EUROPE - Sustainable real estate issues play "a minor role" in site selection for companies setting up a new operation, according to Rene Buck, chief executive and founder of Netherlands-based Buck Consultants.

"Other issues, such as the ability to source the right people and location in the right jurisdiction for customs purposes are more important," he said.

Speaking at the recent Green Building Finance and Investments conference in Maastricht, Buck also said that, in most companies, there is a gap between the thinking of the chief executive and the reality of the corporate real estate executive's task.

"The CEO may be very enthusiastic about greening the business and see this as a way to promote the company, while the responsibility of the corporate real estate executive is to lease buildings and focus on budgets, costs and the bottom line," he said.

Buck said the main focus of these companies in terms of the sustainability of their buildings was on energy savings, as opposed to issues such as proximity to public transportation and how they might green the mobility of their employees, "so it is clear their focus should be broadened".

He added: "Green buildings and greening the business is not hype anymore - we see excellent examples of how to do it in practice.

"But the reality is harsh - certainly, in the last couple of years. Having green buildings, investing in green buildings and being prepared to pay a small premium for more energy efficient buildings is still not common sense for many companies," he said.

Fellow panellist Frank ten Have, real estate partner at Deloitte, said: "There is more awareness on the side of the occupiers than on the side of the owners. In Amsterdam, a lot of office buildings are empty at the moment because a lot of investors and owners are not prepared to take their losses, so they don't have the ambition and the willingness to invest in making their offices greener."

In reply to this, Buck said: "That is vacancy - retrofitting the building doesn't mean you will have to lower the book value."

Ten Have said: "The owners are waiting for the market to recover and the vacancy level to fall. And as long as they are not convinced that is not going to happen within a short period of time, they will not make that investment in retrofitting that building."

Buck also suggested the willingness of corporate end users to pay a premium for a sustainable building in the short term was "very low during the recession".

Nils Kok of Maastricht University responded to this statement by citing a research study he had carried out in the Netherlands showing that, from the start of 2008, energy-inefficient buildings that are not sustainable "really start to underperform".

Buck replied: "The difference is whether you take the owner/investor perspective or the corporate end user perspective. I agree with the studies that show that, from an investor/owner perspective, it is worthwhile to invest in green buildings, but in the short term, the corporate end user is not willing to pay extra for that."

Kok said: "I no longer believe in a premium for green buildings - it's more about a discount for buildings that don't live up to expectations. Green is a quality standard.  We should now approach the topic more from a risk perspective where we say there is a preference for certain buildings because of their certification, or if they are not certified because they are more sustainable, and that is reflected ultimately in the rent."

Buck said: "That is true for what is being added to the building stock - it may be interesting to make the investment in greening the building up front. The question is whether you can apply that to existing buildings - the majority of the building stock.

"The buildings of national and regional government and all buildings of all well known institutional investors who have codes to say it is important to have sustainable buildings in the portfolio account for 22% of total office stock in Holland. What do you do about the other 78%? That is the question we need to ask."