Level(s): the new EU framework for sustainable buildings

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James Drinkwater, Director of the World Green Building Council’s Europe Regional Network said: “This is a clear signal to the market that sustainable building practice is shifting from niche to norm.”

What is Level(s)?

Level(s) is the European Commission’s answer to a very relevant and important problem, which is the lack of a standardized, global standard to measure the sustainability of buildings. While there are many Green Building certification schemes, like BREEAM, LEED, and many more, a non-commercial yardstick to measure building environmental impact is lacking. Level(s) is a voluntary framework that building specialists in Europe can adopt to measure, report, and share the environmental performance of their buildings.

 

Why was Level(s) developed?

Level(s) wants to respond to the challenges of a world increasingly affected by climate change and resource depletion, and create an easy and accessible way for construction specialists to build greener and better buildings. Many individual European countries, as well as provinces, regions and cities as well as the EU itself, have ambitious goals regarding the reduction of their carbon emissions. A key sector in shaping a sustainable future is the construction industry, the leading consumer of raw materials and major carbon emitter. Level(s) is a tool for putting local policies in practice.

Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries,  explained it:
“Level(s) can help us develop an environment built sustainably across Europe and support our transition to the circular economy….It marks an important step towards a more resource-efficient and competitive construction sector in Europe.”

 

What is different about Level(s)?

Level(s) aims to be easy and accessible. It leverages the globally adopted CEN/TC 350 standards for sustainable construction and it provides a structured simplification to the use and metrics from these standards. Moreover, it provides guidelines for doing simplified, detailed or optimization studies, as desirable.

 

Level(s) is fully life-cycle based

The most important feature of Level(s) is the fact that is embrace a life-cycle approach, looking at the performance of any building through its whole lifetime. This is important because decisions based on the whole life-cycle of a building ensure sustainability from the cradle to the grave, rather than short-term, cosmetic fixes, that might actually end up contributing to higher carbon emissions. Level(s) goes beyond energy performance and sub-optimization, and promotes the implementation of circular economy principles.

 

Everyone is invited to pilot Level(s)

Level(s) has been developed for architects, investors, designers, engineers, construction companies, and the pilot project to test the framework has just been launched. To join the pilot, just download the technical specifications here.

To make piloting easier, we launched the Carbon Heroes Benchmark Program for one thousand buildings. The program will use the Level(s) metrics and provide participants with unique feedback data on their relative performance You can read more about the program and how to join here.

Get started easy and advance when ready

The performance assessment can be done at any of the following three levels:

 

Level 1

Common
performance assessment

 The simplest and easiest type. A common reference for the performance assessment.
Level 2

Comparative
performance assessment

 For comparisons between functionally equivalent buildings – rules for supporting comparability.
Level 3

Performance
optimisation assessment

 The most advanced type. Supporting detailed modelling to optimize performance.

Level(s) has indicators for six areas of sustainability

Level(s) has 14 indicators covering six areas of sustainability. If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry. Just pick the areas and indicators you consider useful.

The areas of sustainability (macro-objectives) from the Level(s) methodology are:

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions along a buildings life cycle
  2. Resource efficient and circular material life cycles
  3. Efficient use of water resources
  4. Healthy and comfortable spaces
  5. Adaptation and resilience to climate change
  6. Optimised life cycle cost and value

Moreover, Level(s) outlines a 5 steps approach to performance assessment and reporting. The steps are:

  1. Define the building to be reported on
  2. Choose the level of performance assessment
  3. Follow the guidance and rules on how to carry out an assessment
  4. Complete the reporting format
  5. Determine the valuation influence and reliability of the assessment

 

Our take on Level(s)

Not everything is suitable for, or indeed reasonable to, benchmark internationally. This is why our focus will be on:

  • 1. Greenhouse gas emissions along a buildings life cycle
  • 2 Resource efficient and circular material life cycles
  • 6. Optimized Life Cycle Cost and value

If you join our Carbon Heroes Benchmark Program you can also work with the other Level(s) indicators, but we are not providing benchmark feedback on those. We find the other indicators structurally unsuited to comparing performance on an international scale.

 

Calculating and reporting in practice

First you need to choose the building(s) you would like to study, the level of performance assessment and the indicators measured. Then you will need follow the guidance to complete the assessment and create the report, and evaluate the reliability of the assessment.
It sounds easy enough, but in practice, most will use a software tool.

The table below gives you some suggestion on how to select the appropriate level and indicators based on your goals, and in case you are wondering One Click LCA is fully compliant with Level(s) for the stated indicators and can help you get your reports easily and fast.

 

Goal of the study Testing/learning Benchmarking Life cycle optimization
Recommended level of assessment Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
Matching tier in One Click LCA Starter Business Enterprise

 

Feeling you need to learn more about Green Building? We can help you get up to speed with trainings and webinars. Or contact us directly here.

