Dirty construction habits block path to truly climate-friendly buildings

(Clean Energy Wire, 22 Feb 2024) The climate impact of construction has mostly remained an afterthought in Europe's efforts to make its buildings climate-friendly, which has largely focused on heating emissions. Yet, as homes and offices become more energy efficient, the environmental costs of construction are pushed into the spotlight. Addressing the emissions that arise before a building is even in use becomes increasingly crucial to reaching the bloc's climate targets. Solutions to build sustainably are emerging, but a harmonised approach is still missing to bring all stakeholders into action.

The climate impact of our homes, schools, shops and offices goes much beyond the damaging greenhouse gases that heating and cooling them emits. Buildings begin polluting long before we begin using them and will continue to do so when they have to be torn down.

The whole polluting bill of these spaces – what is known as buildings' "embodied emissions" – includes producing the materials needed for floors, walls and ceilings and their transport to the construction site, as well as the construction process, renovations and, ultimately, deconstruction or demolition.

These emissions have largely remained an afterthought in Europe's efforts to reduce buildings' climate impact, which have focused on reducing the energy needs when they are in use.

"We will only reach the climate goals if the construction industry’s large climate footprint is drastically reduced, so it is urgent that the industry starts using, recycling and reusing environmentally friendly construction materials," said Tine Lange, founder of the Danish consultancy Responsible Assets, which advises the construction industry in the country.

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Clean Energy Wire, 22 Feb 2024: Dirty construction habits block path to truly climate-friendly buildings