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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 2 July 2014

Questions and answers on sustainable buildings

Why is this initiative necessary?

Almost one half of the EU's final energy consumption and extracted materials, and about one third of water consumption, is related to the construction and occupancy of buildings. The sector also generates about one third of all waste. This results in major environmental impacts.

These impacts are the combined result of the different life-cycle stages of a building, from design, manufacturing of construction products and construction to use, renovation and waste management. Energy consumption in the use phase (heating, lighting etc.) makes a substantial contribution to society's overall greenhouse gas emissions, but other resource uses are also significant. In addition, the manufacturing of construction products often plays a major role in the overall environmental impact of a building, e.g. in relation to greenhouse gas emissions, indoor air quality and protection of soil and groundwater.

Reducing the environmental impact of buildings means considering the most important aspects throughout the full life-cycle.

Professionals who are knowledgeable and trained in designing, constructing and refitting sustainable buildings can also make a major contribution to Europe’s competitiveness in the construction sector.

Won't sustainable buildings simply add more costs to the sector?

No. Although available data is limited, cases where residential buildings have been certified on a large scale have shown that major cost reductions can result. Certifying an apartment via the scheme HQE in France has been estimated to cost about 0.3 % of the production of a standard apartment. The "over-cost", i.e. the extra construction cost to "green" the building, goes down with time as the supply chain and its actors adapt to and adopt new practices. HQE for residential buildings saw an over-cost of about 10 % when it started in 2003 but this is now down to below 1% on average. The trend of reducing over-costs has also been noted in the UK.

The typical benefits of sustainable buildings, beyond the reduced impact on the environment are financial, like lower operational and maintenance costs, slower depreciation and higher asset value. There are also social benefits linked to improved health and productivity of people occupying the buildings. Even a small increase in productivity is financially of major interest, far exceeding expected savings on energy.

Who would benefit from new indicators?

Many sectors would benefit, including SMEs:

  • Architects, designers, manufacturers of construction products, builders, developers and investors, will be able to benefit from competitive advantages based on environmental performance;

  • Manufacturers of construction products will only have to provide product information needed for building assessment in one way, resulting in cost savings;

  • Architects and builders will be supported via greater information on both product and building level, with reduced costs when incorporating sustainability aspects;

  • Developers will more easily be able to compare performance of projects;

  • Investors, property owners and insurers will be able to improve the allocation of capital and to integrate environmental risk into their decisions.

Why do we need a European approach to buildings?

Comparable information across Europe will generate greater understanding and awareness about the possible contributions of different sectors to improving environmental performance. It will also facilitate communications between them, further optimising performance. A set of common European indicators would moreover bring more clarity on where and how to improve the environmental performance of a building, facilitating the transfer of good practices from one country to another.

Do similar initiatives already exist in the Member States?

Some Member States have started to develop requirements regarding the reporting of the environmental performance of buildings in order to build up data on a national scale.

While this will undoubtedly result in more data, it is unlikely to generate the critical mass of comparable data necessary to further increase awareness or promote the business case for sustainable buildings throughout Europe and accordingly result in a growing market for sustainable buildings.

Sharing best practices between businesses and public authorities in different countries will have obvious economies of scale.

See also IP/14/764


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