A greener future is already being built

2020-03-31 Milla Popova

The real estate sector plays an important role in mitigating climate change and in the responsible use of natural resources. Buildings use almost 40 per cent of all energy consumed in Finland and are the cause of more than 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most important means to control climate change in the built environment is to improve energy efficiency, but it is also important to take into account the environmental friendliness of building materials, the safety of the chemicals used and the reuse of construction waste.

Buildings that meet the criteria for the Nordic Swan Ecolabel offer one alternative to more sustainable and healthier construction.

Ecolabelled construction is becoming increasingly popular

The popularity of Nordic Swan Ecolabelled construction is currently growing strongly in the Nordic countries and has quadrupled in the last three years. 8,000 Ecolabelled apartments have been completed and 18,000 apartments are under construction. In the other Nordic countries, Nordic Ecolabelled construction is already a fairly well-established construction method, and Finland is following suit fast. There are currently about 433 apartments completed or under construction in Finland.

Finland's first Nordic Ecolabelled building was built by Mestariasunto in Järvenpää in 2015. A couple of years later, the city of Hyvinkää, together with Teijo-Talot Oy, built Finland's first Nordic Ecolabelled kindergarten. The first Nordic Ecolabelled school building was completed this January in Iisalmi, and the first primary schools will be completed this year in Kalajoki and Ii. Kaarina is home to the first Nordic Ecolabelled small group home in the Nordic countries and there’s also a family rehabilitation home in Mikkeli.

VAV Groups's first Nordic Ecolabelled apartment building, built by NCC, was completed in Vantaa in 2018, and in the future all of VAV's new rental residential buildings will be built in accordance with the Nordic Swan Ecolabel’s environmental requirements. In addition, JM Suomi is the first in Finland to offer Nordic Ecolabelled apartment buildings for owner-occupied housing. JM Suomi is also the first Nordic construction company to apply Nordic Ecolabel criteria to all of its owner-occupied housing production from 2018 onwards.

Life cycle and strict environmental criteria are taken into account in construction

The criteria for the Nordic Swan Ecolabel have been drawn up from a life cycle perspective, and requirements have been set especially for the buildings’ energy needs, building materials, construction processes and construction quality management.

A number of harmful substances are limited in building materials, such as phthalates and brominated fire retardants as well as formaldehyde emissions. The Nordic Swan Ecolabel also guarantees, for example, that a building has good indoor air, ventilation and lighting. In construction, the construction process, the materials and chemicals used are all monitored as well as other approved products used in the building.

Environmental friendliness is also taken into account after the completion of the building, for example, by generating the building’s electricity with solar panels and supporting residents' cycling. Nordic Swan Ecolabelled building is proven to be energy efficient. For example, the carbon footprint of an apartment building built in Vantaa is one-fifth smaller for its entire life cycle than a normal apartment building.

Living in a Nordic Ecolabelled apartment building will become more common in the near future and it is important that the residents can, by their own choices, maintain the high environmental standards of their home. Favouring products that have been awarded a reliable type 1 ecolabel (such as the EU Ecolabel or the Nordic Swan Ecolabel) can also reduce exposure to chemical loads.

The client may demand more environmentally friendly buildings

Successful, environmentally friendly construction projects have an impact on the construction market. The Finnish market is becoming increasingly aware of more sustainable and responsible construction, and both developers and suppliers have a will to develop the real estate sector in a more ecological and safe direction. For example, companies have had a positive attitude towards Nordic Swan Ecolabelled construction. In addition to lower environmental impacts, the Nordic Swan Ecolabel is seen to not only increase the company's market value but also to increase future knowledge about more environmentally friendly construction.

The role of the client, for example the municipality procurers, is particularly important because without the client's demands, more sustainable and healthier construction will not take place on the desired scale. The amendment to the Act on Public Procurement and Concession Contracts, among other things, will facilitate the more environmentally friendly procurement process. According to it, procurers may require a certain ecolabel, such as the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, for the services or products being tendered. In this case, the procurer does not have to monitor whether the product or service meets the criteria for the ecolabel.

People will live and work in the buildings now under construction for decades to come, so in today's procurement we must pay attention to the environment, health and quality. Finland has a great opportunity to lead the way in this sector as well, as the means, demand and will to achieve more environmentally friendly construction are constantly growing.

Designer Milla Popova, Turku University of Applied Sciences

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