How data can unlock Europe’s renovation revolution

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

The Renovation Wave promises wide-sweeping, ambitious reforms to decarbonise the EU’s building stock, covering everything from improving insulation and transforming heating and cooling systems to equipping EU roofs with solar panels, writes Cristina Gamboda. [Photo: Frédéric Simon]

By starting local and scaling up, data can be the greatest ally of Europe’s upcoming renovation wave, writes Cristina Gamboa.

Cristina Gamboa is CEO of the World Green Building Council, a non-profit organisation with members in over 70 countries worldwide.

The COVID-19 wake-up call has shifted EU sustainability policy from ambition to action. We have seen decision-makers strive for recovery packages that can both deliver on climate goals and rescue turbulent economies. The EU had already set much of this in motion with its Green Deal and target-based climate law.

In the building and construction sector, the new Renovation Wave action plan can revolutionise how governments tackle carbon emissions from existing structures. The benefits of this will be clear and diverse, but to maximise the success of this initiative, it needs to be driven by a wealth of good quality data.

The Renovation Wave promises wide-sweeping, ambitious reforms to decarbonise the EU’s building stock, covering everything from improving insulation and transforming heating and cooling systems to equipping EU roofs with solar panels.

Deep building renovation brings immense benefits: beyond lowered emissions, it is a win-win for EU citizens who will pay lower energy bills and breathe cleaner indoor air. Importantly, at a time when countries worldwide are grappling with the greatest public health crisis of our time, building renovation can help create healthier cities, alleviate energy poverty, drive investment in construction and boost local employment.

Local to global: The cities driving the renovation wave

Enacting extensive reform, however, means starting at the local level. This is why eight Green Building Councils (GBCs) are working with pioneering cities across Europe who are committed to renovating their building stock. BUILD UPON2 is an EU-funded project led by GBCs, BPIE and Climate Alliance, built on the premise that successful renovation programmes should have a demonstrable impact on the key social, environmental, and economic issues Europe faces.

This means tracking and quantifying impacts like emissions reductions, employment, and health. Build UPON2’s new framework, which is being tested by eight pilot cities, sets clear metrics for measuring these benefits of renovation. Local authorities will be able to learn and adapt faster and rapidly identify the approach most suitable for a given location. This in turn will help produce the type of impact data that can inform future programmes around the world.

The renovation wave must drive social, economic and environmental impact

In June 2020, WorldGBC Europe published a report of case studies of renovation projects around Europe, giving a flavour of the kinds of exciting initiatives that could be brought to scale. For example, in Dublin, the Irish government’s Warmth and Wellbeing Scheme offers support for lower income households to carry out renovation, such as insulation and ventilation improvements, in homes where there is a person living with a chronic respiratory condition.

These changes have helped substantially improve the air quality inside the buildings, with demonstrated results for the tenants’ health. This is the type of impact we need to measure and promote through the Renovation Wave – looking not only at environmental criteria, but also social and economic.

The Renovation Wave must be supported by the entire value chain

To ensure such initiatives are not left in isolation, we need to coordinate the full spectrum of stakeholders involved in the process – from architects to engineers and local council members. Our member Green Building Councils around Europe are working to bring together individuals across disciplines and sectors in stakeholder platforms. These discussion fora will be crucial to drive meaningful policy change around renovation and roll out successful projects on a national scale.

With a report from BPIE showing that 97% of EU building stock needs energy efficient renovation, the magnitude of change required is staggering, just as are the number of different policy options to consider.

Systemic change requires many small steps. By starting local and scaling up, data can be the Renovation Wave’s greatest ally – just as by stimulating economies and boosting employment, building renovation can be the recovery’s greatest ally.

EU building 'renovation wave' set for launch in September

The European Commission’s energy chief, Kadri Simson, has flagged the upcoming building renovation wave, rooftop solar, and offshore wind as key priorities for the energy sector in the recovery phase from the coronavirus crisis.

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