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The 7th issue of Cleantech magazine concentrates on the environmentally friendly building and construction sectors. Also in the issue: a recap of the Warsaw COP19 climate conference, analysis of the new proposal to support renewable energy, and much more.
Cleantech Magazine | by Wojciech Kość

Energy Efficiency: Good Job, Try Harder

Energy Efficiency: Good Job, Try Harder

It might not grab as much attention as, say, the frenzied global climate change talks, but construction sector means a lot in the struggle to reduce emissions globally. Poland has a lot to be proud of in that respect, but challenges remain.

From the Cleantech magazine's Spring 2014 issue.

They’re big and they contribute to climate change a lot. Not coal fired power plants or planes. Buildings are everyday’s life very fabric and they often pass as neutral to the environment, yet it’s the construction and real estate sectors that are responsible for up to one third of global emissions of greenhouse gases and consume 40 percent of energy globally, according to the UN.

In other words, if one curbs buildings’ energy use and emissions’ output, it’s one of key steps towards tackling climate change so that the global temperature growth is limited to just 2 percent by 2100, compared to pre-industrial era.

Unlike many other industries, the real estate and construction sectors have hardly sat back. On the contrary, there are many examples where real estate developers and construction contractors have taken leadership. These companies are coming up with energy efficient products, and are already talking about zero net (or close) energy properties being the next step.

The latter will actually be a legal requirement as at the end of 2020. Still, it’s secondary if the green drive is real estate and construction sectors’ own initiative, a response to occupiers’ demands or legal obligation.

What counts is, according to Alan Colquhoun, head of CEE at DTZ, a real estate services company, that sustainability is in the construction and property sectors’ best interest.

“The vested interest in real estate is to get an occupier and not holding onto the status quo. In other industries, the amount of investment these industries would have to go through in order to adapt to the pressure of environmental regulations and expectations is huge and probably crippling. These kind of vested interests don’t exist in real estate,” Mr. Colquhoun said (see entire interview, page 41).

A good example of what Mr. Colquhoun refers to is what’s been taking place in commercial real estate sector in Poland for a few years now. Virtually all new office buildings in the pipeline in Poland are certified, mostly to BREEAM or LEED upper standards.

Developers like Skanska are open about the next step in the process: delivering buildings that are close to zero net energy use (they use as much energy as they produce, via, for example, solar panels or ground heat pumps). This in turn, will get the sector close to the EU requirement from 2010 that by end of 2020 all new buildings must be “almost zero net energy use”. Other property sectors - retail, logistics and residential - are seen embracing sustainability trends as well.

According to data from United Nations’ Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (SBCI), Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), of which Poland is by far the biggest real estate market, has managed to curb emissions from buildings very well. The emissions grew very little in the 1990s and early 2000s during the boom for construction shortly before and after most of CEE states joined the European Union. The SBCI’s forecast until 2030 is that these emissions will remain flat at worst, undoubtedly an effect of the sustainable standard taking hold, either via certification systems like BREAM or LEED or by improving overall construction standards.

As Polish real estate contributes to neutralize at least some of the sneer that Poland gets from other countries as an emissions-heavy economy, some challenges lie ahead still.

In terms of building stock, it’s first of all the existing old stock that’s nowhere near sustainability standards. In Poland, CO2 emissions in kilograms per usable floor area exceed 100, while top three European countries in that respect, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland, are at 6, 16, and 22, respectively (see chart).

On the users’ side, there’s a need to overcome habits and tendencies that comprise users’ everyday experience with buildings. For example, ignoring small energy saving opportunities.

The second challenge is poor awareness of consumers, building managers, construction companies, politicians about the benefits of improving energy efficiency in buildings.

Finally, there are obstacles on the policy level. Slow process of drafting local legislation is slow, insufficient enforcement of standards, and lack of detailed guidelines and incentives for energy efficiency investments are main problems on this level.

“That some market leaders are doing a good job in terms of sustainable property products doesn’t mean it has penetrated everywhere. There are other cities than Warsaw in Poland and there the barrier isn’t even the lack of information, but persisting wrong information about costs required to launch and execute an energy efficiency or sustainable building project,” said Tomasz Augustyniak, managing director of Go4Energy, a sustainability consultancy.


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