Borncamp: Romanian green building market growing fast

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The green building market in Romania is growing fast and investors and developers are beginning to see the value of sustainable construction, Steven Borncamp, CEO of the Romania Green Building Council (RoGBC), told EURACTIV Romania in an interview.

Steven Borncamp is president of the board and CEO at the RoGBC.

He was speaking to EURACTIV Romania's Camelia Moga.

More than a year has passed since the RoGBC's official launch in Bucharest. What has the association actually managed to do so far for the green building market in Romania? Can you provide examples of projects involving the RoGBC – legislative, educational or related to construction works – that have been concluded or are under development?

We have organised or presented at over fifty events since we launched the RoGBC, mainly in Bucharest but also in Cluj, Constanta, Arad and Brasov. These included short presentations, intense training workshops and fun events, watching and discussing movies on green architecture – all helping to build awareness and develop capabilities. We will also launch a 'Romania Green Building Professional' certificate to assure that people on a project are familiar with the relevant issues.

We have made significant progress in making national and local authorities aware of the opportunities for green buildings and involving the construction and real estate industries in the promotion of green legislation. We have also initiated building projects that include a sample office building, a 'Green Building Innovation Centre' and a green renovation of existing office space. In addition, our member companies have been active – for example, a DIY retailer has opened a store in Ploiesti with natural day lighting, geothermal heating and intelligent systems to manage the building's energy use.

Moreover, a number of manufacturing facilities belonging to leading companies are being developed to become leading global examples. These stories are happening more and more.

Despite the current economic and financial crisis, is there a change or improvement in business behaviour in terms of 'green' buildings, among both developers in the sector and citizens themselves? What are the expectations of Romanian consumers in this regard?

Absolutely. Two years ago, there was very little awareness or interest among Romanian real estate developers about green buildings. Today, investors are more selective and developers know that the green certificate adds value to their property. The majority of large project developers are now inquiring to us about the necessary steps for certification – what are the necessary steps to receive the energy audit, what are the practical steps for making sustainable buildings, etc.

We also held a well-attended workshop entitled 'The Valuation of Green Buildings' which, in line with a recurring theme in many of our trainings and presentations, describes the business case for building green. In addition, some of our work with hotels and other projects provided payback periods for green solutions that lasted less than two years.

You said in a short interview with EURACTIV.ro last year that the green building market would not be affected by the economic crisis. What is the real situation now? To what extent is the Romanian market prepared for investments in green buildings?

I believe now, as I did then, that those who deliver green building projects and solutions will do better in the crisis because they tend to have a strategic, longer-term approach that can help them through challenging times. We had a levelling-off in member acquisition last summer but are now adding members from new sectors as interest in the subject grows.

The market is also far better prepared than five years ago, when we struggled even to find simple items for a green office renovation. We have seventy-five member companies and many others in Romania who can deliver the expertise, materials and technology necessary to build better, more energy-efficient homes. The leaders of our member companies are optimistic for the future, as only innovative companies dedicated to quality will be able to adjust to and deliver new building quality and energy standards.

What methods that are proven successes in other European countries have you considered applying in Romania to promote green buildings? According to your information, how does the green building market in other Central and Eastern European countries compare to that in Romania – are they more open to change, cooperation, etc?

Providing information and incentives has worked well in other countries around the world and we are incorporating both here. Investors and tenants want internationally-recognised, third-party verification that a building is truly green and we are helping them obtain these certificates.

Romania could be a pleasant surprise in terms of green buildings as there is a lot of interest and a strong business case for them: it just needs to be communicated better. The green building market in Central and Eastern Europe is growing very rapidly – albeit from low levels in the past.  

Stronger EU legislation, worries about energy security and a growing concern among citizens about the real environmental and societal costs of substandard construction projects are all leading to interest in the subject.

Also, we have had an energy crisis as well as a credit crisis: oil rose to $140 per barrel and is still now $80 dollars per barrel, despite the painful financial crisis. I think that people now understand the message that the energy costs of a long-term asset such as a building really matter.

What is the current level of interest among investors in green buildings, considering that the energy certificate for buildings may become compulsory in March 2010? What are the potential advantages and obstacles in the construction market in Romania if a law on compulsory energy certificates for buildings is adopted?

Romania has been required to enforce the Energy Performance for Buildings Directive (EBPD), requiring energy audits, since January 2007 for new construction. The country will be asked to enforce the requirement of energy certificates for existing buildings from 2011. Steps are being taken by the government and energy auditors' association to train auditors, but levels of implementation vary at local level.

We tell every real estate investor who is prepared to listen that it is the building owner's obligation to obtain an energy audit and that the investors are taking a risk if they do not have the proper paperwork and do not understand the basic performance of the building. There is also a very close correlation between building quality and energy performance, which is further assurance for the investor.

I think the situation in Romania is the same as in many places. If a developer is a professional company, he or she will comply with the law. Less professional companies will do what they can to avoid an energy audit but they will not be attractive for professional investors.

It is definitely a key objective of the RoGBC to ensure that adequate support is available for full implementation of the EPBD and to prepare for the more stringent version that was recently adopted. This will really help investors and building occupiers understand the real performance and expected costs of the buildings they are buying and renting.

How open are the Romanian authorities to cooperation on promoting and supporting the green building industry? What do you think should be improved in your relationship with the authorities?

The Romanian authorities are open to the subject and are taking steps in the right direction. I think we have to be honest and realise that it is often business interests that bring resistance to good legislation and enforcement. I believe our organisation's role is to help the business community understand the many benefits of green buildings and persuade them to support the creation of better national legislation for green buildings.

We have been very strong advocates of a Romanian 'Green Stimulus' programme aimed at rescuing the economy while creating innovative, healthy and beneficial business opportunities for our country. We presented our recommendations in tandem with WWF Romania but, unfortunately, this was just before the government disbanded in September, which created obvious difficulties. However, we still strongly believe that this is the best solution for Romania, as for the rest of the world.

Why do we need green buildings and why do you say that radical change is needed in the market?

We need green buildings because we cannot limit people's aspiration to live better lives, and simply do not have the resources to deliver building and housing solutions that are wasteful and damaging to the planet.

People may have widely differing opinions on climate change, but I think that everyone understands what nine to 11 billion people on the planet in the coming decades and the rapid industrialisation of many countries means for the availability and prices of scarce resources.

I am convinced that we do not need to spend more money for a radical transformation towards sustainable construction. Rather, we need to think much more about how we do things.

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