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Will a common vision for the global building sector make the world more sustainable?

Photo: Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim, Norway. Copyright: Snøhetta

Norwegian Green Building Council’s Hege Schøyen Dillner explains how the development of a roadmap for the building and construction sector in Norway to achieve a common vision of zero emissions and a full circular economy in 2050 has sparked action to address both operational and embodied carbon emissions from buildings.

Norway is a narrow, small country bordering the Arctic region. Thanks to our mountains and waterways, we have had access to clean energy for many years, but at the same time we are a big oil nation with many heavy industry enterprises. The construction and property sector accounts for about 40% of global CO2 emissions. We therefore have a significant role to play in the green shift. In recent years, something has begun to happen in this sector in Norway.

When I began working as Executive Vice President of Norway’s largest construction firm six years ago, my view that sustainability would be crucial to our commercial position in the future was not exactly greeted with unconditional enthusiasm. Nevertheless, in the autumn of 2015 we decided that we would run our business in line with the 2- degree target. Such is the case in the construction industry in general, this journey has been characterised by a certain degree of scepticism: is it too risky? Will customers ask for it? Will it be too expensive? How should we implement it? There were many objections, but I was convinced that it was critical to set a clear direction to get an organisation with 8,000 employees to start on the journey.

But now something is happening. In Norway, we are finding more and more brave players who are leading from the front.

In 2016, the Norwegian Green Building Council and the Norwegian Property Federation developed a roadmap for the property sector, suggested by our two boards and ambitious members. In June 2016, Prime Minister Erna Solberg set up a committee for green competitiveness that asked for similar roadmaps from the business community. Our roadmap gained broad support. We showed what it would take to achieve a vision of zero emissions and a full circular economy in 2050. We recommended, among other things, 10 immediate measures for building owners, but also proposals for immediate measures for the authorities. We know that the position of the building owners is important, as they come first in the value chain and commission services which involve architects, consultants, contractors and material manufacturers. We were therefore pleasantly surprised when the building owners themselves wanted to commit to following up the immediate measures by formal signature. Our roadmap has inspired other countries to implement similar processes and we hope more authorities in other countries do the same. It focuses on the challenges we have and engages the various sectors to think about how they can contribute.

Several municipalities in Norway are actively working on CO2 emissions; here I should mention the City of Oslo, which was awarded the European Green Capital Award for 2019. Oslo presented a new Climate Strategy whereby it will reduce emissions by 95% by 2030. It’s a very ambitious goal, where some of the measures are to strengthen public transport, reduce car transport and require fossil-free and eventually emission-free construction sites.

The public transport company Ruter has put its first battery-operated and emissions-free ferry into operation between Oslo and Nesodden where I live. Demand from clients is driving this development and in my former company Veidekke we bought the world’s first 25 ton fully electric excavator supplied by PON Equipment. We named him “El-dar”.

Some 12 years ago Statsbygg (governmental property developer) began to demand climate accounts which incorporated embodied carbon in materials. It has decided that a new government quarter should be environmentally certified at the BREEAM Excellent level. At the same time, Statsbygg has a clear message that we cannot expand out of the climate crisis. We must reuse resources, rebuild, extend, build upon and demolish less.

Powerhouse Brattørkaia is a collaboration between the building owner Entra, the architect Snøhetta, Skanska, Asplan Viak and Zero. Entra is very proud to open one of the world’s most environmentally friendly buildings, with solar cells supplying both its own building, the surrounding buildings and the city’s electric buses. This plushouse building generate more energy than it consumes and has a strong focus on embodied carbon.

Undervisningsbygg in the City of Oslo built Norway’s first passive school in 2014. It was an early proactive commissioner of a number of exciting schools with different sustainable qualities, with regard to economy, the environment, climate and social sustainability.

Mustad Eiendom owns a large area with several buildings. They will focus on a circular economy in strategic collaboration with the Lendager Group. They carried out an analysis where it documented materials in the buildings worth approximately NOK 1.5 billion; by reusing these it could save 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions.

Many are starting to see why it is important for business to think sustainably. 44 large building owners and developers have so far committed to implementing all the immediate measures in the Norwegian road map within one year of signing. The financial industry has also become an important driver in demanding documentation on sustainable projects and they have also prepared an ambitious roadmap.

In Norway, we have learned that deciding to follow the same path produces results. It is therefore inspiring to participate in the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) project Advancing Net Zero on behalf of a global building industry, where we now set a joint ambition.

But is it moving fast enough? We need courageous leaders and national leaders who see both opportunities and urgency. We stand ready with our members and our green partners through the WorldGBC to make our contribution.

Hege Schøyen Dillner is Head of Public Relations, Members and International Cooperation at Norwegian Green Building Council