Low carbon building
03 October 2018

The low carbon building : «A slow win is as good as a loss»

[INTERVIEW WITH: Hélène Genin, Executive Officer of the BBCA Association] Photo Helene_Genin_HD.jpg

BBCA, the French low-carbon buildings association, is set to launch a building renovation approval label. It has also updated its new construction baselines and revealed its work at neighbourhood level. The key objective is to quickly and substantially reduce global warming caused by building and buildings. Helène Genin, the association’s executive officer, grants us an exclusive interview. 

The BBCA label for new buildings is now two years old. What are the initial conclusions?

The association sets out to mobilize people and their consciences to do things the proper way. The building sector is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in France. One square metre built generates 1.5 tonnes of CO2 over 50 years. The BBCA label’s target is to halve this to 750 kg/m². In two years, we have accredited over 30 diverse operations and 20 buildings are engaged in the initiative. The association’s big order-giver members, promoters and project owners alike, are paving the way, striving to make low carbon objectives standard practice.

Among the highly encouraging signs that this is working, we notice more and more tender announcements insisting on BBCA accreditation, with financial construction aid being provided to help achieve this outcome. A notable example is Paris’s housing department, which has included the BBCA label in funding incentives for affordable and intermediate housing, as indeed has the Ile-de-France regional council. On the legislative side, France’s “ELAN” bill plans environmental regulations, notably the promotion of carbon sequestration, a main lever in the low-carbon approach. That’s a very positive step. The wheels are in motion but speed is vital. And then another major issue, building renovation, also needs tackling.

Yes exactly. What are the expectations for this renovation label?

The BBCA renovation label will apply to major refurbishment work—complete gutting of a building—as well as to less extensive jobs such as thermal improvement. In developing these baselines, we have worked with the BBCA renovation technical commission and studied over 40 design Offices in order to compile observations, identify best practices, and assess the scope for progress. The same four indicators are used as for newbuild: well-considered construction integrating the building lifecycle concept, reduced energy consumption, carbon sequestration, and emphasis on a circular economy.

You mentioned “best practices”. What practices does the label advocate?

On the energy front, a crucial factor in renovation, it means at least halving emissions in the operational phase. As regards materials, a significant lever when tackling building envelopes, especially in major refurbs, the baseline insists on their preservation or at the very least their reuse. A resource analysis becomes mandatory before work begins. It must assess the potential for reusing the materials on the same site, or even elsewhere in the scope of a pooled collection of projects. Bonus marks are awarded for every action that upholds this principle; for instance the carbon footprint of building shell materials preserved as-is counts as zero. The label also uprates temporary carbon storage, thereby factoring in the benefits of biosourced materials.

What will be your next line of attack?

First of all, presenting the first low-carbon renovation jobs to receive the BBCA renovation label. Some of these might be buildings we studied when developing the baseline: Immobilière 3F, Le Toit Vosgien, Gecina, Altarea-Cogedim, Paris habitat, Oise Habitat, Icade—as well as Bouygues Bâtiment Ile-de-France, who has moreover provided financial backing for the renovation label.

At the same time we are continuing to update the label for new constructions with the issue of version 3.0, which takes account of feedback from the field to upgrade the carbon emission measurement method and adjust carbon excellence requirement levels. We are also attacking the low-carbon neighbourhood project and will soon be presenting a ground-breaking study conducted with experts from the French national building science centre (CSTB) and Elioth, with backing from BNP Paribas Real Estate. This study analyses a neighbourhood’s carbon footprint components, identifies major action levers, and sets the basis for a future neighbourhood-scale carbon baseline. Last but not least, we are active on the steering committee working to draft the planned 2020 environmental regulations. We want to act toward mobilizing the profession, developing knowledge, and accelerating the movement with all those who buy into the idea of the low-carbon building on which the future will be founded.

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