There is no clear European understanding of what a 'green building' is. A common vision is needed.

There is no clear European understanding of what a ‘green building’ is. A common vision is needed.

The European Commission has been looking closely at resource efficiency and has targeted the construction and use of building as a key area for action.

At the CCC Summit, Josefina Lindblom of the EC’s Environment DG highlighted the fact that the construction of buildings and their use is responsible for half of all materials extracted, half of total energy consumption and one third of water consumed. Construction and demolition debris accounts for one third of total waste generated.

“It is thus a very relevant sector to look at if you want to be serious about using our resources more efficiently,” she said.

The Commission for its part drew up a Communication in 2014 on ‘Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector’ which is seeking to develop a more holistic approach to tackling resource use in this sector.

We are trying to lift the scope of discussion beyond energy efficiency, a take a wider look at the full life-cycle of buildings, public, commercial and residential. Indeed a lot happens outside the use-phase of a building: the extraction of materials, the manufacture of construction products, the construction itself and also the end-of-life stage,” she said.

“We need to look at total energy consumption. Many buildings that are being built to be passive, neutral or similar, use so much energy in their construction and in the materials employed that it becomes doubtful if it is worthwhile,” she cautioned .

Indeed less than 1% of our buildings gave gone through any environmental assessment beyond energy efficiency. Most of the green buildings are high-end buildings – fancy offices and nice hotels – in limited number of countries. “We would like to go more into residential which is 70% of the building stock, and into more countries,” she said

Stakeholder involvement

The Commission is working closely with various stakeholders in the sector to develop an agreed way forward. “Our discussions with stakeholders made it clear that there is no clear European understanding of what a green building is. We need to have a common language or vision about this. We are helping to develop an ‘assessment framework’ which has core indicators and a common language.”

There is currently an absence of reliable and comparable data, she said, and this is important for helping to build the business case for action and provide public authorities with appropriate data to support policies which go beyond just energy efficiency.

By helping develop an assessment framework and providing relevant and comparable information regarding environmental performance the Commission is aiming to influence decision-making along the construction value chain and throughout the building life-cycle.

It expects to have the core indicators agreed by summer 2017.