20 April 2023
Last month (March 2023), the European Commission released the EU transition pathway for construction.
Released following the recommendations of the updated EU Industrial Strategy in 2021, the pathway includes a series of suggested actions by the EU, national governments and industry towards achieving a greener, resilient and more digital construction ecosystem.
Among the key recommendations of the pathway are actions around how to improve the energy efficiency and circularity of the EU building stock and how to address the whole life carbon impact of buildings. The pathway also highlights skills where progress will be crucial for a successful transition of the construction sector.
The transition pathway is divided into six ‘building blocks’ representing areas where a shift is needed to facilitate the transition of the EU construction sector.
One of these, entitled the enabling framework, looks at specific policy measures in several key areas which can drive a green transition and ensure the construction sector contributes to the goals of the EU Green Deal. Other building blocks present recommendations on areas such as skills and talent, technology and funding.
In this reaction piece, World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) breaks down some of the pathway’s key recommendations and gives a brief response to the document and how it aligns with our vision for the built environment.
A key section of the enabling framework is on the renovation of Europe’s building stock. The pathway highlights the urgent need to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and drive forwards the Renovation Wave, which has been brought into even sharper focus by the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The pathway recommends that building renovation is prioritised over demolition and reconstruction in building policies and programmes, while also recommending the large-scale roll-out of resource-efficient industrialised techniques for renovation and construction. Elsewhere in the finance building block, the pathway also recommends that the EU and Member States help home and business owners to access funding possibilities for renovation, heat pumps and solar panels.
The enabling framework puts a strong focus on the need to transition towards greater circularity in construction, highlighting some of the regulatory and market barriers that must be overcome for this to be successful, and underlining the importance of the ongoing revision to the Construction Products Regulation (CPR).
Some of the recommendations made in the document include setting reuse and recycling targets, the establishment of EU-wide end-of-waste criteria, requirements for pre-demolition audits, and the establishment of standards and marketplaces for secondary materials.
Whole Life Carbon
The need to reduce the whole life carbon (WLC) impact of buildings is also addressed by the pathway, which highlights the need for reporting on life cycle emissions and the initiatives ongoing as part of the revisions of the CPR and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) which are aiming to improve the availability of whole life carbon data.
The pathway recommends that both building and infrastructure works should be mandated to disclose WLC, and that policymakers should “consider setting maximum target values”, also highlighting the need for harmonisation in WLC reporting based on the Level(s) Framework.
The need for better data and databases is explored by the pathway as a crucial facilitator for the green and digital transition of the construction ecosystem, with the fragmentation of actors within the sector and its varying competencies and roles creating a specific challenge.
Recommendations around data include that EU policy should promote the digitisation of construction product data via the CPR revision and implement a construction products database that is interoperable with other tools. It also highlights the need for digital building logbooks, proposed under the EPBD revision, to be developed and made compatible with other databases and systems for ease of data sharing and comparison.
Skills and talent
The pathway highlights some fundamental challenges faced by the construction sector in attracting and retaining workers. Ageing workers are retiring and young, diverse people and women can be reluctant to consider construction as a career path, leaving the sector with a shrinking talent pool. This leaves the sector in a difficult position given its crucial role in meeting the goals of the EU Green Deal.
Recommendations made by the pathway include establishing a New European Bauhaus Academy which would support the upskilling of construction professionals in circular economy, digitalisation and use of bio-based materials. The pathway also highlights the need for public procurers to issue open tenders which support the upskilling of professionals and promotion of apprenticeships, and the need for gender balanced and diverse panels when construction policy initiatives are discussed.
WorldGBC’s reaction to the construction transition pathway
WorldGBC supports the creation of the European Commission’s industrial transition pathway for construction, and in particular the collaborative process by which the EU building sector was able to contribute to the creation of the pathway.
It is encouraging that the European Commission is putting time and resources into analysing how the construction sector can become greener in light of the need for immediate and far-reaching actions on decarbonising buildings to ensure that the EU achieves its climate targets, and the opportunity that buildings offer in this regard.
In particular, the Enabling Framework contains a number of ambitious recommendations around circularity and whole life carbon policy which are similar to those made in WorldGBC’s own EU Policy Whole Life Carbon Roadmap, and it is encouraging that the Roadmap has also been cited in Annex I.
Elsewhere, the pathway’s focus on the need for better and more comprehensive construction data will help facilitate both the green and digital transition, and the section on skills addresses an important challenge that the construction sector will face going forward. In particular, the establishment of a New European Bauhaus Academy would be a great step towards inspiring a new generation of construction professionals and improve the attractiveness of the sector to young people.
WorldGBC looks forward to seeing more concrete proposals from the EU following on from the release of the pathway on exactly when and in which pieces of legislation these policy recommendations will be implemented. Our network of over 20 Green Building Councils across Europe are ready to help implement these recommendations with their respective national governments.