Residents of sustainable buildings are less ill and work more efficiently, says Pascal Eveillard of Saint-Gobai

According to Pascal Eveillard, Director of Sustainable Development at the Saint-Gobain Group, it is realistic for the construction industry to be carbon neutral in the future. However, the industry faces a number of challenges. "We have to work with more expensive energy, more demanding bank requirements and labour shortages. These are big challenges, but they will help us in the long run because they will help us create more efficient processes," explains Ana Cunha, Director of Strategic Consulting for Sustainability and CSR at Deerns Group.

Why is it important for Saint-Gobain to be a leader in sustainable construction?

Pascal Eveillard: There are several reasons for this. As a large group with a global reach, we need to consolidate our position in the industry and we also do not want to leave a negative global footprint. We see sustainability as an opportunity and we are convinced that neglecting it could be a big risk in the future. I believe there will come a time when people won't want to work with companies that are not sustainable. Such companies will no longer be attractive to customers or investors. The world is changing, and we can't just think about ourselves.

How do you change your processes?

Pascal Eveillard: First and foremost, we strive to make all our businesses sustainable. It is a matter for the whole group, not just some part of it. Of course, we can't change everything overnight, it's a matter of preparation and investment. That's why we've set a precise procedure and defined a sustainability plan. This takes into account our local and global businesses, legal requirements, the level of preparation of the business, the requirements of employees and customers, as well as the cultural customs of the area. In addition, we have prepared a decarbonization plan for all our production processes and defined ways to be even more circular.

How long have you been reducing your carbon footprint at Saint-Gobain and how are you meeting your goals?

Pascal Eveillard: We set our first goals in 2015 and we are achieving them faster than we originally expected. We have already fully met the goals for 2025, as well as some of the goals

set for 2030. The fact that production fell slightly last year due to the crisis certainly helped us, but it was not the only factor. For example, investments in decarbonized electricity have already paid off. I believe that we are on the right track and that we will meet all our goals in time.

In business, sustainability is often a matter of money. Is it even realistic to build sustainable buildings without major investments?

Pascal Eveillard: Sustainable buildings don't have to be more expensive to build at all. If we take sustainability into account when designing a new building, then it does not have to bring any increased costs. And if they do arise, we identify them in advance and can compensate for the higher price of some technologies by saving in other areas. We have many examples where more sustainable technologies have come out just as expensive. Of course, there are also specific solutions that tend to be more expensive. We are able to produce glass that has a 40 percent lower carbon footprint, but its price is slightly higher due to the more expensive production. On the other hand, if we look at the total cost of construction, the price of glass is only a fraction of it, so as a result, the construction of the building will not be that expensive. It's always about the overall analysis.

Ana Cunha: In addition, it is necessary to work with the fact that investing in sustainable solutions can bring much higher profits when selling or renting – as well as a number of benefits for the residents themselves. For example, saving electricity, water or other resources. That's why I think we should always compare the cost and the final value.

What can be the other benefits of sustainable buildings?

Pascal Eveillard: For example, it's better acoustics or an overall "healthier" environment without mold and other imperfections. People living in sustainable buildings are less likely to get sick. When we look at hospitals, sustainable buildings proved to contribute to faster patient recovery. This, in turn, leads to savings in healthcare. In the case of schools or offices, it is higher productivity.

Ana Cunha: People tend to simplify sustainability to just choosing better materials or technologies. But in reality, sustainability lies in an overall ESG approach, with the "S" standing for social. Underneath that, for example, is prosperity or security.

Is it realistic to achieve a carbon-neutral construction industry?

Pascal Eveillard: It's a huge challenge. There is a lot of pressure on the big players, but it is even more difficult for smaller companies. Decarbonisation requires some investment, which can be a challenge for some of them. Therefore, it is necessary to offer them greater financial

support and facilitate the transformation overall. We can only achieve better results by collaborating, not only with other companies, but also with the legislators who make the rules. In addition, a number of other factors also come into play. Construction companies are only a small part of a large ecosystem. Green buildings cannot be built without green energy, but access to decarbonized energy is not very easy.

Do you think it is possible to achieve such a level of cooperation across disciplines, and thus carbon neutrality?

