Talking About Sustainable EU Buildings: The Construction Products Regulation

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

The ancient story of Babel tells how a shared dream brought people together to build a great new world, with a beautiful city and a monumental tower. Only to find that work was stopped by an inability to communicate. Challenges facing the construction industry today are perhaps not on a biblical scale, but we must make sure that work already done to build a green, sustainable Europe is not lost in a babble of conversations.

Buildings and construction activity in the EU today account for 40% of energy consumed, 36% of greenhouse gases emitted, almost half of raw materials used and more than 40% of solid waste produced. Although plenty of work remains to be done, we already have many of the tools we need to address the climate challenges facing us today.

In this context we have an EU Construction Products Regulation (CPR) that is, and should remain, the foundation of a well-functioning, transparent and competitive internal market as part of a stable, coherent and consistent policy framework.

We need to unleash the potential of the EU construction products industry to fully support the EU’s sustainable growth and climate neutrality objectives. This means listening to each other and developing the best of what is in place.

The EU Green Deal, published at the end of 2019, provides a welcome and ambitious policy framework. But many of its targets and objectives in the fields of climate, energy, health, safety, social progress, inclusiveness, economic recovery and employment will not be achievable without tapping the potential of the EU built environment and the construction sector.

For Eurima, harmonisation through the use of common technical language and performance-communication are, and should remain, the basic principles of the internal market for construction products.

The Commission has said it aims to propose a revision of the CPR before the end of 2021. A European Parliament report this year underlined that EU construction is “a huge catalyst for competitiveness and innovation”, while calling for “flexible, clear and easy-to-implement solutions in order to work towards economic recovery.”

A revision of the CPR should be used to address initiatives that basically challenge the internal market, either in terms of reducing harmonisation or encouraging the inclusion of product information beyond national legal requirements. Such initiatives would lead to unnecessary mushrooming of national labelling and information systems, increasing administrative burdens and the risk of barriers to trade.

The CPR came into force in Europe ten years ago, setting up requirements for the marketing of construction products in all EU countries. According to Eurima, policies and legislation on construction products under this regulation are, and should remain, the solid foundation for further enhancements and adaptations to policy, regulatory and technical progress while remembering the importance of subsidiarity, making it possible for national governments to develop and uphold national building codes in line with the CPR.

As we now consider a review of the CPR, we need to acknowledge that some challenges linked to the system in place can be solved pragmatically, using existing rules and regulations, while some other aspects of the CPR, including sustainability and circular economy requirements, may require a new approach. Above all, we must remember that the CPR does not stand alone. It needs to be part of an overall stable, coherent and consistent policy framework, aligning measures along the construction chain to achieve the EU’s objectives. This means consistency for everyone involved in a building’s lifespan: from the designer to the owner or manager, right on to those handling end-of-life dismantling.

Since the CPR originally came into force, national standardisation agencies from around Europe, working with industry, have agreed shared, standardised ways of assessing the sustainability of construction, as well as of the environmental product declaration of construction products. Therefore, the CPR will help to further develop the circular economy in construction, by providing the information needed for all actors and contributing to recycling and improved waste management, reducing the overall environmental footprint of construction products and of buildings.

If the EU stands ready to build a green, digital, competitive clean economy, bringing Europeans together after the fragmentation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, sustainable construction must be part of that new world.

The EU Green Deal states that a review of the Construction Products Regulation (CPR) “should ensure that the design of new and renovated buildings at all stages is in line with the needs of the circular economy, and lead to increased digitalisation and climate-proofing of the building stock.”

Eurima, as the European Mineral Wool Manufacturers Association, believes the Green Deal and the European Parliament report help to set out challenges ahead. They also reveal the construction sector’s appetite for clear rules to enhance the internal market for construction products and support sustainability.

It is time to learn lessons from the past and build a future-proof policy framework for construction. To develop the sustainable buildings and construction products rules Europe needs, we must look at what has already been done. And we must talk to each other.

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