European Parliament publishes Green Deal technology study focussed on New European Bauhaus

Photo credits: EPRS

The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) published a study titled “The Green Deal ambition: Technology, creativity and the arts for environmental sustainability”, offering a more nuanced snapshot of how the New European Bauhaus (NEB) could contribute to achieving the goals of the European Green Deal.

The study combines insights from scientific papers, reports and expert cotributions on current experiences of cross-pollinating the cultural and creative sector with the tech sector. It includes 16 interviews, among others with Prof Hans Joachim Schnellnhuber, described as “the spark behind the NEB idea”. Timber/wood as construction material is referenced multiple times in this study as a positive solution for the decarbonisation of the built environment.

A selection of interesting statements quoted

John Schellnhuber, Founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

  • Healthy homes, healthy cities, where trees absorb CO2 and building materials are sustainable and healthy. Think about wood – you can store CO2 for 100 or 200 years in it. Artificial intelligence (AI) can help us build prefabricated constructions from wood that can be assembled and disassembled easily. We are entering a new age of constructing and operating buildings because digitalisation is changing everything. We talk about autonomous cars. What about autonomous houses with sophisticated sensors that can adapt to ambient temperature, humidity and the presence of people, minimising consumption? What about intelligent neighbourhoods or villages where communities share energy or other resources? This is an age where we need to combine high tech and no tech, AI and nature [p.14].
  • The other pillar is the circular economy, which focuses on how to reuse and recycle end-of life construction materials. Today, 95% of car parts can be reused, recycled or remanufactured. We can’t say the same for buildings. Of course, materials like timber, for example wooden furniture, can be recycled much more easily than concrete and steel. A large part of our waste is construction waste. Therefore, shifting to biomaterials would be a great opportunity to redefine building circularity [p. 15].

Pekka Leskinen, Head of the Bioeconomy Programme at the European Forest Institute (EFI)

  • The NEB is viewed as an opportunity, as seen in the 10-point Action Plan for a Circular Bioeconomy, to place circular bio-based materials such as wood at the heart of our construction ecosystems in a sustainable manner, whilst simultaneously emphasising the need for green infrastructure to be incorporated into our built environments – not only for environmental reasons but also for human well-being [p.38].
  • Aside from its ability to store carbon for as long as it is in use, wood is a lightweight, renewable, and a low-energy-intensive material that allows for low embodied carbon designs. Changes in building codes have allowed for tall timber buildings due to the enhanced technical properties of engineered wood products. Among others, countries such as Norway, Austria, Sweden, and Finland have demonstrated the possibilities and benefits of investing in timber-based buildings in practice. The concepts of hybrid timber construction and prefabrication are two of the key innovations in terms of assisting wood buildings in becoming more common [p.38].
  • Using 1 tonne of wood as construction material to replace concrete and steel in construction processes, results in about 2.4 tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions (the so-called climate substitution effect). In addition, utilisation of wood-based products in building retrofitting and making buildings more energy efficient can also play an important role [p.39].

Annica Bresky, CEO of Stora Enso

  • Wooden materials offer solutions, which are renewable, low carbon, strong and lightweight. They can be used for multi storey buildings, extensions and building top-ups. Wood is the only renewable and recyclable building material, and it stores carbon throughout the lifetime of the wooden material. Renewable wood products and building solutions help create circular resource systems with no waste [p. 41].
  • Carbon emissions in construction sites can be cut by up to 75% using wood. Wood is lightweight, but strong. Wooden elements result in up to 70% faster assembly and up to 80% less truck deliveries on site. Wooden elements are fast and silent in construction and have good thermal resistance and insulating properties [p.42].

Carol Lemmens, Global Advisory Services leader at Arup

  • We do a lot of building in wood. Regulations do not allow you to factor it in but building with wood can make construction carbon positive. As soon as regulation will change, if you build a building in wood, owners will actually sell CO2 permits to others who need to offset emissions [p. 56].

Read the complete interviews & conclusions in the full report

  • European Parliament, 2022. The Green Deal ambition: Technology, creativity and the arts for environmental sustainability. Study of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology. EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service, Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA). PE 729.513, May 2022.