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2016, april 29th – private equity

Life after deindustrialisation

Building housing units to ecologically and economically rehabilitate areas affected by both the economic crisis and pollution – this is what the Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity teams aim to accomplish with the Ginkgo project. An approach that combines long-term investment with social utility.


Nothing is left of the old paper mills in Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium. What was once an industrial site is now a residential district, Jardins de l'Orne. The district boasts 296 housing units, including 44 single-family homes, as well as car parks, a crèche, a small shop, and four or five offices, all of which consume very little energy.

Just another run-of-the-mill building project? Hardly.

Three million polluted sites in Europe

For nearly two centuries, life at the site was ruled by paper. The Mont-Saint-Guibert paper mills were the first to arrive, followed by a company specialising in sorting, storing and exporting paper, cardboard and plastic.

Eventually, the area faced deindustrialisation and suffered from pollution caused by the town's iconic industry.

The work to convert the site was carried out thanks to the involvement of Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity’s teams. Ginkgo Private Equity’s team, which is made up of experts from the fields of environmental engineering, real estate, investment, finance, negotiation and project management, specialises in the sustainable redevelopment of polluted sites in Europe.

The revival of an urban community

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Mont-Saint-Guibert required intensive remediation efforts. Buildings covering 16,000 square metres as well as concrete slabs and foundations covering two and a half hectares had to be demolished before construction could move forward. More than a century of intensive, long-term environmental pollution resulted in soil, subsoil and water contamination, particularly with heavy metals and organic pollutants (mineral oils and chlorinated solvents), petroleum hydrocarbons from the former petrol station and waste from illegal dumping.

The former Mont-Saint-Guibert paper mill is one of the over three million polluted sites that currently exists in Europe, the legacy of past and present industrial and military activities. These brownfield sites pose considerable health and environmental risks, and are in desperate need of redevelopment. Yet, traditional property developers are generally reluctant to take on environmental risks.

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After work and remediation, the site of the former paper gives birth to a residential area.

Financing and implementing sustainable urban planning

Some ten years ago, the Edmond de Rothschild Group decided to make this issue one of its key priorities. As of today, €300 million in investments have been allocated to development.

As Ariane de Rothschild noted at the Global Landscape Forum during COP 21 in December 2015,

"Ours is a long-term commitment. Our personal efforts, the initiatives of our financial Group and our philanthropic projects all tend towards the same goal: establishing the conditions for sustainable development in order to ensure that our societies can move forward and future generations can be successful. (…) Philanthropy alone is not enough because the projects must be profitable if they are to last."

It is impossible to separate the control and management of social and environmental risks from long - term
profitability.end Johnny El Hachem, CEO of Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity

Some industrial reclamation sites represent major redevelopment opportunities, especially since many are located in urban areas that have a shortage of building land. The idea is to reuse these spaces through sustainable urban planning, an approach that is both socially and economically viable. Johnny El Hachem, CEO of Edmond de Rothschild Private Equity, understands the need, noting "it is impossible to separate the control and management of social and environmental risks from long-term profitability."

Ginkgo delivers added value to all the stakeholders involved in brownfield redevelopment projects: owners of polluted land, local and regional governments, developer-builders and end users. The Edmond de Rothschild teams are known for their expertise in managing these sites. They work with local and regional governments to create redevelopment projects, evaluate the extent of the environmental pollution and propose decontamination strategies.

In concrete terms, this involves acquiring, remediating and developing land that is subject to challenging environmental issues. Ginkgo creates, executes and finances strategies for the long-term management of these environmental risks.

Thanks to its in-house team of senior engineers and experts, Ginkgo is able to implement a wide range of decontamination techniques covering every type of chemical and pyrotechnic pollutant.

Ginkgo revitalizes abandoned polluted sites

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The team focuses on virtuous processes – breaking down pollutants as close to the source as possible in order to avoid transferring the effects to other ecosystems and to help reduce the carbon footprint for the project.

All the material resulting from the demolition in Mont-Saint-Guibert was reused: the bricks and concrete were crushed on-site and the rubble was used for the sub-foundations of the new buildings. This significantly reduced the number of lorry trips needed to haul away the waste.

Focus on recycling of waste
and soil restoration

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Economic and social added value

Beyond the positive environmental impact, this decontamination and rehabilitation approach is socially very useful.end Bruno Farber, CEO of Ginkgo Advisors

Solutions for transporting waste to treatment centres were used only in select cases with preference given to river or rail transport. Landfills were used as little as possible; when this was necessary, the soil was thoroughly sifted and only inorganic pollutants were present.

The same approach was employed for Choisy-le-Roi, near Paris. This project involved redeveloping a former foundry site and building housing units. As with Mont-Saint-Guibert, the volume of soil treated off-site was optimised and the treated soil was reused at the site to create a landscaped berm to visually and acoustically separate the buildings from some nearby SNCF railway tracks. The areas where the organic pollution, and especially the chlorinated solvents, originated were subject to in situ treatment. This involved venting air trapped in the soil of the unsaturated area and increasing the level of oxygen in the groundwater.These treatments, as well as the removal of asbestos from the land, were completed in 2015.

Bruno Farber, CEO of Ginkgo Advisors, notes that the work performed by the Ginkgo teams embodies the Edmond de Rothschild positioning on social and environmental issues: "Beyond the positive environmental impact, this decontamination and rehabilitation approach is socially very useful because it offers an alternative to intense urbanisation, which is currently being carried out on our agricultural land, while there is land close to where people work and/or live that is not being used."

Ginkgo has struck a balance between soil condition requirements and a building project that meets the needs of municipalities, incorporating societal, economic and environmental issues into a single programme, and those of investors, participating in projects that deliver added value with a tangible, liquid and profitable property asset. 

Guillaume Ribet, Deputy CEO of Ginkgo, endorses this approach:

"Decontaminating a site is not an end in itself. It is a necessary first step towards pursuing our goal, namely to bring business and living spaces back to city centres through urban projects that benefit the community."

This is the real innovation: creating new types of urban spaces that form a link between the current needs of economic players and the challenges for the urban fabric. Ginkgo plays a key role with its ambitious vision for biodiversity and greening.