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Europe gets on the Level with new sustainable building tool

On 28 September 2017 the European Commission launched the much-awaited “Level(s)” sustainable building performance reporting tool to the market. Still in pilot stage, this voluntary tool aims to bring a unified approach across the European Union to sustainable design and operation of new residential and office buildings, as well as existing residential and office buildings undergoing major renovations.

It has been designed to allow everyone from building clients to occupants to increase their understanding of how buildings impact the environment, how those impacts can be reduced and to get a better appreciation of the more demanding performance assessment schemes and tools moving forward.

The EU describes it purpose as follows:

The intention is not to create a new standalone building certification scheme, or to establish performance benchmarks, but rather to provide a consistent and comparable voluntary reporting framework that works across national boundaries and has a broad potential for use by building sector professionals across the EU.

Over the past three years the EU has undertaken a comprehensive stakeholder engagement to determine what would be the most important issues the industry would face and what is likely to be the best approach in the development of the new policy.

Amongst other stakeholders, the World Green Building Council undertook a series of workshops, one of which was held in Google’s European headquarters in Dublin in late 2014. I was fortunate to be invited to attend this workshop on behalf of the Irish Green Building Council, and was exposed firsthand to the cooperative nature of the undertaking. The purpose of these workshops was to get a snapshot of how markets within the EU see the environmental challenges moving forward from a market and regulatory perspective.

The end goal is to provide a voluntary platform that can be uniformly adopted across the EU as a baseline performance standard and form a benchmark against which member nations’ sustainable building performance activities may be measured and compared.

The development of Level(s) is being spearheaded by the European Commission in close collaboration with key players like Skanska, Saint-Gobain, Sustainable Building Alliance, and the World and European Green Building Councils. The pilot is intended to run until 2019 at which stage learnings will be used to refine the tool before its final release to the market.

The European Commission describes the Level(s) initiative as:

A voluntary reporting framework that provides a common “sustainable” language for the buildings sector: a set of simple metrics for measuring the sustainability performance of buildings throughout their life cycle. Level(s) encourages life cycle thinking at a whole building level; it is a comprehensive toolkit for developing, monitoring and operations and supports improvement from design to end of life.

James Drinkwater, director of the World Green Building Council’s Europe Regional Network said the tool was a clear market signal that sustainable building practice was shifting from “niche to norm”.

“Having a common goal to deliver nearly zero-energy buildings across Europe galvanised industry-wide action, and now having a common language around ‘sustainable’ building helps us begin to really transform mainstream practice,” he said.

Level(s) will focus on all aspects of the building including:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Resource and water efficiency
  • Healthy and comfortable spaces
  • Adaption and resilience
  • Optimised life cycle cost and value

Its primary objective is to move the sustainable buildings debate beyond energy efficiency to a more holistic design, construction and operational philosophy that will deliver at all stages of the buildings life.

The application of the Level(s) framework is potentially broad. This iteration primarily focuses on office and residential buildings and encompasses both new and existing buildings at the point of major renovation. Its basic premise is around engagement and getting all market sectors to consider sustainability as an achievable and economic reality. It attempts to remove the mystique from the subject and address novices as well as established professionals. Companies, associations and public authorities are encouraged to register interest during the pilot stage to test the application of Level(s) and identify any shortcoming and improvements prior to release in 2019.

Notwithstanding the transformational impact on the market brought about by the GBCA’s Green Star certification, a tool such as Level(s) could be adopted by the Australian market allowing a wider appeal across states, galvanising an approach to sustainability that is consistent and comparable to the broader market. Its application across Europe – with its diverse climates – addresses some of the climate issues often quoted as unsuitable to a common approach in Australia. This approach needs to be considered and this program tracked through its pilot period to identify how effective it is at delivering its KPIs in a competitive market.

Further information is available here and here.

John Moynihan is a sustainability consultant with Ecolateral based in Brisbane. He is a Green Star professional, Passive House consultant, LHA assessor and sustainability educator.

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