Biosphere Solar's vision in which circular and honest solar panels are becoming the norm. They are working on open-source PV module designs that combine solar power with biodiversity restoration.

Sustainable educational infrastructure
Campus development was another major focus of the event, as it plays a crucial role in creating sustainable educational infrastructure. Richard Murray, Director of the Energy and Sustainability Department at AA Projects, shared the Science Area Heat Decarbonization Plan for the University of Oxford. The University of Oxford aims to be climate neutral by 2035, and this ambitious goal depends on the decarbonization of existing buildings. As the university is one of the oldest universities in the English-speaking world, one of the biggest challenges has been the different infrastructural settings - from heritage buildings to state-of-the-art laboratory facilities. AA Projects has nevertheless succeeded in designing a plan in which the demand for heat-generating devices can be drastically reduced from 44 MW to 12 MW. Operating costs are reduced to a minimum. In addition, the buildings can be upgraded and the supply temperatures can be reduced independently of the timeline for the ambient circuit and the heat network.

The event concluded with insights from an expert panel including Kristina Knauf (General Manager of LAND Germany), Professor Marzia Traverso (Director of Chair and Institute of Sustainability in Civil Engineering in RWTH Aachen University) and Dr. Jacqueline Lemm (Managing Director of TFI) that highlighted the importance of space design, integrating green and blue elements, sustainability assessments of materials and building life cycles including environmental, social and economic aspects.  It became clear that a wide range of disciplines need to work together in the early stages of the project and that many of the challenges faced by educational institutions can only be overcome with a joint holistic approach.

Together on the road to sustainability
The Drees & Sommer Expert Talk on "Future-proof Educational and Research Buildings" at TU Delft demonstrates that educational institutions, architects and real estate professionals are embracing the path to sustainability and innovation. This event serves as a beacon of hope and a roadmap for creating future-proof education and research infrastructure that not only meets the needs of today, but also sustainably supports the world for generations to come.

For more information about Drees & Sommer's sustainability services, please contact Marco Villares, Sustainability Consultant at Drees & Sommer Netherlands (
Want to learn more about the Education sector? First contact for the Netherlands is Esther Akkerman (, for Germany, feel free to contact Thomas Köhler (

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