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Antoine Frey (Frey) - Nathalie Robin (BNP Paribas Cardif)

"Shopping centres cannot develop without interacting with their environment"

The health crisis has shaken them, but they are still there, in contact with consumers. Since then, shopping centres have been working to regain their pre-2020 bearings, but they have not given up on their transformations in order to better meet their customers' expectations. The issues are numerous and may depend on the history, size and nature of each player, and its relationship with its tenants and shareholders.

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In partnership with Mapic

Nathalie Robin et Antoine Frey © @dr

Mapic, the mirror of retail real estate for 27 years, and a must-attend event for the commercial real estate industry, has selected four in this series of pre-show interviews, giving the floor to developers, lessors and investors. The first is the theme of Mapic 2022, which will be held from Tuesday 29 November to Thursday 1 December at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes: People, Planet, Profit: navigating retail towards a more "human" world. In other words, sustainable concepts. The second, mix-used, refers to the multiplicity of uses, with retail now blending more with offices, housing, etc., like a piece of the city. Secondly, innovation in the service of the retail transformation, particularly that linked to the integration of digital technology into physical spaces. Finally, this overview will address the subject of leisure activities, which have made a strong entry into shopping centres in recent years, transforming them into shopping destinations where customers can enjoy a real experience. Let's hear from the players.

Business Immo: Frey defines itself as a responsible property company. What does this mean in concrete terms?

Antoine Frey: In concrete terms, we are not going to save the world, but through our concepts (pioneers of ecological retail parks and inventors of a new generation of open-air shopping centres), our construction methods (integration of wood, investment in the French wood industry via our FoREY forestry group) and our methods of operating our sites (responsible leases, etc.), we are involved on a daily basis in a more responsible society that respects the environment and is socially beneficial to its ecosystem. On the strength of its status as a company with a mission, certified B Corp™, with its "raison d'être" of putting retail back at the service of the collective interest, Frey affirms its conviction that the usefulness of retail goes far beyond that of the simple commercial transaction and participates in urban mixing, social ties and local economic resilience and in the environmental transition. Our shopping centres are above all centres of collective interest, lively, friendly and responsible.

BI: How does responsible/sustainable development fit into Cardif's commercial property asset allocation policy? What criteria do you use?

Nathalie Robin: With regard to the environmental aspect of the assets under management, we focus on reducing energy consumption and on "In use" certification. Water consumption and waste treatment are more particularly observed in shopping centres. At the social level, we encourage operators to ensure that the centres are well-integrated into the local community. Architecture is not directly included in the ESG criteria, but for us it is a major issue. A generation of retail parks must reinvent themselves to offer quality architecture and peaceful urban planning. Frey's Shopping Promenade concept addresses our concern and that of our customers.

BI: What are the competitive advantages of such environmental commitments?

AF: Back in 2010, Frey was the first real estate company to deliver an HQE-certified retail space. This responsible path is part of the Group's DNA. We were putting in place a lot of actions without all of them being structured in a clearly formulated approach. The Pacte law gave us an ideal tool to do this. We decided to put this CSR strategy at the heart of our global strategy by becoming a "company with a mission" and passing the very demanding B Corp™ certification. This shift is certainly the best investment we have made for the company's benefit. It is the prospect of combining financial benefits with human benefits. It is also a great opportunity to embark our ecosystem in a virtuous dynamic. Lastly, it is a significant asset in attracting new talent who choose their future company based on its commitment. 

BI: Can all commercial property companies take this route? 

AF: Obviously, a company must remain a source of profit. However, purely financial performance is no longer enough to motivate teams and meet society's expectations. It is therefore essential to unite men and women around more ambitious objectives. In the very near future, the question will no longer be whether there was any point in acting. Real estate has certainly not been the industry that has taken the most risks, but it is never too late. Real estate companies can and should make this shift. If they do not, the moral penalty will ultimately be much greater than the financial penalty. The risk is therefore not in making this strategic shift, but in not doing so. We should not try to be popular but to be fair in order to advance the positive impact of our activity.

BI: What are the advantages for an investor to position himself in "greener" commercial assets? Is there a difference in price at entry, in yield?  

NB: It is very important for an investor to position himself on a shopping centre whose trajectory of alignment with the tertiary decree is already mapped out. The yield on acquisition must take into account the capex that will have to be carried out. Overall, we note that the major operators have ambitious targets for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gases. The investor also integrates a rigorous waste treatment and water consumption policy. However, for many shopping centres, one of the major issues is the carbon footprint. As customers come mainly by car, it is very difficult to reduce the essential part of this footprint. Frey has worked particularly hard on this subject by seeking to contribute to the development of the wood industry in France. 

BI: How far have real estate companies and retail developers got in this area, in France and abroad? What are the limits?

NB: Overall, I think there is an awareness of the need to reduce the artificialization of land. The priority is to transform some existing old commercial sites in order to offer quality architecture and urban planning. The transformation can be more radical by introducing more mix in the typology of assets, with residential for example. Operators are now much more aware that their centres cannot develop without interacting with their environment. Frey's desire to be a company with a mission fully illustrates this desire to be useful to society. 

Mapic 2022 will offer a series of conferences on the theme of sustainability in all sectors of the industry, as well as an exclusive workshop that will give participants the opportunity to exchange with experts on the subject. All these initiatives aim at analysing and giving concrete examples on how to ensure the long-term sustainability of an existing or new asset. Antoine Frey will speak at one of these sessions to explain what his company's commitment as a mission-driven company means in practice.

For more information, see the programme at

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