Practices

Level(s): towards an holistic approach to sustainable architecture and construction

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With resource consumption in the EU reaching ever more unsustainable levels, DG Environment, together with DG Grow and DG Energy, developed a reporting scheme to help the construction sector quantify and mitigate its impact. The resulting Level(s) framework provides a common EU approach to the assessment of environmental performance in the built environment.

On 25 June, in collaboration with BUILD UP, the Architects’ Council of Europe (ACE) organised a webinar to invite architects to engage with piloting the Level(s) scheme. The event was moderated by Dr. Judit Kimpian, Chair of the ACE Sustainability Work Group and organised as part of a project supported by the Creative Europe programme. Speakers discussed the aims, applicability, case studies and benefits of the Level(s) scheme and outlined ways of participating in the testing phase.

 

Dr Judit Kimpian welcomed participants, recalling how architects have been concerned, for some time, by the fact that ‘sustainability’ discussions focus disproportionately on energy efficiency at a policy level. The Architect’s Council of Europe strives to promote better regulatory and financial incentives that can improve, significantly, both the resource efficiency and indoor environmental quality of buildings. Moreover, it has long championed a more sensible approach that considers a building’s environmental quality, resilience and value in tandem with the natural resources consumed to achieve these. Architects across the EU have campaigned for a framework offering a comprehensive approach to reporting on sustainable building performance and doing this across all work stages, from briefing, to design, construction as well as the operation of buildings.

To this end, ACE has called for a high-level reporting template that can help set tangible targets, which can then be included in contracts and in turn help to validate achieved performance in use & diagnose problems. Architects want clarity and comparability of performance data to be able to better balance design drivers. In particular, the ability to compare calculated performance with measured performance is of paramount importance to architects using this tool. Therefore, ACE is keen to invite architects to join the Level(s) pilot and provide feedback to the Commission on what works well and what changes would better support architectural quality and holistic design.

 

Josefina Lindblom (EU Commission, DG Environment and responsible for the work on "sustainable buildings") spoke first, presenting the main features of Level(s). Developed as a common EU framework of core indicators, Level(s) is based on a holistic approach for assessing the sustainability of office and residential buildings. Level(s) provides a set of indicators and common metrics for reporting the environmental performance of buildings along their life cycle. The main purpose of Level(s) is to provide a common language for building professionals both on the supply and the demand side. It does not set European benchmarks and it is not a certification scheme.

The Level(s) framework consists of six macro-objectives, which, beyond energy efficiency, set goals for the contribution of buildings across the EU to environmental, health, comfort, cost, value and risk objectives. Indicators are structured around the following six areas:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions along a building’s life cycle;
  • Resource efficient and circular material life cycle;
  • Efficient use of water resources;
  • Healthy and comfortable spaces;
  • Adaptation and resilience to climate change;
  • Optimised life-cycle cost and value.

 

The limited number of indicators, based on existing standards, means that Level(s) targets the mainstream market. This voluntary framework to assess and report on building performance is applicable to offices and residential buildings and both new built projects or existing buildings at the point of major renovation.

 

Level(s) is aimed at built environment professionals and property stakeholders. Three levels of performance assessment can be carried out using the indicators.

Level 1 is a simple point of entry for ‘common performance assessment’ of buildings, targeting the mainstream market, getting users to start addressing impact areas beyond energy efficiency. Level(s) 2-3 represent a progression both in terms of expertise and capability, as well as the accuracy and reliability of the data gathered – to allow robust comparisons to be made as well as optimisation through design iterations.

 

Level(s) is the result of strong collaboration between the European Commission and a large group of building professionals. The development of Level(s) was an iterative process with many rounds of consultations, resulting in broad stakeholder support for the framework.

 

Level(s)’ technical documentation and toolkit are fully available at  http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/buildings.htm#toolkit.

 

Dr. Esfandiar Burman (Lecturer at the Bartlett School Environment, Energy & Resources) was the second speaker. He illustrated the benefits of an holistic approach to building performance data, with a special focus on indoor air quality -  an imperative for many European countries. Case studies shown by Dr Burman illustrated clearly the problem of the unintended consequences of energy efficiency policies, for example overheating issues in new buildings or ‘off-gassing’ from building materials. He emphasised the need to address the ‘total performance’ of buildings to ensure that impacts are not pushed into less documented life cycle stages or impact areas.

 

Dr. Peter Andreas Sattrup, from the Danish Association of Architectural Firms, was the final speaker. As an architect and senior advisor on sustainability, he described the importance of an intermediate approach to sustainability: high-level sustainability certifications cover only a tiny fraction of the building and construction sector. The challenge is to raise the game of the mainstream market to reach a higher level of achievement. Architects hope that Level(s) will offer clear metrics to help reduce the complexity of reporting to improve building performance. By means of multiple case studies, Dr. Sattrup discussed the tangible benefits of a holistic approach to reporting building performance to architects, investors and end users alike.

 

Josefina Lindblom closed the speeches by inviting organisations to test Level(s) on real building projects during the two-year test phase. It will be important to have a good range of test projects regarding geographical spread and building types, including both new buildings and renovation projects. Level(s) can be tested on either ongoing or completed building projects where there is sufficient information available.

 

After the test phase, and once the experience of the testing has been used to revise the framework, Level(s) will be a robust tool, ready for market and well suited to stakeholders’ requirements.

 

Projects can be registered for the test phase at  https://ec.europa.eu/eusurvey/runner/LevelsTestingRegistration.

 

The webinar is fully available on the BuildUp YouTube channel : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpvCUuVEyTs&list=PLIz1NUdQ7uNw2avEkAtG89FUOuKh3Wr2d.