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Blog: Building blocks for a sustainable future

last modified Dec 16, 2020 09:29 AM
16 December 2020 - As EU member states draft their National Recovery & Resilience Plans, Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs Signify, and CLG Europe Chair, underlines the climate benefits and cost savings of channelling green recovery investments into building renovation and energy saving technologies.

The European Union is on the cusp of a critical turning point. This winter, EU member states will submit their National Recovery & Resilience Plans outlining the reforms and public investment projects that will mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and steer their course towards a green and digital future. These plans will be underpinned by an unprecedented EU budget and stimulus package, designed to combat recession and jump start economic recovery. For Europe, this is a €750 billion opportunity to set our course as a carbon-neutral continent.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has set the European and global economy on an uncertain path. Initiatives enabled by the stimulus funding have the power not just to rebuild weakened economies, but to send a strong statement to the world that short-term economic recovery isn’t at odds with our long-term goals or with the actions we must take to ensure the future of life on our planet.

Green recovery

Energy saving is the best possible place to start, because not only does it help us deliver on our climate ambitions, but it actually pays for itself with the associated reduction in energy costs.

A great example is the Renovation Wave initiative, which aims to step up the speed and quality of our building renovation. The EU building sector is a powerhouse of energy consumption, responsible for 40% of the EU’s energy consumption and 36% of its greenhouse gas emissions. A large majority of Europe’s buildings were built long before energy efficiency was on our radar, and most are decidedly inefficient. We know this, and yet only 1% of buildings undergo renovation each year. That’s a huge missed opportunity. If we bring this renovation rate to 3% per year, we will slash the energy consumption of our building sector, create local, skilled jobs, and improve the quality of life for EU citizens.

Within renovation, lighting is by far the lowest hanging fruit. It’s easier and less disruptive than HVAC, thermal insulation and plumbing for district heating. Switching a conventionally-lit building to LED can be as simple and fast as changing a light bulb, yet it can reduce lighting electricity use by up to 80%. And the overall impact of this is non-trivial amount. About 50% of a city’s electricity use comes from lighting for the built environment – things like houses, commercial buildings and street lighting.

Changing all the light points in the EU to LED will reduce emissions by more than 100 million tonnes per year. That’s the same as the yearly electricity needs of every household in the Germany, Italy, Poland, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. In addition, it will save €40 billion – enough to make a dent in recouping the €750 billion additional budget agreed for recovery projects. And for every €1 million spent on renovation, 15-20 local jobs are generated.

Sustainable structures

Saving electricity is also a quick win for private companies. With connected indoor lighting, building managers can rely on sensors to illuminate only rooms that are occupied and not already lit by sunlight. Investing in a connected lighting infrastructure can lay the groundwork to fast-track smart building and smart city projects at a later stage, as the underlying structure is already there. And in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, lighting systems can help manage occupancy levels, indicate hotspots for intensive cleaning, and get employees back to the office in a safer way.

And there’s another, more acute way lighting technology can make our buildings safer. From hospital treatment rooms to the factory floor, the demand for UV-C disinfection lighting is greater than ever before. As a disinfectant, it is remarkably powerful, effective against every bacteria and virus tested to date, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Disinfection lighting can also be used with small objects in a microwave-like chamber, activated for targeted surface cleaning, or used to continuously treat air through ceiling-mounted luminaires. At Signify, we’ve set about increasing our production eight-fold to make sure these products can be deployed where they’re most needed.

A time for leadership

Business leaders must also be prepared to demonstrate our commitment to play our own, vital role. I am proud that Signify is carbon neutral, and we call upon our peers to make the same commitment by 2030 at the latest. Likewise, governments and municipalities can show leadership by committing to energy saving in their own buildings and have city councils join the Net Zero Carbon Buildings (NZCB) program.

Having a goal with no action is dreaming and taking action without a goal is sleepwalking. This planning cycle is Europe’s time for action, and the moment for true leaders to make the commitments needed to cut our emissions and give our children the inheritance of a more livable planet.

Click here to learn more about CLG Europe, our latest research and thought leadership.

About the author

Harry Verhaar is Head of Global Public & Government Affairs and a Vice President at Signify. He is the chair of CLG Europe. With over 20 years of experience in the lighting industry, Harry is responsible for the strategy, outreach and stakeholder management on energy & climate change, resource efficiency and sustainable development at Signify, with a key focus on the role of the LED lighting revolution. He is also the chairman of the Signify Foundation. Since the end of 2003, Harry has been the architect of the Signify strategy on energy and climate change, which has resulted in a global momentum on phasing out of old lighting technologies. He is also an active member of a number of partnership and stakeholder networks, among which The Climate Group; Regions20 and the World Green Building Council, the World Council on City Data, UNESCO’s International Day of Light and of the UN Environment Science Business Policy governing consortium.

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Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Corporate Leaders Groups, The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership or the wider University of Cambridge.

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