Paris La Défense: first post-carbon business district

November 15, 2021 8mn
Paris La Défense is embarking on a new phase of its more than 60-year history as Europe’s premier business district, charting a new strategic course defined by a Raison d’être

Our societies’ transition to a post-petroleum world stands out as one of the main challenges of the coming decades. A fundamental question, particularly in urban areas, this issue is already impacting all sectors of the economy. Climate change is modifying the way we think about and plan cities, while opening up vast considerations on their ability to facilitate new ways of living, shopping, working and moving that are compatible with a post-carbon world.

Paris La Défense is embarking on a new phase of its more than 60-year history as Europe’s premier business district, charting a new strategic course defined by a Raison d’être*. Climate issues and the Covid-19 health crisis have intensified debate around a long-established development paradigm grounded in densification and single-use infrastructure. At a time when replicating the mechanisms of the past carries an ever-more tangible risk of ecological, social and financial deadlock, Paris La Défense is committed to innovative experimentation, facilitating new ways of living, working and designing urban spaces, with the ultimate goal of becoming the first post-carbon global business district.

An estimation of the carbon footprint of local activities highlights the importance of climate issues for a player like Paris La Défense. Emissions are equivalent to those of a regional capital, despite a residential population of only about 40,000 inhabitants. One-third of the carbon footprint is directly linked to construction work, with the operation of the buildings alone accounting for 15%, etc. These various factors demonstrate the urgent need to address the issue of bioclimatic building design, but also the question of lifestyles (travel, procurement, food, etc.) if we are to gradually overcome the worldwide dependence on fossil fuels.

With this Raison d’être, the public body seeks to embody a vision of a carbon-free future, reflected first and foremost in a cross-cutting commitment to halving the district’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030, thus anticipating and outperforming the nationwide goal of a 40% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030.

Four priorities and 10 objectives to implement the commitments adopted by Paris La Défense

– Priority 1: building in a post-carbon world –

The first pillar of this commitment concerns construction-renovation activities, as well as the body’s public development undertakings, by addressing issues related to project ownership and relations with investors in the local real estate sector.

1) A call for innovative urban projects, focused on carrying out exemplary real estate operations in terms of environmental footprint, will be launched in 2022.

The aim will be to organize the design and implementation of projects embodying the values that Paris La Défense intends to promote in this new phase of its development – exemplary social and environmental impact, programmatic and technical innovation, and quality of urban integration – on a selection of lots controlled in large part by the public developer.

A call for applications will be launched in the first half of 2022 in conjunction with the municipalities concerned.

2) Eco-conditionality criteria will now systematically be applied when processing applications for urban planning permits, as well as for property sales carried out by Paris La Défense.

For the first time in the district’s history, the public development body has decided to encourage or penalize real estate projects carried out throughout the area according to their social and environmental impact.

The criteria that will now be systematically assessed include favoring  redevelopment rather than demolition-reconstruction operations, use of bio-sourced materials, low energy consumption and pursuit of functional diversity.

3) The first low-carbon construction projects in Paris La Défense will be launched in 2022.

With a firm reliance on technological and environmental breakthroughs, Paris La Défense and local real estate operators will bring forth ambitious new initiatives that exemplify the business district’s renewed commitment to stand out as a center of innovation and experimentation, facilitating the transition for all stakeholders in the real estate and urban ecosystem.

In particular, Paris La Défense plans to rise to the challenge of hosting France’s first wooden high-rise office building.

– Priority 2: living together in a post-carbon world –

The second pillar addresses the themes of multi-use spaces, quality of life, food and mobility in the district, leading to profound changes in activities, lifestyles, and interrelations within the site.

4) The public body’s infrastructure investment plan for the business district will be updated and, if necessary, refocused to reflect its environmental ambitions.

In 2022, Paris La Défense will inaugurate the first section of the new Place de La Défense, a central public square in the business district, newly modernized and planted with greenery. The public body will also unveil the project to create France’s largest urban park established atop a pedestrian platform (17 acres), on Esplanade de La Défense. Jardin des Rails, a future landscaped area intended to shape the Les Groues neighborhood, will soon be launched, along with the project to reserve the covered walkways of La Défense to pedestrians and eco-friendly modes of transportation.

Together, these projects will form the framework of a new “nature in the city” strategy for the district, designed with a focus on preserving biodiversity, reducing heat islands and enhancing ecosystemic interactions between humans, uses and urban development.

The projects making up the €360 million investment plan to be implemented by Paris La Défense between 2018 and 2027 will also be reassessed and updated, with due regard for security requirements.

Finally, a gradual plan to transform unneeded parking lots will be launched in 2022, with the freed-up areas serving in particular as local urban logistics hubs.

5) The business district’s openness to eco-friendly mobility will be reinforced as a permanent feature.

In 2022, the public body, in conjunction with the Département of Hauts-de-Seine, will carry out sustainability work on the bicycle infrastructure installed in Paris La Défense over the past 18 months. These paths will be supplemented to ensure comprehensive coverage of the area. Meanwhile, a project for the gradual redevelopment of the La Défense Ring Road and the riverbanks will be examined with a view to making them peaceful urban thoroughfares, accessible to all uses and all modes of transportation.

