Level(s): a common language for buildings’ sustainability in Europe!

by Sebastiano Cristoforetti, Senior Advisor & Consultant- CRISCON I I I Construction Sustainability

Last August the European Commission published Level(s), a strategic tool for EU policies affecting real estate. We will provide here an introduction and a series of articles will follow during the next months.

Level(s) is a key step for a multitude of stakeholders in the evolution that from energy efficiency leads to the implementation of strategies for circular economy and sustainability.

Level(s) is indeed the first common framework of indicators and metrics measuring sustainability performances of residential and office buildings. It has been developed, along a path whose preliminary steps date back to 2013, by the EU General Directorates for Environment and Growth, with the collaboration of the Joint Research Center (JRC) and the multisectoral participation of numerous stakeholders, including NGOs, European sectoral organizations of the building industry, public administrations and leading companies such as Skanska and Saint Gobain. Sustainability Building Certification Scheme owners, the Sustainable Building Alliance and the World Green Building Council also co-operated with the involvement of national Green Building Councils, including GBC Italia.

Summarizing the key Level(s)’ references, the first one can be considered the Commission Communication COM(2012) 433, which identified the roadmap for a resource-efficient Europe, as a starting point for the regulation and promotion of their sustainable use. COM(2014) 445, which explored the opportunities to improve the efficiency of resources in buildings by reducing their impact on environment, increasing at the same time the competitiveness of the construction sector in Europe. COM(2014) 445 delineated the objective of a common methodology and key indicators for measuring environmental performance throughout the lifecycle of buildings, declining their efficiency with respect to use of energy (and emissions), water and materials in the various construction phases.

COM(2015) 614 and the Action Plan for Circular Economy, which underlines the need for significant sectoral improvements that reduce environmental impacts and increase the durability and recyclability of building components. More recently, COM(2016) 860 presented a specific attachment to the acceleration of clean energy in buildings, crucial for the energy transition in the EU. The Commission’s Report on the implementation of the Action Plan for Circular Economy, COM(2017) 33, confirms the need to move forward with certain references for investors and, more generally, for economic actors, so that all European citizens could benefit.

In a medium-term perspective, Level(s) constitutes the basis for the evolution of future directives on energy performance of buildings (EPBD) but it is also of major importance for the development of green public procurement and the evolution of harmonized standards of product.

Level(s), open source and freely available, is a voluntary reporting framework for real estate and stakeholders that for a number of reasons today are not in a position to look directly at sustainability certifications. Focusing on the most important aspects of a building’s performance, Level(s) provides access to those who intend to address green buildings, with a tool that allows to adapt to the specific needs and competences necessary to build, buy or manage buildings that consume less energy, water and materials, are healthier and more comfortable, have lower operating costs and greater future financial value.

Level(s) aims primarily at increasing awareness and demand for more sustainable buildings by public and private entities and at disseminating knowledge on resource efficiency to support decision-making processes of all the actors along the construction chain (demand) and owners and investors.

Level(s), developed on the basis of existing reference tools and standards, is not a tool competing with rating systems such as LEED, BREEAM, DGNB et cetera, but it aims at spreading sustainability on a large scale through a gradual path. Levels(s) puts together common elements of European rating systems, which in their evolution can incorporate it as a core of indicators and metrics that reflect priorities for the EU’s circular economy and allow data comparability between buildings and/or portfolio, as well as different design options. In addition, as Core Framework, Level(s) does not set common performance targets for all countries, but “what” and “how” to measure to establish a common language of sustainability. Different rating systems, where applied, may reward differently the same performance.

In this sense, Level(s) is the basis for an extensive coordinated collection of data needed for future policy on circular economy and resource efficiency and the regulatory tools that will accompany it, and therefore it gives explicit attention to quality of the data, which it treats accordingly.

According to its objectives, Level(s) allows three different degrees (or levels) in its application, with increasing complexity, accuracy and benefits, hence the name of the toolkit. These levels correspond to a baseline evaluation (L1), a comparative evaluation (L2), and an evaluation for optimization (L3). As the levels grow, the necessary technical capabilities, accuracy and reliability of the data also grow. If the first constitutes the degree of entry, the second supports the comparison of alternative options in overall terms and the third allows you to consider different future scenarios and to narrow the gap between estimated performance and real performance while taking into account costs, risks and future opportunities.

The 9 indicators of Level(s) are designed in relation to 6 priorities (or macro-objectives), divided into 3 thematic areas:

Environmental performance in the life cycle

  • greenhouse gases emissions throughout the life-cycle of the building,
  • resource-efficiency and circular life-cycles of materials,
  • efficient use of water resources,

Health and comfort

  • comfortable and healthy spaces

Cost, value and risk

  • adjustment and resilience to climate change.

For the performance assessment according to the indicators, it is possible to adopt levels from simplified to full life-cycle assessment (full LCA). For the life-cycle, Level(s) considers 4 scenario tools and 1 data collection tool, along with a simplified LCA methodology.
Indicators present in the thematic areas are a set to which further indicators can be added in the future, some have already been considered with stakeholders who have collaborated to this release since 2015.
There are two employment paths for Level(s): the first, a direct one, through reference to the toolkit guidelines and the adoption of the report made available by the Commission; the second, an indirect one, through evaluation or certification schemes, or report systems, specifically aligned.

As anticipated, Level(s) has a considerably extended scope: new construction or major renovation of individual residential and office buildings, the development of multiple buildings with the same intended use, portfolio of office buildings and housing stocks. A major renovation is an intervention for which the cost of intervention on the envelope and/or plants is greater than 25% of the value of the building net of the value of the land on which it is built or for which at least 25% of the the surface of the envelope is subject to renewal (in Italy we find a correspondence with the “important second tier renovation”).

Level(s) addresses 6 categories of stakeholders, with reference to public and private projects and property:

  • owners, developers and investors,
  • design teams (architects and engineers),
  • construction and demolition companies, construction managers, lead contractors,
  • estate agents,
  • property and facility managers,
  • organizations that occupy buildings.

The testing stage of Level(s) will start in Autumn 2017 and it will last two years. On the one hand, IT will enable the elaboration of a next version ready for the market, since already validated through testing, on the other it will lay the foundations for a wider adoption of the instrument, also in relation to the strategic objectives of the European Commission listed above. Public and private subjects could join this phase.

In the next articles we will explore how different stakeholders can adopt Level(s) and what benefits they can get, we will describe in detail the structure of the reporting tool and consider its performance indicators, according to each area. For those interested in Level(s), part 1, 2 (structure and functioning) and part 3 (assessment of performance) can be freely downloaded. If you want to know more about how to adopt Level(s) during 2017-19, you can register your interest at EU Survey or contact CRISCON info@criscon.eu for in-depth information.


This post is also available in: Italian