Green buildings


This article is part of our special report Industrial revival.

Buildings account for over 40% of the EU's final energy demand and are a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions, making energy-savings there a key element of the European climate change strategy.

EU efforts to reduce energy consumption in the building sector began in earnest with the 1993 'SAVE' Directive on limiting CO2 emissions through improved energy efficiency, which required member states to implement and report on energy efficiency programs in the building sector. The SAVE Directive, which was replaced in 2006 by a directive on energy end-use efficiency and energy services, addressed the building sector as one part of overall energy saving efforts (see related LinksDossier).

The 2002 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) covers both residential and non-residential buildings and is considered an "additional instrument" to SAVE, "proposing concrete action to fill any existing gaps." The EPBD, which came into effect in January 2006, provides a common methodology for calculating the energy performance of buildings and for creating minimum standards of energy performance in individual member states. The directive applies to new buildings and to existing buildings subject to major renovations. 

In an effort to promote awareness and energy efficiency improvements, member states must ensure that "energy performance certificates are made available when buildings are constructed, sold or rented out." In public buildings larger than 1000 square meters, these certificates must be clearly displayed in the main entrance.

  • Positioning the EPBD

The EPBD is part of overall EU efforts to tackle climate change. The Presidency Conclusions of the March 8/9 2007 European Council state that energy savings from buildings, in addition to other measures, will help "curb the projected rise in energy prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the EU's ambitions for the period beyond 2012."

  • Positioning the EPBD

The EPBD is part of overall EU efforts to tackle climate change. The Presidency Conclusions of the March 8/9 2007 European Council state that energy savings from buildings, in addition to other measures, will help "curb the projected rise in energy prices and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the EU's ambitions for the period beyond 2012."

The Commission estimates that proper implementation of the EPBD will permit a savings of 40 megatons of oil by 2020, equivalent to an 11% reduction in final EU energy consumption. The importance of buildings as a potential source of energy savings is addressed both in the 2005 Green Paper on Energy Efficiency and in the 2006 EU Energy Efficiency Action Plan, which points out that there is a "comprehensive framework of directives and regulations to improve energy efficiency in energy-using products, buildings and services is in force in Community law," including the Eco-Design Directive and the Energy Star Regulation.

  • Implementing the EPBD

The directive provides member states with an "integrated method" for calculating energy efficiency, based on a variety of factors such as the position of the building, heating, cooling and lighting installations. Based on this method, member states are to create their own minimum standards for energy efficiency. 

Several resources, both directly and indirectly related to EPBD, are available to support member state implementation. DG Energy and Transport has set up a special website on EPBD. The Intelligent Energy Europe (IEE) Programme has provided funds for the launch of a "Green Building Platform" which is designed to complement the EPBD. IEE also provided funding for Concerted Action, an information sharing platform.

  • Transposition in member states: a mixed picture

Implementing the EPBD is progressing well in those member states that have existing regulatory frameworks for building efficiency. Ireland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK are making good progress. In certain member states, such as Denmark, compulsory energy audits and labelling schemes for buildings already existed before 2006.

Germany in particular is a leader in the field of building efficiency, with certain cities, notably Freiburg, leading the way and providing best practice examples on which federal building efficiency laws are based. In April 2007, the German EU Presidency also proposed the creation of an "energy passport" for buildings (EURACTIV 23/04/07). The UK, like Germany, is also eliminating administrative and financial hurdles to the installation of solar panels and other "micro" power generation facilities in private homes.

Most member states, however, have not made swift progress in the implementation of the directive, and have chosen to delay implementation until 2009: a clause in the directive allows member states to delay implementation for three years if there is a lack of "accredited experts" to produce energy certificates. 

The Commission has launched infringement proceedings against 20 member states (EURACTIV 07/12/07). 

Detailed information on the progress of EPBD implementation can be found in country reports published on the EPBD website.

  • The international dimension

Building efficiency has also been the topic of high-level discussions in international fora, particularly in connection with climate change. The 4th Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of 4 May states that "Energy efficiency options for new and existing buildings could considerably reduce CO2 emissions with net economic benefit." And a 29 March report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests that "up to 45 million tonnes of CO2 per year could be saved by 2010 by applying more ambitious standards to new and existing buildings."

