EU green buildings debate moves beyond energy efficiency

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Green housing campaigners are excited by a new sustainable buildings debate the EU has kick-started, which aims to move certification schemes beyond the energy efficiency paradigm.

On 10 July, the Commission launched a public consultation on the lifecycle impact of buildings, in advance of a communication which is expected at the beginning of 2014.

Buildings are responsible for some 40% of energy use in Europe and a less wasteful approach to their power consumption is at the heart of EU plans for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

But including other aspects of buildings’ environmental performance such as water efficiency and resource use in certification schemes was “certainly something that the Commission is looking at,” said James Drinkwater, a senior policy advisor at the World Green Building Council (WGBC). 

“We are pretty excited that the Commission is looking beyond energy efficiency now as it would be a huge missed opportunity if buildings were just regulated from an energy efficiency perspective,” he told EurActiv.

Pavel Misiga, a head of unit at the Commission’s environment department, announced in late June that the communication would focus on resource use in a broader sense – to look at embodied energy in buildings, water usage, construction materials and waste.

>> Read: A wider view: Shifting paradigms in the buildings sector

An EU background document explained: “Given that energy efficiency of buildings in the use stage is already addressed by existing policies, the focus of this initiative will be on resources such as materials (including waste), water and embedded energy.”

Along the chain of a building’s life, the use of durable and well-sourced materials can have a major effect on its carbon footprint.

So can the proximity of buildings to public transport, and cycling amenities, although industrial buildings and infrastructure will fall outside of the consultation’s remit.

The consultation will cover ground ranging from the extraction of building materials to the demolition and recycling of materials at the end of a property’s lifecycle.

Its results could in turn form the basis of new energy performance certification schemes for buildings in the future.

“We should be looking to a lifecycle performance standard and regulating with a point-scoring system for different areas of building performance,” Drinkwater said.

He added that enhanced green building sector procurement rules would be “absolutely key” as local authorities were preoccupied with upfront costs which often deterred environmentally-friendly building practices.

The Commission’s consultation will look at the currently weak markets for waste management, low consumer awareness of resource-efficient buildings, and the ways in which financial and non-financial incentives might change this.

Timeline: 
  • Start of 2014: EU communication on sustainable buildings expected
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