Blog 9 - What does Level(s) success look like to the European Commission?
In June, the view from the roof of the new Knauf Insulation Experience Center at Škofja Loka is perfect. Forests are verdant, skies are summer blue and Slovenia’s snow-capped mountains are crystal clear.
However, beyond providing a great view, our center is also contributing valuable data to the European Commission’s ground-breaking building sustainability tool known as Level(s), which is currently going through a test period.
By measuring indicators such as climate change impact, water and energy use, indoor air quality and resource efficiency across the entire life cycle of building, the Level(s) initiative is designed to be a significant first step in making buildings more sustainable by generating the data needed to understand their environmental impact
So, what impact could Level(s) have on future building projects? Is its future as clear and as bright as those Slovenian mountains?
“I really hope in the future that Level(s) indicators will make it into some kind of mandatory regulation either on a European Union or Member State level,” says Josefina Lindblom of the Commission’s DG Environment, Unit Sustainable Production, Products and Consumption. “Much depends on political appetite but once we have a revised version after the test period, we need to come up with strong incentives to use it.
“I think the success of Level(s) will be a step-by-step gradual process. Look at what happened with energy efficiency in Europe — it went from voluntary to incentives to mandatory to even more mandatory as part of a long process. It was not something that switched overnight. Level(s) will be the same.”
At present less than 1% of all buildings are now sustainability assessed and the Commission believes this should be scaled up dramatically and also appeal to the mass market. That is why Level(s) is designed to ‘mainstream’ information about the sustainability of a building in an easily accessible form.
Many Member States appreciate the value of a Level(s) assessment of their buildings and that it is likely to form part of the future regulation landscape, says Josefina, but how this evolves depends on individual national factors.
“I see a lot of Member States attracted to the initiative because they want to assess their buildings as well as possible and Level(s) saves them a huge amount of time and effort. Still, I don’t expect the full scope of Level(s) to suddenly pop up in building regulations all over Europe. I think the extent to which indicators will be used in national regulation will depend on issues such as geography, culture or climate with some countries focusing more on water, energy use or indoor air quality for example.”
A further important aspect of the success of Level(s) depends on the momentum generated by Member States and building stakeholders, Josefina says. Practical support through, for example, the creation of open-source calculation tools, accessible databases to compare information and extensive training will help mainstream the initiative.
At Knauf Insulation contributing to the pilot project was an unmissable opportunity and builds on our own approach to mainstreaming building sustainability through our use of Life Cycle Assessments and Environmental Product Declarations for our solutions.
“The center is significant because it is one of the first to contribute to Level(s) and being the first always sends a stronger signal than being the 50th — you are showing others the way,” says Josefina.
“The location matters too. It’s in Slovenia and that’s important. I think it would have had less attention if it was in a place where this type of project is happening all the time. This catches the interest of people — for example in Lithuania — in a different way than if the building was in La Défense in Paris.”
Companies like Knauf Insulation may be embracing Level(s), but what about other parts of the building industry that are slower to change? “Everywhere I go, professionals realise building sustainability will be part of the future regulation landscape,” says Josefina. “So, if you want to be on top of this as a company or organisation, Level(s) is a good tool to start with. It’s a simple entry point into a complicated area.”
Understanding the cost benefits of sustainable buildings through Level(s) indicators offers another vital opportunity. “If you are able to use less resources through the full life cycle of a building you are likely to have a reduced cost at the end of that life cycle even if you had higher capital costs at the beginning,” says Josefina.
“Initially, expenses may be higher but as you learn to work in new ways in a building consortium, costs go down. Working in a different way always comes at a cost initially, but a more sustainable, greener building does not have to be more costly once you know how to do it. Importantly, something has been created that is substantially better than what we are seeing now.”
And good building sustainability has direct financial implications. In some parts of Europe there are buildings that are not sustainable and have become obsolete or suffer excessive gaps between leasing tenancies. Additionally, issues such as good indoor air quality or sustainable water or energy use add value.
“We are seeing a huge change in the way people look at building sustainability today compared to a decade ago. It is definitely more mainstream. People realise it is the future and I hope Level(s) plays a pioneering role in shaping that future.”