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The pursuit of sustainability in all areas of human activity is important for the preservation of the planet for future generations. One of these areas is the development of construction and real estate. According to the data of the European Commission, buildings account for about a third of total greenhouse gas emissions, therefore, it is also important for the construction sector to push for the EU's goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050. Kęstutis Vanagas, General Manager of harmonious urban development and construction company “YIT Lietuva”, is convinced that more sustainable and environmentally friendly buildings can significantly reduce the impact on climate change and, at the same time, ensure a more comfortable and economical life for people.
Construction is one of the biggest sources of CO2
There is indeed a serious basis for such a belief. The European Commission estimates that buildings consume around 40 percent of all energy produced and account for more than a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. This is indeed a significant part, which, if reduced or eliminated, could make a significant contribution to tackling climate change.
“Buildings and their construction will inevitably have to become increasingly sustainable. And the faster real estate developers and the entire construction sector move towards the green direction, the more significantly they will contribute to the restoration of the climate balance. This requires a review of construction processes, materials used, methods applied and the search for the most rational and sustainable solutions,” says K. Vanagas.
Emission reduction targets are set by both EU and Lithuanian real estate developers
According to the belief of K. Vanagas, the construction sector, which uses more sustainable solutions and materials, can help achieve the increasingly ambitious CO2 reduction targets set in the Paris Agreement and the European Green Course. At the end of last year, the European Council approved a new emission reduction target. The aim is to reduce the net greenhouse gas effect in EU countries by at least 55% by 2030 at the latest, from a 1990 baseline. By 2050, the EU aims to become climate neutral – in other words, to ensure that no more CO2 is emitted than absorbed.
“Following the example of YIT Corporation, we have set a goal to halve CO2 emissions in all our projects by 2030 in YIT Lietuva. Already in the beginning of 2020, we started to calculate and evaluate the CO2 footprint of our developing projects and aim to reduce it. Therefore, in 2020 we started to calculate and estimate CO2 consumption in our operations. Only by knowing the exact numbers will we know how much and what solutions need to be applied to achieve the goals we have set for the future.
Various measures are being taken for this today. We only use green energy in our activities, recycle and reuse old asphalt, implement energy-saving solutions and smart lighting management solutions in development projects and in our offices, and only use low-voltage lighting on construction sites. In the near future, we plan to expand the sorting of waste in the objects and train our employees how to do it properly,” says K. Vanagas.
When building, it is important to think about the operation of the buildings
At the same time, great attention must be paid not only to the sustainability of the construction works, but also to the sustainability of the buildings being constructed and to their operation in an environmentally friendly manner. According to K. Vanagas, this is achieved by using more sustainable materials in construction, which emit less CO2, as well as using less energy-intensive solutions.
“It is during the operation of a building when the biggest part of its CO2 emission is emitted. It is estimated that 4,000 thousand SQM area of the building, including the CO2 footprint of construction and operation, emits a total of about 14.2 thousand tons of greenhouse gas. 85 percent of this amount is emitted during the operation of the building, 13 percent of the emission fall on the production and supply of construction materials to the construction site and only 2 percent for the construction phase itself. In other words, the more attention is paid during the design to the sustainable materiality and equipment of the future building, the more it is possible to reduce its impact on the environment,” says K. Vanagas.
Wood is returning to construction
In the development of residential houses, business centres and other buildings today, great attention is paid to their energy efficiency, advanced heating, ventilation and cooling systems and other “green” solutions.
“No less important are materials used in construction. Concrete structures – floors, beams – account for the largest share of CO2 emissions, which is why more sustainable materials are being increasingly chosen, such as wood, the processing technologies of which have greatly improved. Wood that returns to fashion leaves a smaller footprint of CO2 than many other building materials and can be used for durable building structures or as a finishing detail. Therefore, it is very realistic that in the future we will see more and more public and administrative buildings made namely of wooden constructions,” says K. Vanagas.
Sustainable buildings – for a cleaner planet and happier people
According to him, ensuring sustainability criteria in buildings at the same time creates a better living environment and ensures lower operating costs of the buildings. In addition, the choice of construction materials also affects the indoor microclimate, and the maintenance of the required temperature and humidity.
“Investing in the sustainability of buildings not only contributes to tackling climate change, but also adds value to its users. After all, a person spends about 90 percent of ones time in various buildings! So the more sustainable buildings and cities are, the better for both their residents and our planet,” says Kęstutis Vanagas.