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Sustainable buildings

The European Commission adopted the Communication "Resource efficiency opportunities in the building sector" based on an Impact assessment roadmap. The general objective of this initiative is to reduce the environmental impact of buildings by improving the overall resource efficiency and, as a consequence, improve the related competitiveness of construction businesses.

This would be achieved by the following specific objectives:

  • Raise awareness of and demand for better environmental performing buildings, among private consumers, developers and public purchasers;
  • Improve knowledge and information regarding resource use and related environmental impacts in relation to buildings in order to support decision making among designers, architects, developers, construction companies, construction product manufacturers, investors, consumers etc;
  • Remove the barriers created by different sets of requirements concerning the environmental performance of buildings;
  • Improve material efficiency, including the prevention and management of construction and demolition waste;
  • Support more intensive use of buildings in order to reduce the need for further built environment (e.g., use empty buildings instead of building new, use buildings for more than one purpose when suitable, build flexible buildings to be adapted to new functions or changing needs when appropriate).


To this end, the Communication focuses on two main areas:

  • Influence decision-making (by different actors) along the life-cycle of a building by providing relevant and comparable information regarding environmental performance, through the development of an assessment framework with core indicators
  • Increase the use of recycled materials in the construction of buildings, by fostering a better functioning market for recycled construction and demolition waste

Public consultation on Sustainable Buildings

The European Commission organised a public consultation on sustainable buildings between July and October 2013. The result of this consultation can be found here.

Why does the European Commission look into this now?

The EU2020 strategy from 2010 sets the course for the European economy for the following ten years and beyond by focusing on three main priorities; smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. As a follow up of this, the Resource efficiency roadmap was adopted by the European Commission in September 2011. It concludes that existing policies on buildings, mainly linked to energy efficiency, need to be complemented with policies for resource efficiency looking at a wider range of resource use and environmental impacts, across the life-cycle of buildings. Such policies would "contribute to a competitive construction sector and to the development of a resource efficient building stock". The Resource Efficiency Roadmap foresees adoption of a Communication on Sustainable Buildings in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Communication on "Strategy for the sustainable competitiveness of the construction sector and its enterprises" of 31st July 2012 points to the main challenges that the sector faces up to 2020 in order to grow strong and more viable in the future. This includes improving resource efficiency, environmental performance and related business opportunities. It identifies some of the problems in relation to resource use but does not elaborate on them. It instead refers to the future Communication on Sustainable Buildings and, in particular, highlights areas for future development, such as the need for "methods to assess the environmental performance of buildings" and, in its attached action plan, it refers to an EU wide life cycle costing methodology applied to buildings for green public procurement.

What do we mean with "Sustainable Buildings"?

Sustainable buildings in the scope of this work will relate to the environmental aspect of sustainability. Other aspects, i.e. social and economic, will be taken into account when assessing the impacts of possible future actions but the main objectives of the actions will focus on the reduction of the environmental impact of buildings.

Given that energy efficiency of buildings in the use stage is already addressed by existing policies, the focus of this initiative is on resources such as materials (including waste), water and embedded energy. It will address resource use and related environmental impacts all along the life-cycle of buildings, from the extraction of building materials to the demolition and recycling of materials (end of life). Residential and non-residential buildings will be covered, excluding industrial ones and infrastructure (for example roads).

What actions are already taken?

Existing EU policy initiatives in the area of environmental performance of buildings have mainly targeted energy efficiency. For example, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive obliges Member States to apply minimum requirements on the energy performance of new and existing buildings. Moreover, the Energy Efficiency Directive, the Energy Labelling Directive but also the Eco-design directive mainly focuses on the energy consumption in the use stage. Apart from these initiatives, the revised Waste Framework Directive with its objective to reach 70% of preparation for re-use, recycling and others forms for material recovery (excluding energy recovery) represents the main European policy driver towards better recycling of construction and demolition waste in the coming years.

So far, only a limited number of Member States initiatives have addressed resource use beyond energy efficiency in the building sector. A few of those are, in different ways, regulating the calculations of the environmental impacts of buildings and/or construction products. However, though aiming at tackling more or less the same issues, national initiatives partly differ in scope and method.