2020 year in review: Europe

Kay Killmann
February 1, 2021

Much like the rest of our regions across the globe, 2020 was a year of unprecedented challenges that will forever change the way we look at sustainability, human health and wellness, resiliency and equity. Over the course of 2020, many countries in the European region went into repeated lockdowns as COVID-19 relentlessly attacked people, shut down and greatly diminished entire economies and changed life as we know it. As I write this reflection of 2020, my own country of Germany has extended and tightened its lock-down and nearly 80% of beds in ICU units across the country are occupied while we wait with cautious optimism for the various vaccines to be available to everybody who wants one.

COVID and virtual engagement

In response to the pandemic, we quickly adapted our personal and business strategies to emphasize safety over risk and stability over uncertainty, all while still pushing the market to embrace our mission critical work in Europe. In-For example, Greenbuild Europe, which was scheduled to take place in Dublin, Ireland between March 24-25, was quickly and seamlessly transitioned to an International Education Series, which featured highly sought-after content on Health & Wellness, Healthy Buildings and Health Communities, People and Performance, Net Zero and Carbon, Resilience, and Financing and Development. The virtual learning experiences were comprised of live events and on-demand education sessions. All sessions were expertly curated, peer-reviewed and eligible for continuing education units (CEUs). And in a gesture of goodwill to our members and community in the region, we offered the International Education Series free of charge.

USGBC Leadership Awards

We also continued to raise awareness of leadership in the European market through our 2020 USGBC Leadership Awards. Hosted via a high-value production video featuring USGBC and GBCI CEO Mahesh Ramanujam, this year’s European awards went to leaders who demonstrated significant strides in green building design and construction, innovative waste management solutions and environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. Among the market leaders recognized where COIMA, whose visionary work has helped integrate innovation with tradition to support the City of Milan’s urban regeneration. Through the use of LEED, the company has overseen the development of 20 LEED-certified buildings, representing more than 400,000 square meters of space with more are expected. Another awardee Ecover, a green cleaning manufacturing company, demonstrated how by adopting TRUE, our zero waste certification program, factories could completely reimagine waste management. And one of my personal favorite highlights, the LEED Platinum certification of The Olympic House, the headquarters of The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne, Switzerland, which embodies the IOC’s commitment to sustainability.

LEED stories

Another 2020 highlight in the European region was the recognition of Park Mazaik A Block, in Ankara, Turkey as the LEED Residential Project of the Year! The 40-unit LEED Gold building was designed to support middle-income families and focused on decisions that promote sustainability, health and affordability. The project’s human-centric design prioritizes health through enhanced ventilation, filtration, source separation and non-emitting materials—all critical mitigation components of what we have learned about COVID-19.

We also celebrated the LEED Gold certification of the new terminal at Istanbul Airport. The new terminal building, which plays host to 1.4 million square meters of space, recently achieved certification under LEED for Building Design and Construction. In doing so, Istanbul Airport has claimed the record for the world’s largest LEED building project, proving that with careful planning, no space is too large – or small – to make a positive, sustainable impact on the planet.

While 2020 was a challenging year, I am proud of our small team’s many market-changing accomplishments. I am proud of the example our global team set for others to follow. What follows is a snapshot of our progress against our (pre-COVID-19) goals for 2020 and market trends in the European region which provides the foundation for our work going forward.

LEED grows

The European market is like a mosaic. LEED development here requires consideration of many unique pieces in isolation. There are 46 countries and 39 national languages, with three-quarters of Europe’s 830 million people living in cities. The buildings in Europe account for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions and 40% of energy demand, proportions unlike those on any other continent. This is why our team is singularly focused on advancing LEED in Europe to help projects overcome these challenges.

We met our 2020 goal to grow the annual number of LEED registrations, certifications and revenue in Europe by taking a highly efficient market development approach.

LEED’s broad coverage of space types and rating systems across all European countries has allowed it to weather the pandemic. Moreover, the market is signaling optimism via new registrations – a 9% increase in 2020 to 650 registrations. And since GBCI Europe’s establishment in 2017, the number of LEED project registrations has consistently tracked higher year over year.

Lead with Tier 1 markets

From 2017 to 2020, Spain, Turkey, German and Italy have accounted for 50% of Europe’s certifications. Tier 1 markets are rounded out by Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Poland. Market development activities are prioritized in these Tier 1 markets as they make up over 75% of GBCI Europe’s progress. We engage with the Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets whenever there is a potential project.

Portfolio performance verification and LEED existing buildings certification is the future

During 2020 there was a notable increase in inquires for performance verification of existing property portfolios, as customers expanded their ESG commitments. Our approach is to onboard projects in Arc and encourage them to pursue LEED certification over a period. This allows projects of varied maturity levels to get started on their sustainability goals to eventually become leaders. This strategy is working well for our retail customers like Deutsche Telekom and Prada. We are confident that other sectors will follow suit.

LEED existing buildings certification continues to gain traction and currently accounts for 25% of LEED certifications in Europe. The most sustainable building is, of course, the existing building – that is, if it performs well. Most do not. 97% of the buildings will require upgrades to meet decarbonization targets and all of them can benefit from LEED for existing building certification to meet their decarbonization goals.

The Green Deal

Although the will to renovate in Europe has grown steadily with awareness, the effort to fund the wave has been middling. Now, at the crossroads of a pandemic and climate action, there is a real push for a tipping point.

The Green Deal’s provision of ample and affordable financing unlocks the operating efficiencies that come with updates to offices, warehouses, manufacturing facilities and retail spaces. As there is a good chance for priority sites like hospitals, schools, affordable housing to get an early start, a trickledown to the private sector is expected. Undoubtedly, LEED can help the world’s largest government to reach its 2050 decarbonization targets and a climate-neutral, energy- and resource-efficient future. The European Green Deal is set to elevate the green economy and green building industry to historic levels and we are working to make sure we transform the market with LEED.

Thank you again to all of our members and partners throughout Europe. Your active support of our mission makes everything that we do possible. May your 2021 be healthy, prosperous and full of continued inspiration for our collective work.