Edwin van Noort (Dutch Green Building Council): ‘You need guts to do it differently’
By: Jessica Merkens
How are we going to live in an energy neutral way by 2050? Dutch Green Building Council is putting all bets on a sustainable, future-proof built environment. They do this by awarding BREEAM-certificates to sustainable buildings. Edwin van Noort (Manager of Development) feels the urgency of building sustainably. “It’s easy to just blame TATA Steel. I also see a lot of low hanging fruit in the built environment.” A conversation about sustainable and circular building design in a fast changing world.
Nowadays, sustainability has become a basic requirement for building design; a very important change
What is your motivation to be involved in sustainable construction?
“The world is changing rapidly. I have a three-year-old child at home. I would love it if he could see what we can see now. To travel to the other side of the world, without having an enormous impact on the environment. We’ve got the world on loan, and we need to take care of it.”
That’s beautiful, but sad at the same time...
“I remember a man who supplied machines to the cattle feed industry. He needed a new building. Around the same time, he took his family to the Maldives, twenty years after he visited last. He wanted to show the reefs to his kids, because he had found it so impressive twenty years ago. But it was gone. He made a complete 180 after that. All the choices he made for his new building were BREEAM-proof. He had the highest BREEAM score we have ever seen.”
Edwin van Noort
The Dutch BREEAM certification was established in 2009. What has changed in the past twelve years?
“Sustainability has become a basic requirement. Earlier, people treated it as an add on: ‘We’ll build a traditional building and just put on some solar panels.’ Nowadays, sustainability has become the starting point in building design, a very important change. In doing so, you can make your building circular from the core and build on that basis. Making it circular afterwards is not very feasible. More often than not, you’ll need to demolish. The environmental impact of materials is being assessed more often and better. Before, people were only talking about energy performance. What happens in twenty years with the material we use now? Will it produce an enormous waste pile? This is taken into account in BREEAM. What happens to the materials when the lifespan is done? If the manufacturer has a return system, you’ll be rewarded for that.”
Circularity is trending. What’s your view on this?
“What I see, is that the discussion is mainly focused on what reusable materials we should use. This is great. But I feel that the subject that started the topic of circular economy should be discussed more: namely, different ownership models. You might own a building, but not the lighting fixtures. So, you rent or lease light. You don’t want a lamp, you want light. That’s what you purchase. The provider needs to pay the energy bill and guarantee quality. In this manner, you trigger the provider to supply you with the most sustainable and high-quality equipment possible. It takes away the ‘split incentive’, in which the owner insulates a building for example, but the tenant pays the energy bill. And when a product is nearing its end, the provider has to take it back and reuse it. He too, has an interest in his materials returning in high quality after five years. You can apply this to every facet in construction. If you rent scaffolding, for example, you’d sign a contract with the supplier. Or an elevator. Mitsubishi does this: they lease elevators with return warranty.”
We need to lower CO₂ emission now. That’s the biggest challenge we’re facing.”
Sounds good. But is it really possible to apply this to every part of a building?
“In theory: yes. But practically, it’s more complex. For example: what happens when you buy a building where the facades are rented, but then the service provider goes bankrupt. A debt collector visits the building you own and says: ‘I’d like to have my facades back.’ How are you going to record the right of ownership legally? There are challenges there. I think installations inside buildings would work very well for service models, such as ventilation and lighting. Those are relatively simple constructions. It is common that a lot of fixtures need to be replaced after ten years. You can easily take it apart and replace them later. Let’s absolutely start with that. Moreover, there’s a lot of metal in the equipment. That’s valuable. It’s worth taking it back. A big, concrete plate is not as easy. Who would want that?”
You have included circularity demands in the current BREEAM 2020.
“That’s a big change indeed. Is it possible to deconstruct walls, floors, facades, etc. and reuse those? That’s only the hull. The next step would be to look at products and elements inside a building, such as the lights. Is it possible to not only take part of the fixtures apart, but reuse it as well?”
I would like to see that contractors and architects have the guts to view the materials they use completely different
What’s your perspective on the future of sustainable construction?
“Right now is the time to pull out all stops to reduce CO₂ emission as much as possible, as soon as possible. All effort must go to that. Circularity is good, we must continue that. But if we’re talking about taking concrete out of your building in 70 years and reusing it, you’re already too late. We need to lower CO₂ emission now. That’s the biggest challenge we’re facing. How? By developing different materials, techniques and products, like biobased materials. But also, by reflecting on where your materials are coming from. Steel produced in China has five times as big an impact on the environment as European produced steel. The EU will soon introduce the Product Environmental Footprint, for which manufacturers must calculate their environmental impact and communicate this to the consumer. They are working on making this a requirement in five years. The built environment must change. It’s easy to just point a finger at TATA Steel, which causes a lot of emission. I see a lot of low hanging fruit in the built environment. There are still a lot of buildings in which the lights are on at night or where fluorescent tubes are used. Let’s start by replacing those with LED. This already has tremendous effect on energy consumption. Every industry needs to contribute. It’s the only way we can be energy-neutral by 2050.”
What would be your wish for the next ten years?
“I would like to see that contractors and architects have the guts to view the materials they use completely different. Don’t use the standard sandwich panels with aluminum and polyurethane, but alternative materials to overhaul a building completely. The construction industry is a conservative one. I say this very harshly and it’s not entirely fair of me. To get a building made, there’s a lot of legislation and regulation. It needs to be safe and robust. Contractors know the materials they use now and they are widely available. It’s easy to choose the traditional materials. You have to have nerve to do it differently.”