Installation of additional equipment to facilitate eco-friendly mobility will be accelerated: bicycle parking facilities, electric vehicle charging stations, etc.

Finally, the public body has already launched construction of facilities designed to enable local residents and employees to take full advantage of the new travel opportunities offered by the arrival of the RER E in La Défense and Nanterre.

6) Employees and local residents will also enjoy everyday “green” services.

Events and activities organized by the public body will comply with environmental neutrality requirements: no single-use dishes, use of recycled materials, awareness campaigns about environmental issues, etc.

In addition, the body will implement an incentive-based approach to encourage all local businesses and property managers to engage in responsible everyday practices: reduction of food waste, scheduling to avoid rush-hour congestion, promotion of high social impact initiatives in Paris La Défense (Maison de l’Amitié, Association du site de la Défense, “La Salle à Manger” community-oriented restaurant, etc.).

– Priority 3: involving the stakeholder community in the post-carbon movement

7) In 2022, Paris La Défense will organize the first General Assembly for Skyscraper Transformation.

The entire community of real estate investors and operators working in Paris La Défense will be invited to exchange points of view and propose new ideas for energy-saving refurbishments, improved functions and changing uses for high-rise buildings.

The initiative will focus on identifying technical and regulatory developments, as well as new partnership profiles between the public developer and operators, making it possible at long last to fully address this complex but crucial subject, moving from rhetoric to reality and enabling Paris La Défense to set an example well beyond its borders.

8) Paris La Défense will implement a policy of healthy competition in environmental matters encompassing all assets and real estate projects in the district.

The initial measures introduced in recent months, such as the first CUBE energy savings competition among buildings in La Défense, will be replicated and expanded.

Other partnership and research-action mechanisms, in fields such as construction material recycling, will be implemented as of 2022.

Finally, the public body will comprehensively overhaul the environmental and social inclusion criteria applicable to construction- and service-based public contracts, thereby encouraging service providers to do their part in the collective effort surrounding the ecological transition.

9) The public body’s real estate activity will be refocused around social and environmental impact objectives.

The real estate operations developed by Paris La Défense itself, particularly through its real estate subsidiary, as well as occupancy of its land and property assets, will henceforth be guided by social and environmental criteria.

For example, priority will be granted to projects involving players in the social or circular economy, activities that contribute to social inclusion and local jobs, as well as young companies looking to set down roots and grow in Paris La Défense.

– Priority 4: collective responsibility and participation –

Implementing these three pillars is a cross-cutting process that will require greater participation and mobilization of all district actors.

10) In the coming months, Paris La Défense will launch the “Paris La Défense can B” program to encourage companies to join the B Corp movement.

In its relations with local stakeholders, the public body will organize several events to spur momentum around the B Corp movement and social-impact companies, including presentation of the movement, training sessions, etc.

Companies in the business district will be invited engage in training and self-assessment initiatives based on a simplified reference framework inspired by B Corp certification, which is open to all businesses. The public body will offer support to companies that choose to pursue certification, thus embodying the progress of social-impact companies in the business district and helping Paris La Défense achieve its climate goals.

Naturally, the public body itself will adhere to these principles, and plans to acquire as of 2022 the tools necessary to monitor and certify its social and environmental performance.

These 10 objectives will be incorporated into a charter that all Paris La Défense stakeholders, both public and private, will be invited to sign.

Georges Siffredi, President of Paris La Défense and of the Council of the Hauts-de-Seine said: ” To address the climate emergency, we must build a new model of attractiveness and competitiveness that takes account of environmental issues in all our areas of activity. Asserting our determination to make Paris La Défense the first post-carbon business district means reaffirming our commitment to exemplary and innovative action, when it comes to construction of course – through a profound change in building processes and use of bio-sourced materials –, but also with regard to the local environment and quality of life – through an ambitious ecological transition championing nature in the city, ecological mobility and functional diversity – and in the decisive sphere of uses and behaviors, by mobilizing companies, employees and residents around what could be called ‘eco-responsibility.’ These are not mere words or declarations of intent: we are setting extremely ambitious goals that give us, together with all players in La Défense, great freedom of action, innovation and audacity.”  

* In France, the PACTE law, enacted on May 22, 2019, enshrines a movement instituted by social economy players and companies pioneering sustainable development: it requires all companies to “take into consideration the social and environmental impact of their activities,” and encourages the most proactive firms to examine their “raison d’être,” i.e. the foundation of their existence, and to include in their articles of association the purpose underpinning their contribution to society, together with social and environmental objectives, as well as responsible governance.

This regulation reflects the desire to change social norms and bring about a positive, large-scale transformation of business models. Indeed, as the world deals with a threefold crisis – climate, health and economic – heads of public and private organizations alike are invited to describe, through their raison d’être, how they intend to proactively transform their model and activities with a view to encouraging a beneficial transformation of the economy and society as a whole.