February 28, 2014
Why a politician’s building contractor is more influential on the energy efficiency debate than all the lobbyists in Brussels
By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy | WWF European Policy Office
I imagine it is relatively rare that a lobbyist for nuclear fusion runs up against a politician with much in the way of personal experience to call on in forming a judgment about that technology. The conversation remains abstract and researchers get their billions in the hope that one day the dream will become reality.
But talk to an MEP or Commissioner about the most mundane and useful of technologies like building insulation, and you hit an issue that’s close to home. Everyone has a renovation story: trouble finding a builder that will even deign to show up to give a price estimate; juggling contractors to arrive at a successful conclusion to even the most minor renovation…it leaves politicians longing for simpler challenges, like rationalising the Common Agricultural Policy. Rebut their stories with evidence of the societal benefits of efficiency and they’ll talk about their recent attempts to have a roof put on in less time it took to build the pyramids.
Success is largely the problem. There is now so much demand for renovation that contractors are stretched far too thin. Ironically, just as demand is rising, the barrier to entry into the field is also rising, as builders need to be ever more informed and professional to carry out modern techniques properly. As contractors are also in general very small businesses (91.9% of European construction enterprises have fewer than 10 employees), the onerous rules, expenses, and lack of access to finance associated with being a small-scale entrepreneur prevents more people from taking up the profession.
The European Builders Confederation has succinctly outlined the challenges to supporting green building in their reply the recent EC consultation on a green action plan for SME’s. Fortunately there are initiatives to address these problems, such as the EU-funded ‘Build Up Skills’ initiative. Many of the answers go well beyond aspects of environmental policy.
So while everyone bemoans the facts that the least expensive and most rational investments in Europe’s energy future suffer from a lack of a binding target, putting all our energy and climate goals at risk, we’d do well not just to pass out position papers. We should hand out the business cards of reliable contractors. Their work will do the talking for us.