Roundtable Conversation:

Highlighting the Need for Harmonised Methods to Frame Legislation Towards Sustainable Construction Practices in the Nordics

Publiceret 28-05-2024

In a concerted effort to redefine the trajectory of construction practices in the Nordic region, stakeholders from across the field of planning and construction convened for a roundtable discussion focusing on how to design legislation towards Sustainable Construction and Architecture in the Nordics.

Setting the Stage for Sustainable Transformation

Against the backdrop of mounting global concerns regarding climate change and resource depletion, the Nordic Council of Ministers initiated the Nordic Sustainable Construction programme and the work package SUSTAINORDIC with the aim to spearhead legislative reforms that would steer the construction sector towards alignment with the Paris Agreement and other sustainability benchmarks such as social sustainability and biodiversity.

The roundtable, held virtually on April 18, 2024, served as a forum for experts representing diverse facets of the ecosystem around building and construction, including architects, researchers, policymakers, developers, and building professionals. The aim of the session was to discuss recommendations to help shape the Nordic construction landscape from 2025 to 2030.

Legislation to Solve Complex Challenges

Central to the discussions were the complexity of the challenges to be considered in designing legislation to pave the way towards more sustainable practices in construction and architecture in a Nordic context. From the imperative to reduce carbon emissions and optimise resource usage to finding a balance between economic viability, social considerations and environmental stewardship, participants turned over the complex dilemmas that legislation must address to achieve sustainable construction.

How to Prioritise When Designing the Legislative Frames for Change?

The dialogue underscored the need for harmonised legislation across the Nordic countries and the EU, while acknowledging the necessity for context-adapted approaches. Balancing uniform regulations with tailored solutions for individual climatic and cultural contexts emerged as an overarching theme. Recommendations emphasised clarity, flexibility, and collaboration, advocating for a simple, adaptable framework that can be adapted to diverse needs while maintaining consistency at the method level, particularly concerning Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs).

Balancing Conflicting Considerations: Navigating Tensions in Legislation

A delicate balance must be struck between several of the considerations which we have traditionally regulated for on one side and emission reductions on the other side. While prioritising sustainability goals is crucial, it often leads to tensions with other vital considerations such as safety, chemicals, fire prevention, supply risk, reuse, area use, land use, biodiversity. In the Nordic region, where experience with introducing sustainability requirements in building codes is ahead, stakeholders grapple with these dilemmas.

Adaptability in Regulation

Acknowledging the need for robust methods and urgent regulation, there's a call for adaptive legislation that can be incrementally adjusted to diverse local and changing climatic contexts. This entails a political willingness to grant flexibility to the sector, perhaps through voluntary schemes within overarching limitations. It prompts a critical question: Do current building regulations need revision to accommodate this flexibility?

Opportunities for Quick Introduction and Harmonisation

In the Nordic region, there's a recognition of the need for swift action to gain a head start and share experiences to support ongoing processes. However, achieving harmonisation—especially in an ever-changing political environment—is no small feat. Yet, it's deemed essential. At the method level, consistency across the Nordics, particularly concerning Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs), is emphasised. While timeline differences and threshold variations may exist, maintaining uniformity at method level ensures accessibility and understanding, especially for clients working across borders. There is a significant potential for minimising negative resource and climate impacts and increase Nordic harmonisation in selected areas of the ongoing process of updating the national annexes to the Eurocodes.

Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

Key to navigating these complexities is co-creation among all relevant stakeholders, including front-runners and researchers integrated into regulation processes. Closer collaboration with other EU frontrunners offers opportunities for mutual learning and sharing of best practices. Strengthening links with global counterparts, including the EU, US, Canada, and the UK, is highlighted as a strategic move to foster innovation and alignment with international standards.

A Common Direction for the Nordics – Pros and Cons of Harmonisation

As the construction sector in the Nordic region charts its course towards sustainability, the imperative of balancing traditional legal considerations such as safety, accessibility, land use etc on one side and alignment with the Paris Agreement including social, ecological and financial sustainability on the other side is a central question. Can we succeed in harmonising standards and methods without narrowing our opportunities to build in flexibility to adapt to serve needs and respond to opportunities in specific local contexts? These questions sparked discussion. The group concluded that collaborative efforts, adaptive regulation, and a commitment to harmonisation with the help of common directionality and common data structure models can help the Nordic countries navigate these tensions and drive meaningful progress towards a more sustainable future.

The principles/recommendations from this Roundtable conversation will be presented together with our findings from the first part of the SUSTAINORDIC project in a document which will be sent to The Nordic Council of Ministers to be included in the shaping of the Nordic Vision 2025–30.

The contributing experts in the session were:

Bjarke Fjeldsted, Chief Product Officer, Molio

Helle Redder Momsen, Head of Secretary, Nordic Sustainable Construction, The Danish Authority of Social Services and Housing.

Tove Malmqvist-Stigell, Docent, KTH Royal Institute of Technology | KTH · School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE)

Kristina Einarsson, Project Manager, the Swedish National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket)

Knut Øistad, Senior advisor – Forest policy and international affairs, NIBIO Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research