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Aluminium and cucumbers

A kilo of CO² represents: three cucumbers, or eight potatoes, or two m² of rock wool 100mm thick, or a 1/412th part of a standard aluminum window frame. This rather insightful list, which goes on for pages with every conceivable material, hangs on the wall at a Danish architecture firm we work with. It is part of a study on the environmental impact of building materials. Some of their staff are pursuing a doctorate on that. They even investigated the CO² impact for 32 brick types and fabrications separately.

The list provides interesting perspectives on a task that we, too, face in Dutch construction. Whether out of our own ideals or just because of regulations - around New Year, the announcement was made that the minister intends to set a CO² standard for material use in new buildings and tighten the environmental performance requirement (MPG).

The MPG (environmental performance of buildings) is already legally introduced as part of the environmental permit application. In theory, the National Environmental Database, which forms the basis of the software used to calculate the MPG, is a great idea. In practice, however, the input turns out to be hopelessly lacking. Many building materials are not listed, especially innovative materials. Moreover, materials are often too generic or just idiotically specific, such as 'granulate from lot X in Limburg' - in short, it is a jumble of information. And there is a logical explanation for this: the database is filled by commercial operators who are paid.

Filling the National Environmental Database with objective, verifiable information seems like a nice government intention for the new year. Perhaps that will require an objective researcher, as with the Danes. It is certain that a good database would directly contribute to the minister's first ambition: reducing environmental impact by testing the CO2 impact of building materials.

Meanwhile, as builders and designers, we already have to be critical every day about the quantity, origin and reusability of the materials that we use in our buildings. We can't afford to sit back and wait for the minister.

Ronald Schleurholts
architect-partner cepezed

Cobouw, 17 january 2023

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