Interview with Josefina Lindblom: Why environmental assessment demands a holistic approach?

Olga: You are working at the European Commission for DG Environment, in the unit of Eco-innovation and Circular economy. You were in charge of the preparation of the Communication on Resource Efficiency Opportunities in the Building Sector which the European Commission adopted in 2014, and you are now leading the implementation of this work. Can you please tell us more about this?

Josefina: Yes indeed. The Communication from 2014 describes the need for a common and at the same time holistic approach to assess the environmental performance of buildings. This is a major part of our work right now as we are developing a framework with core indicators to assess buildings. The idea is to have a voluntary and fairly simple tool ready by summer 2017, which actors in the building sector will be able to use for reporting and communicating the environmental performance of buildings, beyond the energy efficiency which of course is common practice already. A major challenge is of course to deliver something which is easy enough to use so that it becomes attractive to the sector, and at the same time be sure to cover the most important environmental aspects during a building’s life cycle. We have set up several stakeholder groups to guide us in this work and we feel the strong support from a large part of the building sector.

You are highlighting the importance of taking a more holistic approach to “green buildings”, for instance, that “decision-making along the whole value chain should be based on reliable, comparable and affordable data”. Can you please explain this in more details?

> When we talk about a holistic approach, we refer to environmental impacts that happen along the whole life cycle, from material extraction to the end of life of the building. This relates to the use of all relevant resources. The building sector is a major user of resources, half of all our material use, half of all our energy use and a third of all our water use goes to buildings. And construction and demolition waste makes up a third of our total generated waste. Clearly, there are many things to take into account when estimating the environmental performance or impact of buildings. We also want to include aspects related to quality and value of buildings in our assessment framework.

Useful data and hence knowledge on these matters are scattered and quite limited. Different tools with different scopes are being used and it is rare that results can be compared and this situation hampers transfer of good practice and making the business case. This is what we want to improve by providing a tool that could be useful for a vast majority of building projects and which would generate reliable, comparable and affordable data. We would in turn hope that such information would be used by different actors on different levels when taking decisions, both on the demand and supply side.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Apart from the bigger development work on the framework of core indicators that I just mentioned, we are also running a parallel project which looks at performance gaps, i.e. the difference, or gap, between design and real performance. We know this is not uncommon when it comes to a buildings energy efficiency performance, but we want to know more about potential gaps also for other kinds of environmental aspects. Knowledge gained will feed into the framework development. We also intend to start up a project that will look at the costs and benefits for companies to report and communicate on wider environmental aspects linked to buildings.

How must the real estate industry respond to meet new climate change pledges?

In general, I would believe that it is key to be in control of your building stock and be aware of the actual performance of individual buildings. New business models and/or distributions of responsibility may be advantageous to keep control of performance and enable improvements. We see e.g. how participants in the so called Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), which measures sustainability performance of property investors, do better every year. A good start to be in charge of your own performance is clearly to have data and thus the knowledge.

Josefina Lindblom

Dr Josefina Lindblom is working at the European Commission for DG Environment, in the unit of Eco-innovation and Circular economy. She has previously worked at DG Research with specific support to SMEs and in DG Joint Research Centre, where she took part in research studies related to improved environmental performance of industry and how to design policy in this respect. She has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering Design from Chalmers Technical University of Gothenburg.

Don’t miss her conference panel “Achieving <2 degrees Celsius: How must the real estate industry respond to meet new climate change pledges?” at MIPIM 2016. Register here to attend.

Top image via 24Novembers

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