While the corona crisis is still raging, the debate is shifting towards the economic recovery strategy. How does this economic recovery relate to the climate issue? In a paper, EnergyVille zooms in on the importance of making our built environment more sustainable in a post-corona recovery plan and VITO then organised a round table discussion with various thought leaders to discuss this. With one important conclusion: the construction sector will serve as a catalyst for economic recovery after corona.

Corona crisis as a momentum

Investing in the energy transition of the built environment is a priority in the recovery plans of the European Union and several Member States. In order to achieve the climate objectives, 90% of the building stock in Flanders must be renovated energetically by 2050. Research by EnergyVille/VITO shows that there is a clear win-win for short-term economic growth and the reduction of greenhouse gases. The momentum created in the aftermath of corona is a tipping point to make our built environment more sustainable and at the same time realise economic growth. These investments have a major multiplier effect: limited investments in construction have a positive impact on the economy that is greater than the initial investment.

Marc Dillen, VCB: "We have calculated that with half a billion euros additional investments in the budget, we can realise 3 billion euros of investments in construction, and with those 3 billion euros in construction, 12 billion euros of input into the economy spread over 2 years. That's economic recovery."

A large part of these renovations will have to take place on the private market. The public authorities will have to relieve the burden on the private sector and possibly provide additional financing for vulnerable consumers. In addition, the market itself will provide the necessary innovations after a clear policy framework has been defined.

Annemie Bollen, SERV: "We also see that a third of Flemish families do not have sufficient funds to finance such a renovation project themselves, and yet we also have to bring these people along to have 90% of the building stock renovated. That too is a big challenge. We need to include other benefits of renovation, such as better learning outcomes for children, a healthier and more comfortable home,...".

A homogeneous or heterogeneous investment approach for renovation?

The question remains how to tackle this concretely. A homogeneous approach in which the entire building stock is renovated in the same way, or a diversified view of the building in question? Based on a high-level modelling exercise by VITO/EnergyVille, it appears that the cost per tonne of CO2 saved is up to a third lower when the most advantageous combinations of renovation measures are selected at system level, rather than an approach where all buildings have to achieve the same level of energy performance.

Will we have enough skilled staff to achieve acceleration?

The number of workers turns out to be a tricky issue. In order to meet the renovation targets, the renovation rate must triple (from 1% to 3% per year). This will require 250,000 new workers in Flanders, compared to 200,000 currently employed in construction. Continuing to focus on training and making the construction sector attractive to young people are crucial points here, as are working on automation and technology.

Thomas Vandenbergh, BESIX: "We also need a change of culture and diversity. There are many profiles, such as marketeers, psychologists, lawyers,... who are perfectly capable of solving some complex challenges better than traditional engineering profiles. There are many challenges in the transition to sustainability that are not technical in nature".

The role of the city in making the built environment more sustainable

Finally, densification will be necessary to provide housing for a growing number of people. Measures that make densely built-up environments more sustainable and climate-friendly in an intelligent way can increase both the quality of life and the resilience of the city from a double climate and health perspective.

Corona is therefore the momentum to invest in a future-proof built environment. Provided these investments are well thought out, they serve a triple purpose: short-term economic recovery, more robustness and comfort, and long-term sustainability.


Watch the highlights of the round table discussion (also the full round table discussion is available)
Read the paper ‘Post-covid recovery: boosting the economy through large-scale renovation for better and healthier buildings’


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