The buildings sector represents one of the most resource-consuming sectors in Europe. It is responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on energy consumption accounts for 40% in the European Union. Construction and demolition waste (CDW) are one of the most massive and heaviest waste streams generated in the EU, it represents 25%-30% of all waste generated in the EU and consists of numerous materials. A green and sustainable approach to buildings construction is required to solve environmental and social problems. Since 2018, thanks to a EU Directive, Member States are required to impose restrictions and parameters for constructors. Some best practices in Europe show how it is possible to break down CO2 emissions, energy and water consumption, but their effort is not sufficient to reach sustainability. The missing ingredient is community engagement. The adoption of a sustainable behavior would guarantee a further reduction of the impact on the environment. In conclusion, transforming buildings and houses into sustainable places is crucial to cope with global climate goals but it must be supported by a much greater engagement of the population.
The buildings sector represents one of the most resource-consuming sectors in Europe. In fact, it is responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on energy consumption accounts for 40% in the EU (World Green Building Council). Considering these data, the EU is promoting policies and initiatives aimed at reducing the footprint of this sector through the realization of green and sustainable buildings. Although the two terms, green and sustainable, are often used as synonyms, there are several differences to consider. A building is green when it becomes more efficient in terms of consumption and impact on the environment and on the health of its inhabitants. Instead, the concept of sustainability addresses the protection of the health, environment, society, and animal welfare while preserving the ability of future generations to reach the same results. So, only a building that meets zero energy/zero emissions standards could be considered sustainable. Taking into consideration data analysis in the housing sector and household consumptions, the environmental impact is considerable and hard to ignore. However, there are several best practices spread all over Europe and this is probably due to the accurate Eu policy framework concerning the development of green and sustainable housing. Social impact is a critical point too and for this reason, social effects have been analyzed to monitor how human interaction can change in this kind of building. To understand and acquire a wider perspective, it is necessary to analyze how European policies have influenced and are shaping the way buildings are constructed, designed, and furnished, with a focus on the actual social and environmental impact on society and to cities’ development towards a more sustainable and innovative way of living.
The EU Directive 2018/844 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2018 amending Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings and Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency are important references when dealing with the increasing commitment to developing a sustainable, competitive, secure and decarbonized energy system.
It demands the Member States to set parameters to decrease the energetic impact in terms of lightning, water, heating, and cooling. To deal with this directive, different construction parameters have been adopted.
For instance, in the housing sector, it has been set up an innovative public-private partnership (PPP): Sustainable Housing Europe(SHE) This project encourages the development of sustainable homes in France, Italy, Denmark, and Portugal and reported relevant results. Simulations show that it will be achieved 40% energy saving on heating, 100% on cooling, and 20% saving on water consumption reduction.
Examples of best practices for non-residential buildings
The Edge, Amsterdam (Netherlands)
The Edge is considered to be one of the greenest buildings in the world, which uses IoT and photovoltaic and LED technologies to measure and reach energy efficiency; in fact, this building uses 70% less electricity than comparable office buildings.
One Angel Square, Manchester (UK)
One Angel Square is a sustainable large building powered by a biodiesel cogeneration plant and covered by a double-skinned façade to minimize heating and cooling. This guarantees an 80% reduction in carbon emissions and a 40-60% reduction in energy consumption.
Recent data on consumption show that the building sector energy impact (final energy use per m2) has been decreasing continuously by 0.5% to 1% per year since 2010. Although these data are remarkable, modern buildings are not enough. In fact, according to Sustainable Development Scenario, the rate should decrease by 2.5%; to reach this goal, it is necessary to add a new ingredient: the engagement of communities towards a more sustainable behavior (e.g. encourage recycling attitudes, turn the light off when it is not in use, reduce energy and water consumption). Collective principles such as social responsibility, open membership, cooperation, and also education encourage residents’ participation and involvement through the democratic processes of the cooperative housing system. However, this process has not been without barriers. Indeed, residents were only interested in immediate paybacks.
The benefits of green buildings are several and they can be social, economic, and environmental. From the social perspective, it enhances inhabitants’ health and comforts and ameliorates overall quality of life; speaking about economic improvements, green infrastructures can reduce operating costs and improve occupants’ productivity, moreover, waste reduction and the conservation of natural resources would be guaranteed. In conclusion, transforming buildings and houses into sustainable-friendly places would be crucial to cope with global climate goals. But as it has been written above, it would not integrally exhaust the sustainable objective: the engagement of an ever-greater proportion of humanity would be the most determinant contribution.
This article has been written by the students of the Luiss new Msc in Law, Digital Innovation and Sustainability in the context of the class of Law and Policy of Innovation and Sustainability taught by Professor Christian Iaione. The cluster “Housing and Buildings” is composed by the following students: Alessio Ciotti, Mauro De Iacobis, Francesca Nacca, Maria Elisabetta Realdon, and Ilaria Toppi.
European Commission, 2020, Energy efficiency in buildings
European Commission, Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW), https://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/construction_demolition.htm
European Commission, Level(s)
European Commission, 2020, Clean energy for all Europeans package
Mercedes Martty, 2015, the difference between green and sustainable https://sourceable.net/difference-green-sustainable/
Sustainable Housing Europe (SHE) – Moving from Extraordinary to Ordinary
Green Built Alliance, Importance of Green Building
Edie Newsroom, 2019, World green building week: Ten of Europe’s most eye-catching sustainable buildings
BREEAM, The Edge, Amsterdam
Savills, 2020, 5 of the world’s most sustainable buildingshttps://www.savills.com/impacts/natural-forces/5-of-the-worlds-most-sustainable-buildings.html#:~:text=One%20Angel%20Square%2C%20Manchester%2C%20UK&text=Overall%2C%20the%20building’s%20design%20and,and%20greywater%20and%20rainwater%20recycling