Honourable Minister Brincat, distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning and thank you for this invitation to talk about the Commission's work as it applies to a sustainably built environment. In particular our work to deliver a more Circular Economy.

I always get a nice feeling whenever I am back home. But today that feeling is even nicer because, apart from being here as a European Commissioner, I am also here as a Maltese Architect and Civil Engineer. I studied here, apprenticed here and even had my own private architectural firm here. So I feel that speaking on 'home soil', and surrounded by a 'home crowd', gives me the ‘home advantage’.

As a local architect, I am tempted to speak with sentimental memories about the Malta. But today I want to speak about the wider European, and Mediterranean context. And the concept that I want to focus on, is the Circular Economy. In particular I want to focus on how this new economic model applies to the construction industry.

As I am sure you are aware, last December, the European Commission launched a package on the Circular Economy. The Circular Economy is not just about recycling. It's about the whole lifecycle of products. It is about rethinking and incorporating sustainability into products from the very outset - rethinking design, rethinking production processes, educating and giving better choices to consumers, and it is about changing our existing business models. This sort of thinking is easily transferable to buildings.

Circular economy will not only change how we produce, but also how we consume. It is a practical solution to the planet's emerging resource crisis. We are experiencing an inceasing demand for resources, such as earth metals and minerals, at a time when their reserves are rapidly diminishing, and at a time when exploration and material extraction costs are rising. The current 'take-make-dispose' linear economy approach is highly unsustainable. It is not only producing massive wastes, but it is also hindering our competitiveness. According to Richard Girling’s book ‘Rubbish’, 90% of the raw materials used in manufacturing become waste before the product leaves the factory, while 80% of products made get thrown away within the first six months of their life.

Europe is very rich in skills, but very poor in resources. We import six times as much resource materials as we export. In other words, we have a substantial resource deficit. For Europe to regain its competitiveness, we must use our resources more efficiently. For Europe this economic model is not an option – it is a must.

Resource efficiency was the main idea behind the economic concept which was first discussed in the US some fifty years ago. Back then it was called the ‘spaceship economy’, then ‘cradle to cradle’, and later ‘circular economy’. When you live on a small island,  a lack of resources is always one of the main challenges. In Malta, resources, particularly building materials, are not easily available. But I want to stress that while there may be an absence of resources, there is an abundance of ingenuity! I dare say that this is the case throughout Europe, and especially throughout the Mediterranean. And it is this ingenuity, applied to the construction sector that we are talking about today, and indeed the last two days.

Across the EU, the construction sector uses half of all our materials, half of all our energy and a third of our water. It generates a third of our total waste. That means that there are obvious gains from higher recycling rates and from a different mind-set when it comes to design. Experiences from Member States with advanced construction and demolition waste management systems can confirm this.

One example of demolition skills is the pre-demolition audits. The identification and separation of the materials is thoroughly done on-site. But more importantly, buildings should be designed to be "disassembled" rather than demolished. Better designs to produce lesser waste. The main focus should be on avoiding waste at the design stage, rather than on managing it at the demolition stage.

The Commission's role is to work with you, the experts, and your national authorities, to promote this. We need to ensure that Constructors have the confidence to use recycled material. Quality assurance schemes for recycled products contribute to building up this confidence and trust.

Green Public Procurement can play a significant role to create markets and help the recycling sector to develop. We have to discourage and eventually phase out landfilling and promote recycling. Many Member States have used successfully a number of economic instruments, such as landfill taxes, to divert construction and demolition waste from landfills. This is a message that the Commission consistently conveys to the Member States.

However, in line with the subsidiarity principle, it is up to the Member States to decide their policies, in order to comply with EU legislation, and in particular, recycling and recovery targets. At the same time, we must not forget that sustainable construction also has to be supported by investors. Many actors recognise that there is money to be made in green buildings.

Let me refer to a very well documented example - a 7,500 square metre office building in Paris, built in 1930. It was decided to completely refurbish the building in 2010.

Before the start, in order to assess the asset value after refurbishment, three scenarios were considered:

  • no retrofit,
  • a conventional retrofit according to regulation with improved energy efficiency, or
  • a green retrofit according to environmental certification.

The prediction showed a 10% higher asset value after the green retrofit as opposed to the conventional retrofit. This was largely based on lower maintenance and operation costs. The project has been finished for a few years and the predictions have been confirmed.

It is to be noted, that successful recycling can only be achieved by a combination of measures, rather than a single measure.

The application of circular economy model in construction is not only a priority but a must. Construction and demolition waste represents more than 800 million tonnes per year – and it would be a pity not to make use of all this material.

Europe has had policies on the energy use of buildings for some time. But in a circular model, there are many other aspects that need to be taken into account – from the choice of materials; to the design processes of buildings and renovation; and material audits before demolition.

We also need to take into consideration the raw resources and the water and energy consumption that are used to produce different construction materials.

Member States will need to promote sorting systems for construction and demolition waste. This also applies to wood, aggregates, metal, glass and plaster. This sorting obligation is a first step towards better waste management, because sorted waste is more likely to be recycled.

The Commission will develop a framework to assess environmental performance throughout the lifecycle of a building. In this way, we can really push the business case for green buildings.

We will run a public consultation on draft ideas this year. If you have not yet provided your input, you are strongly encouraged to contribute to the consultation.

We also need reliable data on energy efficiency. Especially for low-income households. The Commission is preparing to launch an EU Building Stock Observatory which will include certain indicators related to energy efficiency.

This Observatory, to be launched in September this year, is considered an “essential piece” of the EU building energy efficiency policies.

It will evaluate how the Directive on Energy Performance of Buildings is being implemented. It will assess the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Renewable Energy Directive.

The European Structural and Investment Funds support all this. There is a pot of some 18 billion euro, up until 2020, for increasing efficiency in buildings.

Finally, let us remember that when we increase the efficiency of energy sources for heating and cooling, we are also fighting climate change, helping energy security, and improving air quality. And this is the note on which I would like to end. It is a plea for joined-up thinking. Construction is a vital sector for the economy, but we have to look at the all-round effects. I am sure this conference will do so.

Thank you for your attention and I wish you all a fruitful discussion.

 

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