A circular, nature built environment is key to the transformation
The symposium was opened by two speakers from the German initiative “Bauhaus der Erde”. Prof Dr Jürgen Kropp and Marc Weissgerber, who are co-leading the organisation that has been brought to life by climate researcher and expert Prof Dr Schellnhuber, set the ground for the event by pointing out the need to transform the built environment. Jürgen Kropp highlighted in his talk the high potential of building with biobased materials and especially timber given the amount of CO2 they are able to store. However it remains important to use forests in a sustainable manner and as Kropp emphasized, endless afforestation is not the solution. This is why the “Bauhaus der Erde” initiative is also looking into the storage potential of buildings. Marc Weissgerber explained how the organization strives for ways to transform the built environment holistically. He stressed that the initiative not only researches on ways to increase the use of regenerative materials, renewable energy and circular construction, it also wants to transform the current urban structures to more polycentric human settlements that account for the needs of a an increasing earth population over the next 30 years.
“If we want more carbon to be stored, we need to incentivize it”
Following the keynote, Dr Andrew Norton from Renuables, an organization in the UK providing among others consultation on Life Cycle Assessments, kicked off the tools section of the event. Dr Norton first described how important the consideration of stored carbon is in lifecycle assessments. Not only do timber and other biobased materials emit very little CO2 themselves, he says, they also help reduce carbon emissions by replacing high emission materials and by storing carbon. Hence increasing biomass into constructions and then extending the use phase of the construction would lead to a higher storage of CO2. But as Norton pointed out, realizing a stronger focus on carbon storage requires stronger incentives to do so: “if we want more carbon to be stored, we need to incentivize it”. And this incentives only work if the carbon storage benefit of biobased material is made visible says Norton. Current representation is not accounting for the benefit of carbon storage over a certain time frame. In order to really show this benefit and in consequence to promote the carbon uptake by using biobased materials, according to Norton calculation methods like weighted average or dynamic LCAs should be used when assessing the climate impact of buildings. Within this dynamic approach, carbon emissions that are caused now will have a greater impact bearing than the emissions that are 60 years down the line.
In France “RE 2020” and dynamic LCA set the path forward
In France the dynamic LCA has already found its way into the legislation. Elodie Macé, Environmental Design Engineer at ARTELIA Sustainable Buildings, explained in her presentation how this method is an essential part of the new French building regulation “RE2020”. Since 2016, France has been testing possible new regulations on actual buildings through the E+C- (Positive energy, carbon reduction). These efforts led to the new RE2020 regulation that came in effect on January 1st 2021 for all new buildings in France. The new regulation aims at reducing the carbon impact of buildings and at continuing to improve their energy performance, Macé pointed out. The carbon impact of building components according to the RE 2020 is calculated by summing up the carbon impacts during the whole life cycle from raw materials to end of life of the components with the dynamic LCA method. Embodied carbon maximums are set within the regulation and provide thresholds for new buildings.
Austria wants to “THINK WOOD”
In Austria the Austrian government kicked off a slightly different initiative in order to promote the carbon uptake of biobased materials. Simone Skalicki, Climate & Environment consultant at Kommunalkredit in Austria, dedicated her presentation to the Austrian forest fund. A fund passed by the National Council on July 7, 2020 and entered into force on February 1, 2021, which aims at compensating forest owners for their loss of value and consequential cost caused by climate change, at reducing the infestation with bark beetles, at developing a climate friendly forest and at strengthening material and energetic use of wood as material. Measures of this fund include reforestation, climate friendly forest development, forest fire protection measures and measure to increase the use of wood with the “THINK WOOD” initiative. The “THINK WOOD” initiative focused on new buildings, additions and extensions of buildings with a high proportion of renewable raw materials, especially wants to promote the use of wood as a raw material and a building material.
The Carbon Handprint
The second part of the natureplus symposium was dedicated to current policies encouraging the uptake of more biobased materials. Dr. Matti Kuittinen from the Ministry of the Environment in Finland presented the Finnish life-cycle approach to buildings. The Finnish assessment method includes reporting of both carbon footprint and handprint. While the carbon footprint describes the global warming potential associated with a building’s life-cycle, the carbon handprint is used to describe the net climate benefits associated with the same building resulting for example from the long term carbon storage. Kuttinen also presented some of the results of a joint study of the Aalto University in Finland and the Ruhr Universität Bochum in Germany. The study looked at ways to store carbon in the built environment and in addition to the usage of biobased materials and composites, it also evaluated soil organic carbon, enhanced weathering, direct air capture of CO2 and artificial photosynthesis.
Convincing the Unwilling with Knowledge Exchange and Incentives
The Netherlands focus strongly on public procurement as a lever to incentivize carbon capture by promoting a green deal in this area, as Roel Bol, Board Member of the Bioeeconomy Federation of the Netherlands reported. Bol himself pointed out that overcoming legislation obstacles in the construction sector is the biggest challenge. In addition he sees knowledge exchange as one of the bigger tasks before changing policies “in order to overcome the technical level of discussions” about carbon capture and in order to to convince the unwilling.
Magali Deproost from the Walloon Public Service Department for Sustainable Development, closed the round of presentations about policies and shared a number of efforts Walloonia has started to increase the use of biobased material. The Belgian region bets on strategic governmental plans, for example by incentivizing long term renovation, circular construction and the use of biobased materials in buildings. In addition, Deproost presented a few tools like an insulation bonus, the public buildings insulations subsidy, the label “Biobased Products” and the so called tool “totem” a tool based on static LCA to visualize carbon capture of materials and buildings.
Biobased materials in strong demand
After these insightful presentations from across Europe, the natureplus symposium was concluded with two very practical examples by the producers Baufritz and Gutex. Reiner Blum, Head of Application Technology at Gutex, and Dagmar Fritz-Kramer, Director of Baufritz, each presented their own biobased products, wood fibre insulation boards (GUTEX) and insulation wooden chips (Baufritz), and shared their companies’ sustainability efforts. Both companies report a strong increase in demand for their biobased products which concluded the event with the hopeful assumption that the various efforts that were partly shared during the symposium are beginning to sink in, giving carbon capture its much needed awareness.
*This event was part of the natureplus project "Baustoffwende" and financially supported by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.