Save Europe’s suburbs: they are vital for healthy citizens – and healthy budgets

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

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Peter Bang is Executive Director and CFO of VELUX Group. [VELUX Group]

This article is part of our special report Healthy buildings: Good for our wallets?.

Peter Bang is Executive Director and CFO of VELUX Group.

EPBD revision is just the start – implementation must come next

The recent revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) highlights the importance of good indoor environments alongside energy efficiency, and that is good news. It talks about a more holistic approach to assessing energy performance in buildings; the need to address indoor climate conditions to provide better comfort and health for occupants; and the need for EU Member States to establish long-term renovation strategies which take energy efficiency, air quality and health all into account.

But revision of the EPBD is only the start. The challenge now is for EU Member States to step up and put the EPBD into action. A clear guidance document from the European Commission to ensure implementation of the directive would go a long way to making sure benefits are achieved.

Reaping the benefits for happier, healthier and more productive citizens

Taking this approach is not only the right thing to do for EU citizens. It also makes sense for Member States’ budgets. The one-time cost of bringing housing up to standard across Europe is thought to be around €295 billion, while inadequate housing is estimated to cost EU economies €194 billion every single year. And who wouldn’t want to reap the benefits of this new approach to building performance? Especially when they include greater energy efficiency and reduced emissions; increased renovation rates and economic activity; and not least, happier, healthier, better-rested and more productive citizens.

Europe’s suburbs should not be forgotten

The VELUX Group has always argued for the benefits of a holistic approach to housing and energy performance. Today, we continue that conversation as we launch the fourth edition of the Healthy Homes Barometer, and debate the issues it addresses at a special event at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The Healthy Homes Barometer 2018 contains surprising new findings which highlight the crucial role played by Europe’s suburbs in creating healthy living environments. For example, it finds that Europe’s suburban populations have grown 54% more than its urban populations over recent decades. It also finds that the single-family homes which are so typical in suburban areas are up to 33% more likely to result in their residents reporting ill-health than multi-family homes. As EU Member States implement EPBD-led strategies for housebuilding and renovation, they must not overlook these growing communities and their aging homes.

Buildings impact health, productivity and must be humancentric

As far back as the Roman Empire there were already daylight regulations for buildings. The Romans understood that sunlight, home hygiene and clean water were vital elements in maintaining citizens’ health. However, it is only in the last couple of decades that we have started, once more, to pay attention to the effects our homes and other buildings have on our bodies and minds. Modern technologies mean it is now relatively easy to measure variables such as air quality, ventilation rates and daylight conditions inside buildings, and a host of scientific studies in recent years has shown the major impact that indoor environments have on health, well-being, performance and productivity.

It is plain and simple: Everyone stands to gain from raising the standard of Europe’s housing. Done right, national governments, businesses and citizens will all see a significant windfall. Now it just requires the political and practical will. Through the work of the Energy Union, the EU has come a long way. Now it’s time to turn the Directive into reality!

Read more about the Healthy Homes Barometer and download the full 2018 report here.

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