Although the number of green buildings compared to all the buildings built in Serbia is very small, the progressive increase in the number of buildings with green certificates is encouraging and represents a sure indicator that the initial wave of green construction has started and now it is necessary to maintain it, according to architect Dragana Korica, Executive Director of the Serbian Green Building Council (SrbGBC). In light of the line ministry's announcement that green building will be encouraged by amendments to the Law on Planning and Construction, we talked with Dragan Korica about what our starting points are, where Serbian construction has progressed in the field of sustainability, and whether money is always an issue or is it more important to raise awareness of the importance of this topic.
How do you assess the current situation in Serbia in terms of green building in the residential, office, and public real estate sectors?
It is still too early to talk about qualification in the form of grades, especially in the housing sector, where the first initiatives of investors to implement some aspects of green building are just beginning to emerge. Nevertheless, those initiatives are to be commended because they show social awareness and responsibility and call for the same. I believe that this sector will very quickly recognize the importance of green building, primarily because putting money into such an investment is more profitable for the future. Just as foreign corporations in the domain of office, industrial, and public facilities have triggered the market in the direction of green building, so will future owners of residential real estate express demands that go beyond mere location and design. Minister Goran Vesić's announcement that the Ministry of Construction, Transport, and Infrastructure will support green building will certainly contribute to that irreversible flywheel.
We are witnessing the momentum of the construction industry. To what extent are the standards of sustainable building present in that wave?
Construction has always been a strong economic branch. If we only look at larger cities, it is indeed a matter of momentum, but it is a great pity that opportunities were missed to turn this construction into green at the same time. Just as we now realize that our buildings are not energy efficient, we will very soon come to a situation where the buildings that are being built now need to be reconstructed, in order to meet the sustainability requirements in accordance with the EU plans, with which we are complying, from decarbonization to the implementation of circular models, water savings... If we talk about the presence of green building at the level of built facilities, we are talking about per mille. If we talk about the number of green-certified facilities, we are certainly on a continuous upward trend. It is a sure indicator that the initial wave of green buildings has started, and now it is necessary to maintain them. For our sake and the sake of those who are yet to come.
The energy crisis, as a result of the war in Ukraine, is, unfortunately, another argument that points to the importance of the energy efficiency of buildings. Where do we stand in that field?
The question is quite complex because it can be approached from different angles. If we look at it from the point of view of newly built buildings, which are obliged to comply with the regulation on energy efficiency, and if we consider only the energy related to the fulfillment of thermal comfort, we can talk about energy-efficient buildings. But the climate is changing. We need predictions and harmonization of regulations. If we look back to the period before 2012, when energy efficiency passports were introduced, and take into account the fact that individual households in Serbia spend three times more for heating than the European average, it is clear that these buildings are energy weak and that their energy rehabilitation is necessary.
It is good that there is a lot of talk about this topic; the media reports on a daily basis, and the state has launched incentive mechanisms. We will see if that is a sufficient motive or if a lot of it has to be even more simplified. For example, it is evident that in our country, carpentry, i.e., windows, are still most often changed on weekends, thereby avoiding certain administrative procedures, costs, or inspections. However, it is not ideal in Europe either. Even there, they are not satisfied with the energy renovation of buildings so far, if we are talking about the planned percentages, but the energy crisis will certainly accelerate this topic. We must not overlook the origin of the source of energy that goes to the functioning of the facilities, because it must be in accordance with the decarbonization to which everyone is committed. We must not lose that battle.
How to renovate energy-inefficient residential buildings?
Buildings, before energy rehabilitation, should be evaluated from the point of view of their age, that is, the life cycle of the materials they are made of. The profession is more than eloquent and has the necessary knowledge of how to do the rehabilitation. Of course, you need to be aware that you have to turn to a professional. The Rulebook on Energy Efficiency exists, but the rulebook must be adapted to new needs over time. As far as I know, in 2018, the process of modernization and expansion to aspects of lighting, hot water, and cooling was initiated; now every household has air conditioning. This is exactly what we call a prediction. Now we need to design and construct buildings that will be in compliance with future climate conditions; green construction points to that.
Which new buildings of local investors would you single out as examples of good practice?
Renowned local investors, who own buildings or rent them, not only follow the practice of green construction but also work on its improvement. It started with green roofs. Last year, a more massive installation of solar panels and electric chargers was evident, as part of an inevitable wave of green transition. I believe that we are facing a period when we will pay attention to water as a neglected resource.
There are plenty of examples, especially buildings of members of the Serbian Green Building Council, and I would not like to leave anyone out or single anyone out. The facilities are as green as how many green aspects were implemented, but certainly among them there are office buildings, such as Kula Ušće 2, Delta House, Sirius, NCR, the entire portfolio of Stop Shop facilities, Lidl and CTP distribution centers...
What will be the priority of the Green Building Council this year?
The goal remains the same, but we will also work on adapting to some new forms of presenting green construction to the general public, in which you as a media can make a significant contribution. We are involved in two international HORAISON projects, and we believe that through them we will bring new information to the market. We are open to any cooperation that can contribute to a sustainable future, and we invite everyone who is interested in green construction to join us so that we can work together on its promotion.
By: Aleksandra Mirković
Photo: Private archive