In 2017, the European Commission introduced Level(s) – a new framework of indicators to report on the sustainability performance of buildings.
The new reporting system is currently being tested in 136 building projects across 21 countries and the EU has published a progress report.
Of the projects testing Level(s), 74 are residential and 62 are non-residential. This provides important balance in terms of the community shaping Level(s).
The aim of the testing phase is to support stakeholders across the construction and real estate value chain, from investors, to developers, designers and manufacturers; in testing the Level(s) indicators on their building projects. The feedback from the testing phase will inform the final version of the Level(s) framework – to be launched in spring 2020.
The testing phase also aims to help us identify many of the challenges that we will need to find solutions to if we are to ensure widespread take up of Level(s) upon its launch. Level(s) aims to take life cycle thinking mainstream, to build the data the sector needs to move forwards on this important agenda.
Open source framework
Level(s) is described as an “open source assessment framework” – in simpler terms, a tool, which can be used by those involved in buildings (such as planners, architects, developers and occupiers) to measure the sustainability performance of them.
What makes Level(s) different is that for the first time it provides a framework for measurement that goes beyond just energy, which, up until now, has been used as the main indicator of sustainable performance. Critically, Level(s) factors in other key aspects of building performance such as greenhouse gas emissions, efficient use of water resources, health and wellbeing, adaptation and resilience to climate change, and cost and value.
Level(s) promotes circular thinking – encouraging its users to think about the whole life cycle of a building – from the manufacturing of the products and materials used to construct it, the energy used to operate it, through to its deconstruction and the eventual re-use and recycling of those materials.
Sustainable building practice in Europe has to a large extent been led by green building certification schemes to date. These certifications cover hundreds of millions of m2 of building space and have achieved a high degree of market penetration in the non-residential sector of some European countries.
However, sustainability assessment within Europe’s construction sector as a whole is far from widespread. Moreover, whole life cycle assessment is not a core part of all certification schemes, and mainstreaming it is a crucial environmental challenge for the sector.
A number of European countries have started to move towards whole life cycle assessment in their sector policy, with examples including:
Many countries moving on this agenda recognise the need for a joined up European approach to how policy shapes a sustainable built environment. Many more countries and industry actors are looking for guidance on the future trajectory for the sector on sustainability.
In this sense, Level(s) represents the European consensus today on the common core aspects of sustainable buildings, bringing a focus to key aspects of environmental performance beyond energy consumption during the use phase of buildings.
The Commission’s framework for sustainable buildings – Level(s) – aims to unite the whole sector value chain around a common European language for better building performance. It looks at the full lifecycle of buildings to address their huge potential for emissions reductions, efficient and circular resource flows, and supporting the health and wellbeing of those they are built to serve.
It is hoped that Level(s) will serve as a galvanising force for actors across Europe’s building sector in understanding how they can collaborate to create a sustainable built environment for all Europeans.
It will be a powerful source of data and insights for national policy-makers looking to build sustainability and circularity into their building codes.