The rise of the EU Green Deal as a new policy framework
Since the launch of the EU Green Deal last December, the European Commission has introduced a wave of initiatives to drive sustainability across different sectors of the European economy This substantial transition to sustainability has as its end goal a EU climate-neutral EU by 2050.
At Fire Safe Europe, we believe that fire resilient buildings will foster green, sustainable, resilient, safe and innovative cities and that fire safety and fire resilience must be considered when developing policies regulations for increased sustainability – as explained in our Position Paper “Boosting Sustainable Buildings through Fire Safety“.
Our brand-new Podcast “Fire Resilience: a solution to the green buildings debate” helps to raise awareness of the importance of fire resilience to make our buildings fitter for the future. The first three episodes have broadcasted audience experts’ insights on:
- “How to foster a sustainable future through green buildings?“;
- “Combining sustainable architecture with fire resilience“;
- “Fire resilient and sustainable buildings: the Mjöstårnet case study“.
To lay out the different impacts of building fires on sustainability, we published “Fire Resilience: an opportunity to minimise building fires’ impacts“. The article shows adverse effects including the release of greenhouse gases and significant financial loss.
Inserting Fire Safety in the EU Green Deal Initiatives on buildings
In May 2020, the European Commission announced the “EU Next Generation” recovery instrument, aimed at supporting economic activities aligned with the EU Green Deal’s priorities. Fire Safe Europe saw this as a chance to emphasise how integrating fire resilience in the EU Green Deal Initiatives on buildings could contribute to the goals of the European Commission. In our Opinion Piece “Inserting Buildings’ Fire Resilience in the EU Green Deal ”, we stressed that “making sure that buildings’ fire safety and fire resilience is accounted for in this transition to greener constructions will help reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, material circularity and climate-neutrality”. We also provided concrete recommendations on how to do so.
Also in May the European Commission published the Renovation Wave Roadmap which aims to pave the way towards better buildings’ energy efficiency and higher renovation rates. Fire Safe Europe believes that inserting fire safety and fire resilience in the Renovation Wave could “boost the initiative’s positive returns and support the aims highlighted in the Roadmap” such as stimulating the volume and depth of renovation, tackling worst performing buildings and energy poverty, and having the public sector and public buildings lead by example. You can read our recommendations on how to foster a deep and sustainable Renovation Wave with fire safety in our Position Paper.
“The key to fostering a sustainable future and ensuring buildings play their part is to adopt a holistic approach. To do so, no relevant area must be left untouched, and this includes accounting for fire safety and resilience.”(1)
In September, we brought some fire safety experts, buildings’ sustainability experts and Members of the European Parliament around a digital table to discuss how to contribute to the EU Green Deal’s success by ensuring its initiatives on buildings take into account fire resilience. Three key action areas emerged:
- Reflecting the multifaceted nature of sustainability in European and national building regulations by including fire safety;
- Harnessing the potential of green technologies in a fire-safe way;
- Raising awareness among citizens and stakeholders of the dynamics between sustainability and fires.
Focusing on these three areas, Fire Safe Europe put forward policy recommendations to EU policy-makers its document “Policy Recommendations to boost the EU Green Deal Initiatives on buildings with Fire Resilience”.
In the various documents related to the EU Green Deal’s Initiatives on buildings, the European Commission increasingly refers to Level(s), the EU’s new sustainable buildings’ reporting framework, as one of the appropriate tools to assess buildings’ embodied environmental impact and conduct life cycle assessments. Yet, Level(s) and most sustainability rating schemes generally do not factor in fire resilience. As Fire Safe Europe explained in its article “Above and Beyond” (Fire & Risk Management Journal, November 2020) this gap must be addressed: “in order for sustainability rating schemes to deliver a comprehensive and thorough assessment of a building performance, they must include an evaluation of a building fire resilience.”
More recently, the European Commission presented its much-awaited Strategic Communication on the Renovation Wave. The document points out that the Covid-19 crisis has stressed the importance of renovating our buildings deeply and massively.
Fire Safe Europe shares this vision that living in healthy and safe buildings is more critical than ever, which was underlined in June 2020, during its webinar on “The Importance of Fire Resilient and Sustainable Buildings amid Covid-19 Pandemic”.
Throughout its Communication, the European Commission highlighted some key principles for the Renovation Wave:
- Energy efficiency first as a horizontal guiding principle;
- Affordability – making energy-performing and sustainable buildings widely available;
- Decarbonisation and integration of renewables;
- Lifecycle thinking and circularity – including the use of organic building materials such as sustainably-sourced wood;
- High health and environmental standards – including fire and seismic safety;
- Tackling the twin challenges of the green and digital transitions together;
- Respect for aesthetics and architectural quality.
Fire Safe Europe commends these key principles and we are pleased that fire safety is referenced under the “high health and environmental standards” principle. Indeed, addressing fire safety and fire resilience is critical not only when implementing this specific principle but also when putting into action all of the Communication’s principles. For instance, when tackling decarbonisation, making our buildings’ fire resilient will help reduce CO2 emissions from building fires.
Fire Safe Europe encourages the European Commission to ensure a holistic approach by accounting for fire safety and fire resilience, particularly in:
- The Revision of the Energy Performance of Building Directive in 2021;
- The Revision of the Energy Efficiency Directive in 2021;
- The Digital Building Logbooks;
- The New European Bauhaus;
- In Horizon Europe research on energy technologies, sustainability and circularity of materials and systems for construction;
- Tackling energy poverty.
The EU Green Deal and its subsequent policies and regulations has created an opportunity to make sure that buildings’ sustainability includes fire resilience. It is essential to strive for the implementation of a holistic approach that encompasses all the factors playing into sustainability, including fire safety and fire resilience.