The construction sector as a catalyst for economic recovery after corona

Posted on 24 Sep 2020

In a paper, EnergyVille zoomed in on the importance of making our built environment more sustainable in a post-corona recovery plan. Following this paper there was a round table discussion with various thought leaders. One important conclusion: the construction sector will serve as a catalyst for economic recovery after corona. 

Corona crisis as a momentum  

Investing in the energy transition of the built environment is a priority in the recovery plans of the European Union and several Member States. In order to achieve the climate objectives, 90% of the building stock in Flanders must be renovated energetically by 2050. Research by EnergyVille/VITO shows that there is a clear win-win for short-term economic growth and the reduction of greenhouse gases.  

The momentum created in the aftermath of corona is a turning point to make our built environment more sustainable and at the same time achieve economic growth. These investments have a large multiplier effect: limited investments in construction have a positive impact on the economy that is greater than the initial investment.  

Marc Dillen, VCB: "We have calculated that with half a billion euros additional investments in the budget, we can achieve 3 billion euros of investment in construction, and with those 3 billion euros in construction, 12 billion euros of input into the economy over 2 years. That is recovery."
A large part of these renovations will have to take place on the private market. The public sector will have to relieve the private sector and possibly provide additional funding for vulnerable consumers. In addition, the market itself will provide the necessary innovations after a clear policy framework has been defined. 

Annemie Bollen, SERV: "We also see that one third of Flemish families do not have sufficient funds to finance such a renovation project themselves, and yet we also have to bring these people along to have 90% of the building stock renovated. That too is a major challenge. We need to include other benefits of renovation, such as better learning outcomes for children, a healthier and more comfortable home, ...".

A homogeneous or heterogeneous investment approach to renovation?

The question remains how to tackle this concretely. A homogeneous approach in which the entire building stock is renovated in the same way, or a diversified view of the building in question? On the basis of a high-level modelling exercise conducted by VITO/EnergyVille, it appears that the cost per tonne of CO2 saved is reduced by up to a third when, at system level, the most advantageous combinations of renovation measures are selected instead of an approach whereby all dwellings should achieve the same level of energy performance. 

Will we have enough skilled staff to speed things up? 

The number of workers turns out to be a tricky issue. In order to meet the renovation targets, the renovation rate must triple (from 1% to 3% per year). This will require 250,000 new workers in Flanders, compared to 200,000 currently employed in construction. Continuing to focus on training and making the construction sector attractive to young people are crucial points here, as are working on automation and technology. 

Thomas Vandenbergh, BESIX: "We also need a change of culture and diversity. There are many profiles, such as marketeers, psychologists, lawyers,... who are perfectly capable of solving some complex challenges better than traditional engineering profiles. There are many challenges in the transition to sustainability that are not of a technical nature".


The role of the city in making the built environment more sustainable

Finally, compaction will be needed to provide housing for a growing number of people. Measures that make densely built-up environments more sustainable and climate-friendly in an intelligent way can increase both the quality of life and the resilience of the city from a dual climate and health perspective.

Corona is therefore the momentum to invest in a future-proof built environment. Provided these investments are well thought out, they serve a triple purpose: short-term economic recovery, greater robustness and comfort, and long-term sustainability.

Extra info ?  

  • Check out some highlights of the round table here (available in dutch) 
  • Download the paper 

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