by Symela Touchtidou

The story of green buildings in Greece is the story of two worlds: the capital’s and its wider region on one hand, the rest of the country on the other. Somewhere in between stands the region of the country’s second largest city, Thessaloniki.

Turning a building into a green structure is a complicated, demanding endeavor.

Consensus is that a green building’s intended function and design should be to minimize the total impact of the construction on public health and the environment through:

  1. Effective utilization of water, energy, and other resources
  2. Safeguarding occupants’ health and increasing employee performance
  3. Minimizing pollution, waste, and environmental degradation (source: Construction21International)

This is quite an important point: being green is not limited to being energy efficient. There is a whole range of other important factors.

As the label “green” is very popular and often abused, there is a series of certification systems that testify to the sustainability of a real estate asset. Such ratings aim to promote the fulfillment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by the construction industry (source: Kosanović, Klein, Konstantinou, Radivojević, Hildebrand, Sustainable and resilient building design: approaches, methods and tools, TU Delft Open, 2018).

These ratings are international, created by different organizations. Private companies take up the task of applying the minimum standards in each building (either starting from scratch or during a refurbishment process). Next, independent experts assess the building’s compliance and suggest certification (and the appropriate rating).

The most popular building certification models today are BREEAM (UK), LEED (US), and DGNB (Germany).

It is a long list

The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) is a member of the UN Global Compact. It works with businesses, organizations Turning a building into green and governments to drive the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Recognizing the widespread use of rating tools around the world, WorldGBC published, in 2015, the Quality Assurance Guide for Green Building Rating Tools to guide operators of new, emerging and established rating tools and ensure that their development and implementation is robust, transparent and to a good standard. WorldGBC has also made a list of rating tools (in alphabetical order) that are administered by its Green Building Councils around the world.

Urgent priority

The building sector is the largest energy consumer in the EU representing about 40%

of total EU energy consumption and 36% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions (source: EU Commission). According to the latest research studies, 75% of all buildings in the European Union are energy inefficient. Only 1% of the buildings are renovated each year.

Europe’s buildings are also responsible for:

  • 1/2 of all extracted materials
  • 1/3 of water consumption
  • 1/3 of waste generation.

To make European buildings more climate-friendly, EU has launched a number of initiatives:

– the Renovation Wave with a goal to double renovation rates by 2030

– Build Up: the European Portal for energy efficiency in buildings

– EU Building Stock Observatory, a web tool that monitors the energy performance of buildings across Europe.

Greece: Old stock

Greece has a large stock of old buildings. Over half of the total were built before 1980, that is during a period when sustainability and green policies were notions practically unknown.

The lion’s share of old buildings is found in the region of North Aegean where 59% of the buildings date before 1970.

Residential sector is the second energy consuming sector (after transport) in Greece holding 27% of the final energy use of the country (source: Greece Energy Profile, Odyssee-Mure project, supported by EU H2020 programme, 2021).

Pilot projects in Greece

A number of different European initiatives are currently underway to improve real estate assets sustainability. Some of them debut in Greece:

  • The ACCEPT project. The Core of the project is the concept of “energy communities” with the collective approach to bring citizens, local businesses and organizations together, to produce and consume locally generated, renewable energy. Developed tools will be demonstrated and validated in four pilot sites in Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
  • The SmartSPIN project, which aims at developing a new business model to improve the energy efficiency and flexibility in commercial rented sector. For a three-year period, the project will demonstrate, test, validate and implement smart energy solutions in three European pilot sites situated in Spain, Greece and Ireland.
  • The PHOENIX project, which aims to design a portfolio of ICT solutions –covering all aspects from hardware and software upgrades– to provide the highest level of smartness to existing buildings. The PHOENIX, launched in 2020 and expected to be completed in August 2023, is planned to be demonstrated in 5 different real-world pilots, located in Thessaloniki (Greece), Dublin (Ireland), University of Murcia (Spain), Region of Murcia (Spain) and Skellefteå (Sweden).

Green or Green -washed?

Céline Baumann, landscape architect

As environmental awareness in societies grows and people look for eco-friendly assets, architects warn that green facades might be used to greenwash unsustainable buildings.

This is the argument of French landscape architect Céline Baumann, based in Switzerland.

Baumann, whose work was one of 40 visions for the future of architecture on display at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, warned that plants on buildings are often a distraction from a development’s less eco-friendly qualities.

Greenery is unfortunately too often used as an alibi for new developments, by wrapping buildings in green as sole legitimization of an otherwise unsustainable project,” she told Dezeen, one of the world’s most influential architecture, interiors and design magazines. “Green surfaces such as walls and roofs are often very high maintenance and demand a lot of water and chemicals to thrive,” she explained.

Many new developments are incorporating vertical forests, green roofs, urban farms and living walls. But unless these are deployed properly and sensitively, they give little benefit – or are even actively harmful. Greenery is not per se ecological, and the commodification of nature can lead in fact to reduced biodiversity and higher pollution levels,” said Baumann.

This article is published in the March/ April issue of Greek Business File,  part of the cover story on the top construction industry trend of building green. The cover story presents the history of green buildings in Greece, the pioneers and market leaders. It also looks into the huge gap between the capital and the rest of the country. The March/ April issue of Greek Business File is available here.