French MP: ‘We try to bring method to the madness of building renovation’

Marjolaine Meynier-Millefert [Photo: Simon Pugh]

This article is part of our special report Buildings and the forgotten 90%.

The Yellow Vest movement has actually boosted France’s ambition to be a building renovation champion as it positioned the economy front and centre in the debate, the government’s ‘co-pilot’ for the project told EURACTIV.

Marjolaine Meynier-Millefert is a member of French Parliament with La République En Marche! She represents the French National Assembly to the Higher Council for Building and Energy Efficiency.

She spoke to EURACTIV’s Sam Morgan.

Do you spend a lot of time in Brussels?

I try to go as much as possible and I’m trying to go more and more, as I’m absolutely convinced that every European country has already experimented and tried things that will save us time in what we’re doing. We’re all trying to reinvent things that have already been done elsewhere. If something works, we can find out why, but also if something doesn’t work, that is knowledge that can be shared.

France is a very diverse country in terms of geography, climate, economic situation and so on. Does that make it an ideal testing ground and a leader for renovations in that case?

It’s true that we have all sorts of problems ourselves. Renovating in the mountains is very different to urban and seaside renovations. All sorts of factors you would not have expected and plenty to experiment on. Actually, maybe we are experimenting too much because so many schemes are being tested and it is so difficult to share information. Setting up a comprehensive database that can be used and reproduced is proving to be complex.

Communication seems to be a problem. Do platforms and instruments like the European Energy Poverty Observatory provide a potential model?

I don’t think we need yet another new instrument, maybe we’ve got enough being created every year. I rather think it is a matter of how we think out our projects and integrating this issue into the things that simply have to be done. Launching an experiment, reflecting on the results of the experiment and then coming up with conclusions on it, is a process that is not in the culture of innovation yet.

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Do people have to realise then that it’s more a matter of getting things right than being the first to do it?

No actually, we don’t have to get it right. In innovation, there is not a 100% safe place where you’re sure you’re going to get it right the first time. Mostly, you don’t and it’s a matter of ‘try, try, try again’.

My favourite saying is: “success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. The secret to success, in this case, is making sure the reasons we don’t get something right are understood and shared. In France, we’ve got this culture of succeeding though, so it’s difficult for us to admit failure. It’s ok in this case at least.

You’ve suggested making renovation roadmaps free to those who need them. How developed is that idea?

It’s something we voted on in the last energy and climate law in the summer. We tried to bring method to the madness of renovation and the planning is looking all the way up to 2028. We implemented a series of measures that are going to be increasingly demanding up to that point.

The first thing is making the tools we use to measure more efficient. Take the building label as an example, with its A-G rating. So far, it has not been reliable and that will be done by 2021. From that point on, the worst-performing buildings will have to be removed. By 2028, there will be consequences if you haven’t done something about it.

We will determine and explain soon what those consequences will be, because we want to be able to discuss it with citizens, as part of the ongoing social debate we’re having in France. That way, we can aim to get public acceptance for this measure.

There are climate protests on a regular basis across the world, yet the impact of buildings in terms of energy consumption and emissions remains under the radar. Why is that?

It’s true, lots of people don’t really know so we have to push that knowledge further. But more and more do know, I would say.

Things are changing and fast. The Yellow Vests really helped us out there because it was such a crisis that it forced everyone to stop and look. Everyone then realised and agreed that the most efficient way to fight fuel poverty and do something for the environment is housing renovation. But we need more ambassadors.

Is there anything else that can increase awareness more quickly?

Well, at first we were telling people that you need to renovate your homes because it is good for the climate. Maybe 20% of people involved went for that, the others simply weren’t interested.

But then we switched over to ‘renovate your homes and you will save money’, because of increasing energy prices and so on. There is also the comfort aspect, which doesn’t just mean a nice couch or whatever, it’s about being healthy in the home you live in, at the right temperature.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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