Notes from the Networks - Tackling the big issues to build a better Europe
It is no secret to the world that the ‘European project’ is at something of a cross-roads, to put it mildly. As a Brit who spends a great deal of time in Brussels, recent months have given me cause to reflect on the future of the EU and indeed the wider region, and I have come to the following conclusion: if we are to succeed, we need more networks like the Green Building Councils (GBCs).
Our recent meeting of European GBCs and Regional Partners in Dublin, Ireland, was European cooperation at its best. Today, our European Regional Network is a thriving network of independent national actors across 24 countries who are coordinating and scaling their actions in an increasingly strategic and agile manner. 2017 marks a turning point for our Network in this regard, heralding a new era of cross-country collaboration on big issues for the region.
The Dublin meeting kicked-off with a session to shape our pipeline of major projects in the region, where we took stock of the extraordinary success of BUILD UPON, and applauded the leadership of Emilio Miguel Mitre and the GBC España team on a project which has taken on Europe’s biggest built environment challenge – its existing buildings.
It is clear that the 13 GBCs leading this €2.3m EU funded project during 2015-17 have had a deep impact on how European countries set out long-term strategies to decarbonise existing buildings. Most importantly there is now active collaboration between the public and private sector, something largely absent between 2012 an 2014, when EU countries had to design and implement their first national renovation strategies.
The quality and tone of this debate have improved dramatically too, with a broader pool of organisations engaging than ever before, and governments remarking that GBCs have successfully focused industry and other stakeholders on solutions rather than problems when inputting into public policy. This approach has led to novel new partnerships, such as our €1.5m EU funded project to create an ‘Energy Efficiency Mortgage’ for Europe – bringing together GBCs with major banks, valuers, universities and energy utilities – such as our Regional Partner E.ON.
The Network also discussed the importance of shaping a pipeline of major European projects that firstly serve to inspire and challenge market leaders to go further, and secondly serve to mainstream sustainable building practice across the entire building sector.
As an example of inspiring leadership, UK-GBC’s CEO Julie Hirigoyen presented their recent work on a ‘Wellbeing Lab’ for office buildings, which saw 11 project teams go through a live learning process to implement health and wellbeing best practice in office environments, as part of WorldGBC’s global Better Places for People project. GBCs and Regional Partners then proceeded to workshop plans for how a series of Wellbeing Labs for offices, retail and homes could be launched across the European region.
With the topic of green and healthy buildings high on the agenda, our trip to Irish GBC member Google’s inspiring European headquarters for the second day of our meetings was a fitting treat. From stretching sessions led by Google’s in-house wellness team, to daylight galore and 360 degree views of the city, levels of energy and inspiration in the room were high throughout the day.
(Image: A health and wellbeing session at Google's headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, during the Europe Regional Network meeting)
Marrying the worlds of tech and construction was another theme of the meeting, with Sami Lankiniemi of GBC Finland presenting their cutting edge work to partner disruptive IT start-ups with construction and real estate companies at the first ever ‘ReCoTech’ event in Finland. This is an area with great potential for new and exciting partnerships to disrupt the way our sector operates and unlock the power of data to drive sustainability.
Indeed, building better data on sustainable buildings across Europe is one of the Network’s key challenges for the 2017-2020 period. As part of its work on a resource efficient circular economy, this summer the European Commission is due to launch a set of common European assessment indicators for sustainable building assessment, which aim to begin moving the mainstream debate beyond energy efficiency to wider sustainability objectives.
In connection with this work, Charles Robinson from Regional Partner ASSA ABLOY gave an insightful perspective on the importance of lifecycle assessment (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations, as a true market leader with other 250 published EPDs. WorldGBC’s Audrey Nugent led a follow-up session on how the Network is driving building level LCA across the region. The Network is currently working on a programme of initiatives to support the launch of European Commission’s new ‘framework’ of common performance indicators, and began a series of national events in Helsinki this week to engage governments, cities and sector leaders with this new policy.
Finally, there was one important but sad piece of news to share. Bengt Wånggren, CEO of the Sweden Green Building Council, is stepping down this summer to retire. In Dublin he told the inspiring story of how Sweden GBC followed WorldGBC’s roadmap to become one of the largest and most successful GBCs in Europe. As a central founder of both Sweden’s green building movement and the Europe Regional Network, his extraordinary insight, support and sense of fun will be greatly missed at our meetings, but we wish him all the best and thank him for his huge contribution to the region’s green building movement.
If your company is a supporter of national GBCs in the region and wishes to get involved with our work at the European level, contact email@example.com to discuss partnership opportunities.
James Drinkwater is Director of the Europe Regional Network