 

Full list of Level(s) indicators

Level(s) offers a series of indicators to measure the sustainability of a building, below is the list with all the official indicators. More information can be found on the official guidance document here.

 

Indicator

Unit of performance measurement

Macro-objective 1: Greenhouse gas emissions along a buildings life cycle
1.1 Use stage energy performance
1.1.1 Primary energy demand
1.1.2 Delivered energy demand (supporting indicator)
kilowatt hours per square metre per year (kWh/m2 /yr)
1.2 Life cycle Global Warming Potential kg CO2 equivalents per square metre per year (kg CO2 eq./m2/yr)
Macro-objective 2: Resource efficient and circular material life cycles
2.1 Life cycle tool: Building bill of materials Reporting on the Bill of Materials for the building, as well as for the four main types of materials used.
2.2 Life cycle tools: scenarios for building lifespan, adaptability and deconstruction According to the performance assessment level:
1. Design aspects that are proposed/have been implemented (common performance assessment)
2. Semi-qualitative assessment giving a score (comparative performance assessment)
3. LCA-based assessment of scenario performance (design
optimisation)
2.3 Construction and demolition waste and materials kg waste and materials per m2 of total useful floor area (per life
cycle and project stage reported on)
2.4 Overarching assessment tool: Cradle to grave Life Cycle
Assessment
Seven environmental impact category indicators
Macro-objective 3: Efficient use of water resources
3.1 Total water consumption  m3 of water per occupant per year
 Macro-objective 4: healthy and comfortable spaces
 4.1 Indoor air quality  4.1.1 Good quality indoor air: Parameters for ventilation, CO2 and
humidity
4.1.2 Target list of pollutants: Emissions from construction products and external air intake.
 4.2 Time outside of thermal comfort range  % of the time out of range of defined maximum and minimum temperatures during the heating and cooling seasons
 Macro-objective 5: Adaptation and resilience to climate change
5.1 Life cycle tools: scenarios for projected future climatic conditions Scenario 1: Protection of occupier health and thermal comfort
Simulation of the building’s projected time out of thermal comfort range for the years 2030 and 2050.
Macro-objective 6: Optimised life cycle cost and value
6.1 Life cycle costs Euros per square metre of useable floor area per year (€/m2/yr)
6.2 Value creation and risk factors Reliability ratings of the data and calculation methods for the reported performance of each indicator and life cycle scenario tool.

Questions and answers

Can you use Level(s) outside Europe?

Yes

Does any certification system recognize Level(s) assessments for credits?

Not yet. However if you use One Click LCA, you can get both Level(s) results and the LCA for targeted certification system at once without additional effort.

Are there any drawbacks to Level(s)?

Level(s) is somewhat expansive, but you can pick the things you need and want to use. Then there are the devastatingly bureaucratic and byzantine manuals – which are part of the reason we wrote this.

What happens if I don’t use Level(s)

The use of Level(s) is voluntary. But use of life-cycle performance for construction is becoming a fundamental driver; Level(s) is only one way of doing it. If you ignore life-cycle performance, at first, you miss the business opportunity of growing revenue by promoting sustainable buildings and related services. And over time, you’ll steadily lose out business to better-prepared competitors, or have to discount more to win business.

I am still confused by this

Ok, we’ll try to do better! Please reach out at hello@bionova.fi and we’ll add relevant missing information!

 

Why we think Level(s) is a great opportunity for the construction industry

As Life Cycle Assessment experts who have participated in the effort for the reduction of carbon emissions worldwide (for example, by creating a carbon roadmap for the Finnish construction industry and contributing to the development of EN standards in the area of Climate Change Adaption) we are happy to see the European Commission working on promoting a common language for Green Building and sustainability in the built environment.

The adoption of Level(s) will lead to the easier adoption of a standardized way to measure, compare, and improve the performance of buildings, both in terms of environmental impacts and costs. This in turn will guarantee a better future and better buildings. Moreover, the fact that Level(s) promotes a life-cycle approach is in line with our findings: only by looking at a building’s whole life cycle performance it is possible to make informed decisions and really design for sustainability.

 

What we are doing to contribute

In coincidence with the World Green Building Week we have decided to launch our own carbon benchmark program in collaboration with the Irish and Dutch Green Building Councils, Statsbygg, NCC, Sinteo, Segro (and others). This program will follow the Level(s) guidelines and guarantee to participants access to anonymous carbon data on 1000 buildings. By participating, companies worldwide will have a better understanding on how their buildings is performing when it comes to carbon emissions.

Read more about the Carbon Heroes program here.

Want to to learn more?

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