In recent years, public concern over climate change and our environmental impact has entered the mainstream. The current European Commission has translated these growing concerns into action with its flagship European Green Deal initiative, which aims to not only put Europe on a course to deliver net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but to transition the Union – and crucially its citizens – to a more sustainable society.
Stimulating societal change will be crucial to the success of the green transition, especially in the building and construction sector, which is responsible for creating more sustainable homes and infrastructure. This was among the key messages of the ‘Concrete Dialogue 2021’, an event jointly organised by The Concrete Initiative and The Parliament Magazine.
Opening the debate, the European Cement Association’s CEO and Concrete Dialogue leader Koen Coppenholle said, “We are talking about the sustainable built environment from a societal perspective. So, while we are all engaging on the path to decarbonisation, our end goal must be to bring sustainable solutions to citizens.”
MEP host for the discussion, Sandro Gozi, a member of Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, further set the scene, arguing that Europe faces a “Darwinian moment” in its green transition strategy, where only those with the capacity to transform and adapt will survive.
“Over 75 percent of European building stock is considered as energy inefficient, while only 1.2 percent of this is renovated each year. This opens a vast potential for growth”
Sandro Gozi MEP
According to Gozi, the construction and building sectors have been identified by the European Commission in both the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan as areas with the strongest potential for reducing emissions, while also generating sustainable growth and jobs. This will take shape through the Revision of the Construction Product Regulation.
Moreover, the Fit for 55 package aims to align all economic sectors with the EU’s 2030 climate target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent. Fellow MEP Ciarán Cuffe, a member of Parliament’s Industry Research and Energy Committee and rapporteur for the report on maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU’s building stock, explained that the Green Deal’s focus on the building sector was due to several factors.
He cited the fact that buildings consume 40 percent of Europe’s total energy output and are responsible for 36 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. “In a nutshell, a third of the climate change-driving emissions coming from Europe are coming from buildings”, said Cuffe.
One proposed solution with potentially significant socio-economic benefits is the so-called ‘Renovation Wave’ – which aims to bring Europe’s building stock up to the highest EU energy label rating through the renovation of existing building stock.
Clockwise from top left: Moderator Jacki Davis, Ciarán Cuffe MEP, Josefina Lindblom (DG Environment), Finn Passov (Circle House project), Thomas Kreitmaye (City of Vienna) and Sorcha Edwards (Housing of Europe)
This also has the added benefit of creating jobs and improving the quality of people’s homes. Something Gozi had previously commented on, saying, “Over 75 percent of European building stock is considered as energy inefficient, while only 1.2 percent of this is renovated each year. This opens a vast potential for growth, for innovative industry, and especially for renewable energy and energy efficiency gains in Europe as well as for Europe’s economic recovery.”
However, both MEPs noted that this can only happen if people are made aware of the renovation opportunities available and are given access to the tools, materials, skills, information and, crucially, finance that they need. Another crucial aspect is the need to look at the whole lifecycle of buildings, said Josefina Lindblom, who works in the European Commission Environment Directorate’s Eco- Innovation and Circular Economy Unit.
“We need to look at the materials that go into buildings: how are they produced, how are the buildings being designed, what materials are they using? The circularity aspect really is important,” said Lindblom. She argued that it is not simply a case of improving a building’s energy efficiency, but the energy efficiency of the actual building materials involved as well as their processing.
One suggested solution, involving actors throughout the value chain, would be identifying ways to reduce a material’s carbon footprint through lifecycle assessments. The event also featured two building case studies. The first was an Austrian project that demonstrated how affordable housing can be powered by renewable energy, including reusing energy spent on heating buildings.
Green buildings expert for Vienna Thomas Kreitmayer explained, “The energy concept of this apartment complex basically consists of four components. A building with a thermal concrete core activation, a geothermal storage underneath the building, heat pumps for heating and cooling, and renewable electricity to power those heat pumps. The second was the Danish ’Circle House’ project, presented by project manager Finn Passov, which aimed to “demonstrate that 90 percent of the building materials could be reused without loss of value”.
“We are talking about the sustainable built environment from a societal perspective. So, while we are all engaging on the path to decarbonisation, our end goal must be to bring sustainable solutions to citizens”
Koen Coppenholle, CEMBUREAU CEO
The event also heard from Sorcha Edwards, secretary general of the European Federation of Public, Cooperative & Social Housing (Housing Europe), who reiterated the importance of the social perspective, saying, “We are talking about people’s homes, some of the most important things they have, the factor that allows them to have a productive life or not. So, this focus on the societal impact is very welcome”.
She stressed that people across Europe are already facing many challenges, including inequality, energy poverty, the stresses of continued lockdown and therefore trust needs to be built among the public to help support and stimulate a renovation wave.
She said, “It is about building trust and making sure this is not only about insulation and solar panels, but also about making neighbourhoods places where you can be proud to live in, places where you can access green space and access services.”.
To watch the event again, click the link below.