Pascal Eveillard: Definitely, yes, and we are seeing it in practice more and more. Not all countries are at the same level, but we already have a number of positive examples. For example, in the Nordic countries, sustainability is ingrained in the local culture and it is much easier to implement some solutions there. But it also works elsewhere. If we look at France, we have introduced what we call a construction and demolition waste liability scheme. A few years ago, most of the players in the market were against it. They saw it as a new regulation that would be costly and, above all, complex. Gradually, however, they became quite receptive to the idea. It provides a common framework, makes it easier to implement recycling programs and makes them profitable, which was not the case before. In my opinion, this is a nice case where a jointly developed solution, which has been discussed directly with the construction sector for a long time, can work.

Ana Cunha: In the past, the prevailing view was that sustainable construction was only in the hands of architects and engineers. But that's not the case. Sustainability requires the involvement of every player in the market. CSRD (the new European Union directive on non-financial reporting – ed.) now applies to three-quarters of European companies across the entire supply chain. In short, we need to understand that we all influence each other, and only by working together can we take not only sustainability but also social responsibility to the next stage.

Leaving aside the Nordic countries, who else is most attached to sustainable buildings at the moment?

Pascal Eveillard: I would say definitely France and the Netherlands. France used to lag behind on these issues, but today it is different. We have a very ambitious regulation, which was one of the first in Europe to set a maximum limit on carbon emissions. As for the Netherlands, as a small country, it has mainly dealt with limited access to resources, so it has made great progress, especially on circularity issues.

Ana Cunha: Sustainability is a vast topic and each country deals with slightly different issues according to its current needs. We can see this well in the case of the aforementioned

Netherlands, which is affected by extreme climate risks because it is already below sea level. Therefore, it is further along than others in addressing this issue, which can be beneficial overall. It allows us to share knowledge from practice and move forward faster because we won't have to repeat the same mistakes again.

What challenges do we face today in the field of sustainable construction?

Pascal Eveillard: In Europe, one of the biggest challenges is the renovation of existing buildings. This is definitely an area where we need to speed up in order to offer better comfort to the residents of substandard buildings and also to relieve the existing energy infrastructure, which today has to be designed for large consumption. When it comes to the construction of new buildings, I am convinced that decarbonisation and circularity will become the main topics and challenges after the current crisis has subsided. Gradually, work is also being done on the resilience of buildings and their adaptation to future climate changes.

Ana Cunha: I think that even in the context of the geopolitical and economic situation, there is some uncertainty. We had Covid, then came the war, the energy crisis. We have to work with more expensive energy, more demanding requirements from banks and labour shortages. These are big challenges, but they will help us in the long run because they will help us create more efficient processes. If we keep doing things the same way, we will never achieve higher goals. We also need to improve market awareness of sustainable buildings, as this is key to better understanding and acceptance. And we need to focus on the aforementioned renovations of existing buildings, because 80 percent of the buildings that must be carbon neutral by 2050 are already standing.

What could contribute to greater awareness?

Pascal Eveillard: The biggest problem I see is the lack of communication of some of the new requirements and measures. For example, in France, it will soon no longer be possible to rent a building that does not have a good rating (the energy performance of the building is evaluated - ed.). Many people perceive it as a sudden decision for which they could not prepare in time. In reality, it was a long process, but unfortunately, legislators often forget about transparent communication and do not explain their decisions to people, which can lead to misunderstanding and rejection of new regulations. This is paradoxical because, at first glance, it seems that we have never had more information than we do today.


Pascal Eveillard

He joined Saint-Gobain Group in 2000 as Director of Marketing and Innovation for the ISOVER brand. Seven years later, he became Global Head of Public Affairs for Sustainable Development and Communications, and in 2010 he took over as Group Director of Sustainable Construction. Since 2019, he has been the Group's Director of Sustainable Business Development. He is involved in a number of organisations and was also an active member of the steering committee of the European Commission's LEVEL(S) project on indicators for sustainable buildings. He is the Vice-President of Eurima (European Association of Mineral Insulation Manufacturers).

Ana Cunha

She is Director of Strategic Consulting for Sustainability and CSR at Deerns Group, which operates as an engineering and consulting firm in ten countries. He specializes in MEP engineering, sustainability strategies, and smart building design. Since 2022, she has been a BuildingLife Decarbonization Ambassador. In addition, she is a member of the ULI (Urban Land Institute), where she actively works on the risks associated with the transition to a low-carbon economy, a consultant in the LEED/USGBC "Resilience" working group, and a founding member of the France Green Building Council (Alliance-HQE) and the Sustainable Building Alliance (SBA).

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