“I want to leave a POSITIVE MARK on society”
Have you ever thought about a healthy indoor environment in buildings? How you live and work, in your company or at home?
The interview with Jan Řežáb, founder of the JRD concern, took place in the company’s modern premises in Vinohrady, Prague. The Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in more frequent work from home or even forced stays in quarantine, drew attention to, among other things, the importance of the quality of the environment which directly surrounds us.
By founding the company, Jan Řežáb fulfilled his student dream of establishing the field of environmentally-friendly and cost-effective ecological buildings in the Czech Republic. He adds: “Today, we’re the market leader and the powerhouse of the entire field. We’re proud of it, and we really enjoy what we do.“ Healthy self-confidence, presentation of specific results, focus on the team and leading by example – Jan Řežáb’s story embodies all of these. Jan Řežáb is a member of the Scientific Board of UCEEB, or the University Centre of Energy-Efficient Buildings. During this interview, I made use of not only my passion for writing, but also the experience I gained while working in the Council for Commercialisation at Charles University, and evaluating the Technological Agency’s projects, where a complex project from a completely different field must be conceived in a short time. After all, plasma gasification technology and waste processing are beyond my humanities education. But you’ll definitely hear about this project again in the future. If you want to learn about the latest trends in the areas of housing and waste processing, and especially about the interesting life journey of Jan Řežáb, fervent environmentalist, read on.
The JRD concern consists of dozens of companies in several divisions. JRD Development deals with healthy and cost-effective housing. By the way, JRD Development also includes a forest kindergarten. However, this kindergarten does not serve employees’ children, and you’ll find it in Vlašim rather than in Prague. Healthy plants and trees are grown there and are then used in development projects.
JRD Energo invests in and operates wind and photovoltaic power plant parks. Another company is engaged in land development, i.e. the consolidation of smaller units and their subsequent development, so that they are suitable for construction and further investment. And, as is often the case with successful companies, it also includes its own startup, Millenium Technologies. The project uses plasma gasification technology, where matter disintegrates at extremely high temperatures. This process can be used to convert any waste into biogas and slag, which has better parameters than glass.
How did the story of the entire JRD group actually begin?
The film Havel recently came to the cinemas. When I was young, I set as my motto that I want to leave a positive mark on society. Later, I found out that Václav Havel proclaimed the same motto. From the end of adolescence, when I began to be interested in the issue of ecology in the construction industry, till the completion of my studies at the Czech Technical University in Prague, I gradually discovered that information about low-energy or passive housing is completely missing. In the mid 1990s, these were actually only terms, without context or content. I had the good fortune to meet Dan Morávek, son of Petr Morávek, founder of the family company Atrea; that’s when I met with the pioneers of a new approach to cost-effective construction and heat recovery. At that point, I began studying foreign literature, and literally dug new processes out of the ground. No employer wanted to implement my ideas at the time; they always deleted my suggestions at the end of the project. I realised that I could only have an impact if I’m the best in the given field, while at the same time becoming a large enough player to influence the market. I lived for recycling even at university. On my way home from the student dormitories in Prague to Plzeň on weekends, I carried a backpack half full of rubbish for recycling. Rubbish wasn’t yet being sorted in Prague at that time, whereas in Plzeň we already had containers in front of our house. The whole time I was at university, I scrupulously saved the aluminium foil from chocolate bars. Finally, I brought two big bags of it to the raw material collection point; when I handed them to the caretaker, he immediately threw them on a heap with other mixed waste.
What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on it? It liquidated some companies, while it literally gave others wings.
Given how quickly events are changing, it’s difficult to make an overall evaluation. In all parts of the JRD group, we managed to fulfil the saying “Fortune favours the prepared mind.” For the last two years, we prepared for the arrival of some slight cooling of the economy. We create our own models, and we expected the slowdown to happen this summer. We therefore tried to strengthen our position as much as possible, so as to get through another year and a half, even within the scope of crisis scenarios. Our preparedness helped us to the extent that we haven’t yet felt the impact of the crisis. As for development, in the first half of the year we realised the same turnover as in all of last year; i.e. we sold over one billion CZK worth of houses and apartments. Respect and recognition is due to the entire team, which works excellently. We can therefore focus on further development and acquisitions. Coincidentally, we launched our largest healthy housing awareness campaign in March.