  • Beyond legislation: the green building revolution

Tougher energy efficiency laws and international declarations represent only the tip of the green building "iceberg." There are a growing number of initiatives, both in EU member states and across the globe, that are redefining traditional approaches to both residential and non-residential buildings and to lifestyles.

At least two European initatives are worth mentioning: the Vauban development in Freiburg, Germany, and the BedZED development in the south of London. These are urban multi-residential housing developments that are exemplary not only from an energy savings point of view, but also from an urban planning and social organisation perspective: both achieve greater sustainability by using a combination of local public policy, planning, design and technology, whereby the use of "traditional" energy saving measures such as better insulation is only part of the solution. 

  • Industry leadership on standards

In some countries, industry has taken an independent role in green building standards creation. The most well known is the LEED rating system, developed by the US Green Building Council. LEED has become an accepted standard for rating buildings in the US and Canada, and the model is being considered by other countries as well.

  • Private sector innovation

Major multinational firms, such as DuPont and Honeywell, have also been taking a keen interest in the sector and have been developing materials, systems and other technologies to increase building energy efficiency. Advances in renewable energy technologies, such as a "solar dye" for example, will certainly contribute greatly to the "greening" of buildings and may someday lead to the widespread construction of buildings that far exceed the energy efficiency requirements set by policy-makers.

  • Towards sustainable cities

Beyond individual buildings or isolated developments, entire "eco-cities" are currently being planned. Two of the most ambitious of these projects are located far beyond the EU's borders: one is the Dongtan development outside of Shanghai, the other is a "zero-carbon, zero-waste" city to be constructed in Abu Dhabi. Closer to home, the likely future prime minister of the UK, Gordon Brown, announced in late May his intention to create five new "eco towns", with 100,000 environmentally friendly homes built on brownfield sites.

  • Future legislation

Current trends seem to indicate that buildings will occupy an increasingly central place in overall EU efforts to combate climate change. The annex of the 2006 Energy Efficiency Action Plan indicates a number of future EU legislation and other actions related to buildings (please refer to 'next steps')

EuroACE, the European Alliance for Energy Efficiency in Buildings, which represents companies involved in the energy saving goods and services, is in favour of an "early expansion" of the EPBD to cover all existing buildings, rather than only those subject to major renovations. EuroACE also believes that the 1000m2 threshold for displaying energy certificates in public buildings should be eliminated.

The alliance thus applauded the European Commission's November 2008 recast proposal and called on the European Parliament and the Council "to maintain, and preferably increase, the ambition level of this proposal in order to fully reap the many benefits of high performing buildings". 

The recast and expansion of the scope of the directive was warmly welcomed by Eurima, the European Insulation Manufacturers' Association. In 2006, Eurima commissioned a study which demonstrated that "an extended Energy Performance of Buildings Directive could save the EU €8 billion a year by 2010 rising to €14.5 billion by 2015, whilst creating up to an estimated 530,000 new jobs".

The European Builders' Confederation (EBC) expressed its satisfaction with the provision to scrap the 1000m2 threshold on minimum energy efficiency standards, leaving 72% of EU-built stock outside the scope of directive. It called upon member states to develop information and training plans both among construction enterprises and consumers to ensure real implementation. 

The European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) regretted that the recast proposal "does not go far enough in laying down concrete objectives for improving the energy efficiency of the building stock". It called for explicit reference to the role of reduced VAT and other financial incentives in encouraging renovation works and to the need to train SMEs in techniques for energy-efficient renovation. 

The WWF is also critical of the current EPBD because it does not apply to most existing buildings, which constitute a majority of building stock. WWF claims that most member states are only implementing the directive's minimum requirements and are failing to make the most of the energy-saving potential it presents. 

  • Jan. 2006: Deadline for member states to implement Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). But most member states extended the deadline to 2009.
  • By June 2007: Member states were asked to publish national action plans on energy efficiency.
  • 14 Nov. 2008: Commission proposed a review of the EPBD (EURACTIV 14/11/08).
  • Dec. 2008: Latest country reports on EPBD implementation published.
  • 1 April 2009: First reading of the EPBD recast in Parliament plenary expected.

Subscribe to our newsletters