Wattson makes real estate heritage sustainable

The mission of company Wattson is to make real estate heritage sustainable. The City of Ghent spoke with co-founder Stijn De Roo.

Sustainability awareness is not only growing among consumers. Companies, too, are increasingly choosing the sustainability card and some are even making it their core business. One of those companies is Wattson in Ghent. The company was founded 5 years ago with the mission of making existing real estate more sustainable. To this end, the company develops numerous energy-saving projects. Currently, 12 people work at Wattson from Watt The Firms, one of the new creative workplaces in Ghent. The City of Ghent caught up with co-founder Stijn De Roo for a nice chat about sustainability and business in Ghent.

Stijn, what does the Ghent company Wattson do?

"Wattson is a company that develops and manages energy-saving projects. We want to make real estate more sustainable while relieving the customer of all worries. We take all kinds of energy-saving measures in buildings. Examples are insulation, LED lighting and sustainable energy. We are actually energy architects. We are not going to install them ourselves, but we will look for the best solutions and make sure they are actually implemented. What is important here is that we show that customers can also earn back their investments in these measures. For a lot of customers, we even take care of the financing, which means that the customers pay nothing in advance. In this way, we often remain involved in the project for a number of years so that the investments pay for themselves.

Very noble and sustainable from Wattson. What type of real estate does Wattson focus on?

"We mainly focus on large commercial buildings or companies with multiple sites. This usually involves residential care centres, schools, government buildings, etc. There must be at least a € 50,000 annual energy bill. At the moment, we are working all over Belgium, but we are taking our first, small steps in the Netherlands. In Ghent itself, for example, we have done two projects, namely the residential care centre Ramen en Poel and the Dr. Guislain Psychiatric Centre. For the psychiatric centre, we worked as supervisors to implement all kinds of solutions. Among other things, we had extra solar panels put on the roof and rolled out an internal monitoring system to optimise the various heating systems."

What are the results of these efforts?

"We are aiming for a minimum energy reduction of 30% in each building. Because we can monitor all the buildings remotely, we can also intervene quickly to save even more through further refinement. Over the past 5 years, energy-saving measures have been implemented to the tune of approximately € 30 million. This resulted in a reduction of 10,000 tonnes of CO₂ per year. To compare, this roughly corresponds with the total annual absorption of CO₂ by all the forests and parks in Ghent. Expressed in euros, our customers together save € 3 million on their energy bill."

Impressive figures that can count and certainly interesting for companies. Do you have specific ideas for Ghent companies - large or small - to keep their energy bills as low as possible?

"Call Wattson (Stijn laughs). No, all kidding aside, as a company you can take a number of measures. The first is the simplest: the cheapest energy is ... not using energy. This aspect is often underemphasised and is at least as important as renewable energy. Furthermore, it is also important to gain insight into your energy consumption. This serves as a basis for seeing where there is potential for increasing sustainability. It is also important not to postpone investments afterwards, but to implement them when possible. Preferably also by making the switch to non-fossil fuels. One last thing we must not forget is the change in behaviour. And that is often the most difficult one.

Is it? How do you notice it?

"We notice that energy often plays a role somewhere in companies or organisations. The bill must be paid, of course, but there is no focus on energy saving. In the best case, there is someone who deals with energy, but the world of energy is complex and will only become more so when it comes to standards and installations. Companies often get lost in that area. That is why it is good to cooperate with companies that have energy saving as a core business. For example, IT, cleaning and HR are being outsourced. So why can't another company think about energy?"

Five years ago, you gave it the green light and founded Wattson. Why do you operate from Ghent?

"We all live in or around Ghent, so we were looking for a permanent location in Ghent. We found it in Ghent at the Nieuwe Wandeling, namely the exciting and creative work location Watt The Firms. The start-up culture and the fact that it is a sustainable location make us feel at home here. We also notice that our ambitions are in line with those of the City of Ghent. Both the goal of working towards a climate-neutral city by 2050 and the pursuit of a Technology Capital in Europe make Ghent the ideal place to do business. In any case, a city is a good context in which to innovate because local authorities often go further than our central governments. Ghent is the ideal place to experiment. You also quickly get to know other partners here with whom you can collaborate."

A final question that has been burning on our lips for several minutes: how did you actually come up with the name 'Wattson'?

"(Stijn laughs) Wattson is a reference to Watson, the character in the stories of detective Sherlock Holmes. We liked the reference because we often look in old buildings for all kinds of opportunities to make them more sustainable. Like a real Watson, we analyse the buildings with our magnifying glass in order to make them better. Because we are involved with the unit of power on a daily basis and our company is committed to saving energy, we have made it Wattson, with two t's!

Good luck Stijn with Wattson, with 2 t's!

Up to 10,000 euros subsidies for energy-saving measures

In addition to the offer from Ghent companies such as Wattson, the City of Ghent also offers up to € 10,000 in subsidies for energy-saving measures in buildings intended for business.