If anyone missed your campaign, with its four key animals in the form of a deer, bear, lynx and horned owl, what should they imagine under the term healthy housing?
A healthy indoor environment has a stable temperature and humidity, ideally natural lighting or full-spectrum artificial lighting, silence, and sufficient fresh air without dust, pollen and toxic substances. In such an environment, users do not suffer from so-called sick building syndrome, which includes both health and mental problems. According to the latest studies, as much as 85 percent of the world’s population living in buildings encounters these syndromes. With our campaign, we strive to spread awareness of not only a healthy indoor environment, but also sustainable construction. During construction, we use modern technologies and natural materials, which contribute to the creation of a comfortable microclimate. We even develop many technologies ourselves, so that we can always offer the best solution.
Many readers must be interested in an expert’s view of real estate investment. Do you recommend buying an apartment now, or waiting to see if prices will fall further?
Our Analytical Department monitors the longterm development of the real estate market, both in the Czech Republic and worldwide. Historically, apartment prices have been rising by an average of over five percent per annum, which also applies for standard building plots. Therefore, I would not expect prices to fall. Moreover, in Prague, new constructions are frequently reduced in size due to lengthy construction proceedings, so demand continues to drive price increases. Not even the pandemic stopped price growth, although it may have slowed it down slightly. Prices throughout the real estate market are constantly rising, which is why I still regard properties as very advantageous investments. A slowdown in price growth could occur in a few months’ time, when a new building law, which could accelerate the issuance of building permits and thereby enable better market saturation, is expected to be passed.
Now we’ll move from real estate to your startup, Millenium Technologies, and innovations themselves.
Innovations have long been a principal theme for us, and they truly permeate the entire group. In development, we currently offer new floor compositions, and we’re improving individual elements such as energy efficiency and ventilation. We developed a new client change configurator. Just like when you order a car, you can use the application to choose various materials and colours, which are then all displayed in a drawing. We also have a community application for individual houses, which interconnects not only owners and users, but also service providers in the specific locality. As regards renewable energy sources, where we are also active, we strive for the construction of modern energy sources and their efficient operation. And, finally, the aforementioned startup, Millenium Technologies – in my view, it represents the “next big thing” – a solution which could affect the entire world, and which is already transforming from a startup into a fully commercial company.
The essence is plasma gasification, which uses high plasma temperatures to disintegrate any substance. The organic part of waste can therefore be converted into an energyand materialrich synthesis gas, with the rest ending up as harmless inert slag. Even that can be utilised, but the main product is the synthesis gas, which can subsequently be used to produce energy or heat, or which can be used materially, for example to produce hydrogen or other chemical products. We currently have a completed mobile unit which is transportable in six shipping containers, and which can be used to process hazardous waste directly at the point where it is generated. The last prototype tests are now taking place, and we want to begin manufacturing the units by the end of the year.
However, the main direction of our research relates to sewage sludge and non-recyclable plastics.
These solutions really have the ability to change the world and rewrite the word waste as raw material in our thinking, and we’re very close to it.
While we’re on the subject of innovations, how do you perceive the business environment in the Czech Republic?
I still believe that the entrepreneurial spirit of the First Republic is alive in our country. My grandmother came from a family of large-scale butchers, and her stories have accompanied me since childhood. I’m glad that the Communists failed to eradicate this spirit. The Czechs are said to be creative and skilful. Maybe too much for conservative nations. I hope that we will preserve the positive aspects, and move closer to Israel and its high-added-value startups. I don’t see this trend in Europe.
What would you like to say in conclusion?
I’ll repeat what I shared with my employees. Please, let’s act as if there is no crisis. We don’t have to deny it, but neither should we create it by our behaviour. Let’s work like we worked before, and invest how we invested before. In this way, we will actively fight against crisis manifestations, which are often produced by psychological pressure from the media, and exaggeration of some facts which under normal circumstances we would not even notice. As individuals, communities and companies, we will best benefit our surroundings and the entire country by behaving normally.