Building renovation is a good way to spend the EU’s recovery fund and help Europe build a sustainable economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, but it must be done sustainably, industry representatives say.
Renovation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, improves people’s welfare and boosts the local economy, making it a good investment for EU countries looking to spend their portion of the €672.5 billion recovery fund.
Alongside this, it has the advantage of creating benefits across socio-economic groups and regardless of geography – unlike investing in infrastructure or renewables which are focused on one place.
“You’re looking at construction companies where 95% have less than 10 employees. They work locally within a 50 kilometre radius. It’s all about local jobs and local benefits,” said Mirella Vitale, vice president of insulation company Rockwool.
“This whole wealth distribution aspect is what makes renovation so important, especially in the context of the recovery plans. We’re talking about better living conditions for families regardless of their income levels. And at the end of the day, the asset – the energy-efficient building – stays with the homeowner,” she told EURACTIV.
But renovation also needs to be sustainable, she said. She praised the Italian renovation scheme that offers a 110% rebate for renovation projects, but added she is concerned about the materials used.
“What is a little bit disappointing is that it’s energy renovation for energy efficiency, which is fantastic, but there has to be more focus on the sustainability of the product,” she said.
“Many different products can be used for insulation and some of those are unsustainable or plastic or petroleum-based materials that still get in because we’re not looking at a broader picture,” she added.
The Green Recovery Tracker, which looks at the environmental impact of recovery plans, identified €33 billion of spending going to the building sector across the 14 countries they studied. Of that, they found 70% is aligned with the green transition.
This is key as Europe’s building stock needs a huge revamp for the bloc to meet its 2030 and 2050 climate targets. Buildings are responsible for 36% of EU greenhouse gas emissions and consume 40% of Europe’s energy.
However, there are concerns that the other 30% of the money – or €10 billion – could end up being harmful to the environment, particularly if it goes towards funding fossil gas boilers or district heating.
“There’s a lack of detail about what specifically will be supported through those measures, both on what specific targets will be supported, but also potentially loopholes of fossil fuels as part of this measure,” said Felix Heilmann from E3G, one of the co-creators of the tracker.
“This is a unique opportunity to actually realise the renovation wave, but it needs to be driven forward. It needs to be aligned with ambitious enough targets,” he told EURACTIV.
Europe needs to be ambitious, put at least €75 billion per year into triggering deep renovation and avoid renovating on a “piecemeal basis”, said Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe.
“I would hope that the European institutions would ensure that deep renovations are an important component in the recovery plans,” he added.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]