The road to greener and smarter cities is paved with copper

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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The EU Green Week—the biggest European conference on environment policy taking place this week under the theme ‘Greener Cities for a Greener Europe’—offers a perfect opportunity to reflect on how cities can become more sustainable, smart and resilient. And on the role copper plays in all this.

Why do cities matter?

Cities are expanding at an unprecedented rate, with almost 80 percent of EU citizens now living in cities. However, rapid urbanisation comes with a range of sustainability challenges, from rapid resource consumption and overuse to growing waste and pollution. When it comes to climate change, cities are responsible for 70-80 percent of total EU energy consumption and for about the same share of CO2 emissions – half of it driven by buildings alone.

That is a huge challenge. However, as centres of economic growth, job creation and innovation, cities can be – and are – an integral part of the solution. Over the last years, we have seen mayors stepping up as leaders in pioneering the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable future, driving change and commitment at a faster pace than national governments have been able to.

With increased investment in the right infrastructure, from connected thermal and electric grids to thermal and electric storage, electric transportation to smart lights and durable water supply systems, many cities and urban areas are now well on their way to becoming more sustainable and resilient against emerging socioeconomic and environmental pressures.

What is the EU doing?

However, the transition to greener and smarter cities will not happen overnight and requires the right legal framework in place to drive it forward, and to ensure everyone boards the sustainability train, not just the first-movers.

Thankfully, cities are not alone in addressing climate, energy and environmental issues. In the last years, the European Commission has been increasing its focus on the urban agenda, with dedicated EU funding, support to city partnerships, capacity building and experience-sharing programmes, and initiatives like the European Green Capital Award and the EU Green Week.

Most recently, EU legislators have been trying to tackle the issue of the environmental footprint of buildings with a revised European Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD). It will e.g. require all new buildings to be nearly zero-emission buildings by 31 December 2020 (public buildings by end of 2018) and mandate the installation of electromobility infrastructure in new non-residential buildings and in those undergoing substantial renovation.

With these new initiatives, the EU is moving in the right direction and sending a strong signal to citizens, investors and governments that the time to act is now. There is much more to be done, however, and copper is key to these efforts.

The choice of materials

As a durable and sustainable metal with a long service life, copper plays a crucial role in the wiring, plumbing, heating and cooling, lighting and roofing of buildings. In fact, a recent report by the International Copper Association showed that there are more than 100 copper applications contributing to green and healthy building construction and improving the overall environmental performance of buildings.

It is also a key component in many low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles, solar thermal, photovoltaics, HVAC using natural refrigerants and smart grids. As such, copper is key to improving energy efficiency, indoor air quality, water quality, and life-cycle costs.

Add to that the fact that many copper-containing building products have a high proportion of recycled content, often exceeding 80%, and it is clear that copper is one of the key sustainable building materials with which we should build Europe’s greener and smarter cities.

Choosing the right materials and developing the right technologies will enable us to build and operate greener, more sustainable cities for the future. Not only will these solutions benefit the environment and enhance efficiency, they will also make our cities healthier, happier places to live. The copper industry is committed to being a part of this transformation, whilst also mitigating our own impact on the environment as much as possible.



About ECI

The European Copper Institute (ECI)—founded in 1996 and based in Brussels—coordinates a team of 38 professionals based in 10 offices across Europe, and works closely with its copper industry members on regulatory matters and market development programs. ECI is part of the Copper Alliance, which brings together the global copper industry to develop and defend markets for copper, and to make a positive contribution to society’s sustainable development goals. Read more about ECI on

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