Policy - 13/September/2019

Learning by example

Benefits of energy efficient renovation of public buildings

Green policy makers and leaders of environmental organisations are often called out for not practising what they preach, particularly by flying to conferences or remote holiday destinations. It is a lesson city authorities can learn from. By renovating public buildings like schools, offices and hospitals to reduce energy wasted, cities can walk the talk and showcase to citizens the wider benefits of climate action

Good for the head: Renovating an office building to reduce its carbon emissions can increase productivity by 12%

Good for the heart: The average length of stay in hospitals can be reduced by around a day with a societal benefit of nearly €50 billion if the building is renovated to reduce energy consumption

Key quote: “Reducing energy waste in city buildings and the associated greenhouse gas emissions improves the resilience and health of a community as a whole.”

The need to walk the talk is at the heart of the energy transition. Cities aiming to lead on carbon neutrality have the perfect opportunity to do just that by renovating their own building stock. Actions to reduce energy use in hospitals, schools and offices owned by local government authorities mean fewer greenhouse gas emissions and are a good way for cities to showcase the benefits of the energy transition for people’s wallet, health and comfort. The World Green Buildings 2018 report cites a “lack of public awareness” as one of the main barriers to energy efficient construction and retrofits worldwide. By renovating public buildings and shouting loudly to citizens about the gains, ignorance is a problem that can be overcome.

Three building types — hospitals, schools and offices, many of which are owned by the public sector — account for nearly half of the total floor area of non-residential buildings in Europe. The vast majority need to be renovated to reduce their energy use in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement and to meet city targets for carbon neutrality. Investing in building renovation also greatly improves the health, well-being and productivity of European citizens, says a study by the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), a not-for-profit think tank.

The study finds that a “holistic people-centric renovation” of an office building can increase productivity by 12%. Across the 28 EU member states, that increase could be worth up to €500 billion. Students studying in schools with optimal indoor climate conditions achieve the same results two weeks faster than their peers stuck in buildings that are too hot or too cold. Indeed, optimal temperature, lighting, noise levels and air quality can improve students’ academic performance by 2-8%. Similar gains are seen in hospitals. Patients’ recovery time can be reduced by 10% by improving indoor environmental quality and by 11% by providing optimal lighting. In short, the average length of stay in hospitals (currently over a week) can be reduced by around a day with a societal benefit of nearly €50 billion, says BPIE. All are co-benefits of renovating buildings to reduce their energy consumption.
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This article is part of our special series looking indepth at how cities hold the key to the energy transition. All stories in the series will appear on our website and in the latest edition of our magazine to be published at the beginning of October 2019.

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