Strengthening the "green" dimension of European standardization is a strategic priority for CEN, as seen in this advertisement
Strengthening the "green" dimension of European standardization is a strategic priority for CEN, as seen in this advertisement

Having the “best” technological solution is not always enough. Uniform standards in national and international markets add benefits, such as customer familiarity and confidence, access to broader opportunities for market growth, and even technological evolution starting from a higher platform. One reason the U.S. lags behind Europe in building efficiency and quality is our lack of uniform building codes and voluntary standards. We have a maze of sometimes conflicting building codes that vary town to town, wrought by over 20,000 separate code jurisdictions, and a have glut of green initiatives. According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), there are at least 94 federal programs fostering green building in the nonfederal sector, with 64 of them developing green building standards as a primary function.

Sometimes less is more, and the Europeans seem to get this in their effort to create one uniform standard. Currently the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is busy working on a second generation of building standards and a single method to calculate the integrated energy performance of buildings. One benefit of creating uniform standards for energy efficiency and sustainability is wiping away the problem of greenwashing. To claim environmental performance a product (or building) must conform to a common basis agreed to and understood by all. The key word in Europe today is “interoperability,” which describes a common platform fostering competition that does not work at cross purposes but aligns government, industry, and environmental objectives to compete for better and sustainable solutions. Peter Capelhorn, advisor to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), closed his keynote remarks at the CEN Construction Sector Network Conference 2011 by declaring that the construction sector needs clear, uniform standards that not only help create future value, but also “value the future.”

Some argue that regional differences in the U.S. make it impossible to have national building standards, and to the extent that regional differences in climate and natural hazards require different building systems, this is true. But the argument that the construction and regulatory culture of Buffalo, N.Y., remains irreconcilable with that of Birmingham, Ala., is belied by the coming convergence of the construction sector in Europe--unless you believe the Germans and French, or the English and Greeks have more in common than Yankees and Southerners. Under a uniform drive toward interoperable sustainability standards in the EU, a goal set for the EU construction sector by 2020, the Europeans are leapfrogging past the beta-test phase, in which the U.S. construction industry seems locked indefinitely, toward consensus in “new and innovative solutions that meet the demands associated with the global, grand challenges (climate, security, etc.)” facing us all, said Antonio Paparella, last year at the CEN Construction Sector Network Conference.

The objective of reducing disparities in codes and standards at national, regional, and local levels is coherence. In other words, removing the regulatory friction that creates a technical obstacle to more ambitious goals, such as the EU’s commitment to reach 2050 targets for energy efficiency in buildings, an 85% to 90% reduction in consumption and going beyond the current 70% target for waste recycling.

Since 2002, the EU has been working on the first phase of integrated standards, a process akin to our development of model codes, which are informed by voluntary green rating systems, whereby yesterday’s Energy Star home becomes today’s code-basic minimum standard. Similarly, EU member states incorporated the CEN-Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) by copying parts of the standard into individual national building codes, editing and adding local elements—much the way we adopt model codes and voluntary standards into our municipal building codes. The second phase of integration began in 2007, again in much the same way we develop codes and standards in the U.S., through consensus committees integrated by EU members reviewing their experience with the CEN-EPBD standard and suggesting new elements and revisions. This second generation of CEN-EPBD standards, once completed, will be adopted without modification by all member states in 2020. This means that eight years from now there will begin to be only one standard across the EU, rather than a surfeit of confusing and competing codes supplemented by third-party rating systems.

Jaap Hogeling, CEN chairman, outlined the journey ahead in his remarks to the 2011 Construction Sector Network Conference. The objectives for phase two of integration include moves:

– toward more EU product data coupled to energy performance calculations.

– toward less use of confusing national or non-EU labels.

– toward more uniform information on the quality of the building stock.

– toward more comparable energy performance levels and evaluation methods that clearly put a figure on the impact of innovations with an ultimate goal of high-performance European tools leading to high-performance buildings. The timeline Hogeling proposed for implementing the second phase of this harmonized approach to EU building standards in the majority of member states spans between 2015 and 2020.