Action against massive energy wastage in buildings in the Netherlands
By: Andre Oerlemans
Buildings in the Netherlands waste more energy than a million households consume in a year. Although owners must have at least energy label C since 1 January and have been obliged to take energy-saving measures since 2019, little has happened yet. That is why Gideon, the Urgenda for the construction sector, is starting a national campaign for more energy savings in buildings. “It is antisocial to waste energy.”
Since 1 January, all offices in the Netherlands must have energy label C. Otherwise, they may no longer be rented out officially. Although this has been known for five years, according to the latest figures from RVO (on 1 October last year), just before the deadline, only 50 percent had label C or better. One in ten offices had D or worse and four in ten had no label at all. Municipalities and environmental services must enforce this this year. They may impose fines or even close office buildings.
According to Statistics Netherlands, the built environment in the Netherlands is responsible for 15 percent of all CO2 emissions, mainly due to the burning of natural gas for heating. It also absorbs 34 percent of energy consumption, the most of all sectors. That is why it has been agreed in the Climate Agreement to remove millions of homes and buildings from natural gas by 2030, to insulate them better and to save energy. According to action group Gideon, the production of building materials contributes another 11 percent to the sector's total CO2 emissions, for example through the production of cement, which requires a lot of energy. The movement wants to make the construction sector more sustainable through a radically different way of designing, building and maintaining. It takes a miracle to meet the Paris climate goals. At the current pace, the construction sector will certainly not achieve the target of 60 percent less CO2 emissions in 2030. The new Gideon campaign has been set up to save much more energy in offices and commercial buildings in the short term.
Energy saving obligation
Because while all the media focused on the energy label, in recent years there has been little attention for another law, the information obligation for companies to save energy. This applies from July 2019 and obliges companies that use more than 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity or 25,000 cubic meters of natural gas per year to take energy-saving measures that they can earn back within five years. Last year, the obligation was tightened and expanded to include larger energy consumers from now on.
All companies must report to RVO once every four years what savings they have made. They can choose from a list of recognized measures. The first deadline was July 1, 2019, and the next one is December 1, 2023. The government believes that this will save 2 million tons of CO2 emissions per year. Environmental services must also monitor and enforce this. For example, they can impose penalty payments. An additional amount of 56 million euros is available for this until 2026. However, enforcement is difficult because energy companies are not allowed to simply report the energy consumption of companies and buildings on the basis of the AVG privacy law.
Most companies evade the law
In the Netherlands, approximately 90,000 companies and institutions are subject to this information obligation. In fact, this is a tightening of the energy-saving obligation, which has been in force since the 1990s. Answers from Minister Rob Jetten of Climate and Energy to parliamentary questions show that more than 68 percent have submitted such a report to RVO. However, only a minority of more than 14 percent fully complies with the energy-saving obligation. According to Gideon, that percentage is much lower, namely about 8 percent.
Everyone can calculate this themselves on the RVO website that registers all reports. Of the 90,000 buildings, only 7,273 meet all requirements, 14,903 require further assessment and 38,772 buildings have the highest priority for supervision. Then there are 29,052 building owners who have not submitted a report. “So only 8 percent of all companies have complied with their obligation to provide information and have taken measures. That is very little when you consider that this obligation was introduced 3.5 years ago,” says Marjet Rutten of Gideon's support team.
Half savings possible
Gideon calls it distressing that so few companies comply with the law, both in terms of energy labels and the obligation to save. For example, research by Taskforce Label A shows that an office with a label G consumes on average more than four times as much gas as a building with a label A. Heating all commercial and government buildings in the Netherlands costs approximately 1.5 billion cubic meters of gas. per year. If all buildings had label A, half of that could be saved. According to the movement, there is a lack of urgency among office owners and supervision and enforcement by the government. By implementing mandatory energy-saving measures, owners can save 1 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. That saves 4 million tons of CO2 emissions.
Wasting energy is antisocial
With his new campaign, Gideon wants to make people more aware. “People need to realize that we waste more energy in offices and utility buildings than a million households consume in a year. There is still an incredible amount of profit to be made. Largely with matters that have been mandatory for several years or recently. More should be done about that,” says Rutten. Besides the fact that building owners and entrepreneurs risk fines and closure, there are other aspects that play a role, she says. For example, cost savings, a green image to attract staff or geopolitical reasons to use less gas. “What many people don't realize is that energy is currently a scarce commodity. Prices are high, but if there is less demand, the price goes down. Due to the wastefulness of one party, the woman on social assistance pays three higher more for gas. So it is actually anti-social to waste energy.”
Gideon does not want to kick, but to help and provoke. For example with playful actions. For example, the movement recorded a video of the fictional occupation of an office for the campaign. Two ladies are standing at the door - types like from the sketch program Toren C - who say: “You are not allowed in. You must save.”
The hundred own climate mayors who are affiliated with Gideon will ask municipal councils to gain more insight into the local situation and to insist on better enforcement. Tenants will send letters to landlords urging them to save energy. Employees do that to their employer. Gideon is also campaigning on social media, there is information on the website, for example about what companies can do, and the movement will lobby the national government. In this way, the movement wants to help companies and point out their responsibility, while at the same time asking the government to intervene. “Because companies that do not have a plan next year should be fined,” says Rutten.
Gideon has been around for a year and a half and was initiated by Professor of Transition Science Jan Rotmans from Erasmus University. He once called out in Cobouw that there should be a kind of Urgenda for the construction industry that understands and can fathom the complexity and regulations of the sector. “He thought that there should actually be a construction NGO that has the climate and the environment as its main goal, but that has a little more knowledge about the construction sector. Hundreds of letters were received in response. That's why we thought: let's do something with that," says Rutten. All work is carried out by volunteers, sometimes several days a week, although Gideon has also received some donations. “It was founded purely out of passion by people who think: we can really do better in the construction sector. There is a lot of unknown. If you say at a party that you flew to Ibiza, you will be looked at with the neck. But if you say you're moving into a house made of concrete, no one says anything about it,” she says.
Drastic sustainability measures are required in the construction industry. The regulations should be put into action and not on paper.