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Nordic countries aspire to set the standard for green buildings

The Nordic Prime Ministers have declared their ambition to develop common green technology norms and standards in the building sector as part of their green growth initiative. Common standards on sustainable renovation, indoor climate classification, and a greater say in European product and building declarations are expected to create new growth opportunities for the Nordic building sector.

Harmonised standards build markets
Three projects have been launched within this project:

  • Sustainable renovation of existing buildings,
  • Indoor climate and voluntary classification standards, and
  • Nordic contributions to EU regulations and standards in environmental product declarations in sustainable construction.

The above three themes were selected from ten potential Nordic focus areas identified by the consulting company COWI on the basis of a mapping of Nordic and European construction legislation.

“Standardisation is a key tool in reducing trade barriers and building markets. Harmonised standards within the Nordic countries will make it easier for companies in the building sector to conduct business across the region,” says Johan Englund, Senior Advisor at Nordic Innovation.

Nordic Innovation is the Nordic Council of Ministers’ main institution for promoting cross-border trade and innovation. It has been tasked, along with the Council Secretariat, with launching and further developing the projects.

Nordic standards as models in Europe
A common feature of the projects is that they aim to enhance Nordic influence at European level.

“Our aim is to develop standards that will become models for European standards. This will enable us to create a platform for Nordic companies to develop green building solutions and export them to the European market,” says Englund.

A steering group, in which all the Nordic standardisation organisations are represented, has been established for the three projects. Norway will head up work on sustainable renovation, Denmark is to be responsible for the indoor climate project and Finland will take charge of Nordic contributions to EU sustainable construction product declarations.

“Because of the Nordic countries’ extensive experience in sustainability- and environment related fields, it is in their interest to promote stringent sustainability requirements, and to bring influence to bear on the substance and content of future requirements,” says Preben Aagaard Nielsen, Senior Consultant at Danish Standard.

“This would create major market opportunities for Nordic companies,” he adds.

Sustainable renovation of existing buildings
The aim of the first project is to define common Nordic requirements for environmentally friendly and energy efficient renovation of existing buildings.

“Renovation is vital if we are to live up to our environmental ambitions with respect to energy use and sustainability. We would like the Nordic countries to be at the forefront of sustainable renovation practices,” says Aagaard Nielsen.

The aim of the project is to generate simple tools for policymakers to assess existing building stock, prioritise buildings suitable for renovation and identify those which should simply be torn down.

“We have a Nordic Swan label for sustainability in new construction. Our ambition is to create the basis for a comparable label for the sustainable renovation of existing buildings,” Aagaard Nielsen continues.

A robust Nordic network of companies in the construction industry has already been established through Nordic Built, a project aimed at accelerating the development of sustainable building concepts. More than 100 companies, organisations and public authorities have committed to the Nordic Built Charter. The Charter lists ten guiding principles for the Nordic construction sector in its approaches to issues such as energy, climate, the economy and people when developing the built environment.

“Our efforts complement each other very well and we hope to see many synergies between the green growth standardisation projects and Nordic Built,” says Englund.

Indoor climate and voluntary classification standards
Owing to the need for tight buildings in the cold Nordic winters, the Nordic construction industry has an inherent focus on ventilation technologies that provide a healthy indoor climate. Thus, one of the three projects strives to answer the need for more thorough standardisation and labelling of indoor climate in general.

“At present, standardisation is product based. We do not have a standard that measures the indoor climate in a building from a holistic perspective. Our aim is to develop such a standard,” says Englund.

“We have two standardisation schemes – one in Denmark and one in Finland – on ways to classify indoor climate. We see a potential for the Nordic countries to build on these two schemes and set the European agenda for how to make a common classification system for indoor climate,” adds Aagaard Nielsen.

Standards for environmental product declarations in sustainable construction
“What we are doing with this third project is to define common Nordic product category rules on sustainability in the construction industry,” Englund explains. The project is based on 37 construction categories defined in a series of European directives and standards: the European Construction Product Regulation.

According to Aagard Nielsen, an important part of the process will be to identify the most relevant product categories from a Nordic perspective. He mentions timber and gypsum as examples of construction materials that are particularly interesting to the Nordic countries.

“We also have leading companies in the insulation materials sector. We need to identify the most important product categories and come to a Nordic agreement on how the rules for environmental declarations should be defined.”

“This will maximise our influence on future EU standards, which is our main objective,” Aagard Nielsen concludes.

The green growth standardisation projects will be concluded in the spring of 2015.

“Harmonised standards within the Nordic countries will make it easier for companies in the building sector to conduct business across the region”.

Johan Englund
Senior Advisor at Nordic Innovation

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