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Introducing Level(s): A common language to understand sustainability in European buildings

Today, the European Commission demonstrated its sustainability leadership by unveiling the pilot phase of Level(s), the world’s first region-wide sustainable building reporting tool. Level(s) has high ambitions, aiming to transform the European building market from its current role as a major contributor to climate change, to one which has more positive impacts on both the environment and society.

As the Senior Policy Advisor to WorldGBC’s Europe Regional Network (ERN), the arrival of Level(s) is particularly exciting. And here’s why…

What is Level(s) and how is it different?

Level(s) is described as an “open source assessment framework” – in simpler terms, a tool, which can be used by those involved in buildings (such as planners, architects, developers and occupiers) to measure the sustainability performance of them.

What makes Level(s) different is that for the first time it provides a framework for measurement that goes beyond just energy, which, up until now, has been used as the main indicator of sustainable performance.  Critically, Level(s) factors in other key aspects of building performance such as greenhouse gas emissions, efficient use of water resources, health and wellbeing, adaptation and resilience to climate change, and cost and value.

Level(s) promotes circular thinking – encouraging its users to think about the whole life cycle of a building – from the manufacturing of the products and materials used to construct it, the energy used to operate it, through to its deconstruction and the eventual re-use and recycling of those materials.

Why is this significant?

The concept of a green building is relatively easy to understand: they use less energy, water and materials; are healthy and comfortable; provide value for money; and are better for the environment. However, understanding and applying the indicators to construct a green building is inherently more complex. Level(s) seeks to reduce this complexity by focusing attention on the most important aspects of a building’s performance, providing a simple entry point for anyone who wants to introduce this circular thinking into building projects.

Christine Lemaitre, CEO of the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) and Chair of the ERN, sums this up, by saying: “The release of Level(s) shifts the EU buildings debate beyond energy, and lays the foundations for a common approach based on lifecycle and circular thinking.”

Who will benefit?

Level(s) is the result of years of discussion and development with the building and construction industry, non-profit organisations (such as Green Building Councils) and the public sector – and they all stand to benefit.

It will enable governments of all sizes across Europe to incorporate the concept of the circular economy into their own national plans and strategies, and ensure these are aligned with European priorities and efforts to tackle climate change. As Harri Hakaste, Senior Architect at the Ministry of the Enviornment, Finland, says “Level(s) sets the direction of travel and provides clarity on sustainable building at EU level for all stakeholders. Finland has set out its vision on dealing with lifecycle impacts and is committed to testing and developing the Level(s) scheme forward.”

At an event organised by GBCFinland and Stora Enso in Helsinki in May, attendees from the Finnish Government, Skanska, the City of Helsinki, Saint-Gobain, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and many others discussed the potential impact of Level(s) on the Finnish market, and explored how it might be implemented in local conditions.

This workshop demonstrated that  industry recognises the potential of Level(s) to transform Europe’s buildings. “Industry needed a common language to help move the focus beyond just energy,” says Roy Antink, SVP, International Policy Coordination, Sustainability at Stora Enso. “This aligns the EU buildings agenda more firmly with many leading initiatives and will help drive a more holistic CO2 agenda by addressing embodied carbon.”

Echoing this view, Anna Åkesson, Senior Environmental Manager, Skanska (also a Partner of the ERN), sets out her belief that: “Level(s) sets the strategic direction for sustainable building in Europe and it is critical that stakeholders across Europe work together to develop an implementation strategy that facilities European wide take-up of Level(s).

Ultimately, everyone stands to benefit from Level(s) as a result of greener buildings – whether socially through better places to live, work and play, economically through more jobs or increased productivity in the workplace, or from an environmental perceptive – fewer greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality in cities, to name just two benefits.

So who will drive Level(s) forward?

This is where our Green Building Councils have a key role to play. They are best placed to lead the charge on implementing Level(s) because of their expertise across a range of areas including green public procurement, awareness raising, certification and policy. Their relationships with their members – the very businesses who will be using Level(s) on a day-to-day basis in their own countries – is also critical. With their support, Level(s) can have a major impact on the green building market at a national and regional level.

What’s next for Level(s)?

The European Commission is embarking on a two-year testing phase for Level(s) which companies, associations and public authorities are invited to participate in. This is something we, our Green Building Councils and our ERN Partners strongly recommend. As Vincent Briard, Sustainability & Product Regulatory Affairs Director at Knauf Insulation (an ERN Partner), concludes: “Levels(s) is the future of European sustainable buildings policy and by participating in the testing phase, industry players can demonstrate their leadership while capturing the potential of the buildings sector to contribute towards global goals.”


Audrey Nugent is Senior Policy Advisor of the Europe Regional Network (at WorldGBC)

Further information on Level(s) can be found here.

To register your interest in testing Level(s), please click here.