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Concrete ideas about sustainable buildings

Insights into a sustainable strategy by the authorities in the German city of Heidelberg was one of the highlights of a conference in Brussels organised by the Concrete Initiative to consider the environmental future of the construction industry.

The mayor for the past 12 years and currently president of the Energy Cities network, Professor Doctor Eckart Wurzner, told delegates how the municipality took national policies and developed more proactive local ones.

For example, local authorities have a right to bid first for land for housing when it becomes available. By partnering with various banks, the council has bought large areas to develop housing that includes a large, lower-cost, social element. Officials have also been able to insist that new buildings are as sustainable as possible.

Reuse and renovation

Professor Eckart also said that there was much greater emphasis on renovating and reusing existing structures rather than demolishing them for new builds. He said the package of measures were essential as Heidelberg was the fastest-growing city in Germany.

The event, The Concrete Dialogue 2018: Pathways towards a carbon-neutral built environment, was held in the European Parliament. It was staged by the Concrete Initiative, a project led by the European Cement Association (CEMBUREAU), the European Federation of Precast Concrete, the European Ready-Mix Concrete Organisation and the European Aggregates Association.

Buildings account for at least 40% of energy consumption and CO2 emissions in the EU and that is why the built environment and building sector are seen as key to a resource and carbon efficient Europe by 2050.

As the energy use on buildings is reduced, materials efficiency is becoming increasingly more important to the decarbonisation and sustainability agenda.

Life cycle analysis

Their goal of the Concrete Iniative is to emphasise a focus on the efficient use of natural resources over the lifetime of a building and seeing that structure as a whole, not just an aggregation of construction products.

Koen Coppenholle, chief executive of CEMBUREAU, said it was vital that a life cycle analysis approach was used. He gave an example of ‘thermal mass’, the ability of a concrete building to remain cooler when the weather is hot outside or to retain heat when it is cooler externally. These elements should be considered, he argued, when the sustainability of different construction materials was being compared.

In another presentation, Josefina Lindblom, a policy officer for DG Environment, talked about her work on the development of Level(s), a voluntary reporting framework launched by the Commission to help the construction industry improve the sustainability of buildings. She said it would be available after testing in 2020.

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