Now that agreements have been found on these directives, and despite their limitations, the EU feels it has delivered. It is now switching its building's policy focus from energy efficiency to sustainability. Given the importance for the glass industry of any EU building's related policy, the shift towards sustainable buildings is detailed in this special focus.
What does sustainability mean for buildings?
Sustainability of buildings covers energy efficiency but it encompasses environmental aspects such as minimising manufacturing CO2 emissions, increasing recycled content of products to limit recourse to natural resources, avoiding usage of chemical substances and facilitating end-of-life management of building components. It also covers economic (cost-efficiency) and social aspects such as occupant's health, safety and comfort, be it thermal, acoustic or visual.
These aspects of sustainability of building are already reflected in recent EU policy initiatives such as the Ecolabel for office buildings and the Green Public Procurement criteria for windows and external doors.
Why an EU initiative in sustainable buildings?
The Commission considers that its new policy framework for buildings (EPBD, EED) will improve the energy efficiency of buildings, which will consume much less energy than today. Consequently, the Commission expects that over the full life-cycle of an energy efficient building, the environmental impact of the use phase will be significantly reduced. As a result, the environmental impacts of the construction stage (including manufacturing of component) and the end-of-life stage will proportionally increase and will have a higher share in the full life-cycle of an energy efficient building than the use phase.
On this basis, DG Environment considers that a policy initiative covering both pre-use and end-of-life aspect is needed to make future buildings more sustainable over their full life-cycle. It has thus started work on a policy initiative for sustainable buildings that will lead to a Commission communication in 2013. This initiative will not cover energy efficiency.
What are the opportunities for the glass industry?
The increasing policy focus on sustainability of buildings potentially offers significant business opportunities for the glass industry. However, for these opportunities to materialize and to best position its products at a time when sustainability is becoming a key competitive asset in the construction sector, the glass industry must ensure it performs well on all environmental aspects.
Greater attention will have to be devoted in the coming years to increasing end-of-life glass collection schemes and achieving higher recycling rates. The glass industry may in return profit from more affordable cullet to minimize the environmental impacts of production. Policy-makers awareness of the challenge of collecting and recycling of construction and demolition glass waste must be raised. In the meantime, policy support must be sought by the glass industry to improve recycling of post-consumer glass waste throughout the EU.
The upcoming Commission initiative on sustainable buildings also gives the glass industry the opportunity to shape the debate on the environmental criteria to assess the sustainability of buildings. Indeed, Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) is often portrayed as the main tool to assess the environmental performance of products. If it provides useful indicators of environmental impacts, such as recycling and end-of-life, the glass industry must also explains LCA's shortcomings and notably the fact that LCA does not allow a proper quantification of products' energy saving properties.
These aspects have already been underlined by Glass for Europe when meeting with the Commission official in charge of the initiative over the course of summer and will be highlighted in the Glass for Europe contribution to the upcoming stakeholder consultation.
What about energy efficiency and the social aspects of sustainability?
Although energy efficiency of buildings will not be covered by this initiative the challenge of improving the energy performance of the building stock remains and must be properly addressed at national level. Indeed, without proper implementation of the EPBD and EED in EU member states, the EU will fail to deliver higher building energy efficiency. The glass industry efforts at national level to secure robust and ambitious transposition of the EPBD and the EED must continue, in order to make added-value glazing compulsory for new buildings and window refurbishment as well as to grow the building renovation market throughout Europe.
In addition, this new policy focus on buildings' sustainability also provides the possibility for the glass industry to shed lights on the social aspects of sustainability. Ensuring a healthy, safe and comfortable indoor environment to occupants must be part of a sustainable building initiative. In this regards, the unique contribution of glazing in enhancing occupants well-being thanks to the provision of daylight and visual comfort must be advocated by the glass and glazing industry. To this end, Glass for Europe will soon publish a study on the ancillary benefits of glazing, which will be presented in the next issue of EU Glass Focus.
More information on industry action at national level is available via these two links: