The NEES (Natural Energy Efficiency and Sustainability) Project is a trans-national partnership comprising 8 agencies from 5 regions in the Northern Periphery of Europe. The Project began in 2011 and finished in April, 2014. During this time the Project set up a criterion for selecting 15 best practices in products and services that use renewable and recycled materials; implemented 6 Pilot Projects to demonstrate these best practices in different regions; developed a Vocational Training course aimed at training stakeholders in the application of this approach, and provided this Project Results web site, where complete information and a short film explaining the project can be accessed. The 8 NEES Partners have also hosted over 12 public events, and provided input into regional and European policies regarding energy efficiency and sustainable construction.
The NEES Project was initiated by the Cork Centre for Architectural Education in 2010. The main motivation was an interest in the development of sustainable architecture, and in particular, the potential use of renewable and recycled materials in achieving this. The interest arose from the practical experience and previous research of CCAE staff, including their participation in a number of social housing developments involving the use of low-impact timber frame construction, cellulose insulation and green roofs in the UK as well as more recent research projects in Ireland that explored a similar approach. The support programme selected was the Northern Periphery Programme (NPP).
IMPACT ON REGIONAL AND EUROPEAN POLICIES
The NEES Project has tried to have some impact on both Regional and European Policies relating to sustainable construction and energy efficiency. Results have been patchy, with some regions showing a lot of interest, and others very little. Notable is the verbal submission made to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sustainable Construction in the UK. UK NEES Partners made the case for more support from the use of renewable and recycled materials as part of a green construction approach.
In Ireland the NEES Best Practise, Mud and Wood, Sligo made a detailed submission to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in September 2013, recommending the incorporation of life-cycle thinking into the BER Assessment. Further presentations were also made to the Scottish Parliament. NEES also participated in the consultation held by the Northern Periphery Programme regarding the proposed objectives of the 2014-2020 Programme. Here we emphasised the regional importance of energy efficiency in the region, to go side by side with the current focus on renewable energy sources. This issue has now been given prominence in the Programme. In addition to this the various public events and presentations made have strongly highlighted key issues at regional and European levels.
PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
The NEES Project approaches its official termination date, Partners have been active in identifying sources of support for continuing the work of the Partnership. A submission for a Preparatory Project to the Northern Periphery Programme for the new 2014-2020 Call was, surprisingly, not successful. This has not deterred the Partnership from continuing to develop proposals to take the project to a new level and a comprehensive proposal has been submitted to the Horizon 2020 Programme, under Call EeB1 – 2014 Materials for the Building Envelope. The Proposal is titled NATLOW CO2 (Achieving naturally low embodied carbon and energy over the life-cycle of Buildings), was submitted in March of 2014. This new Project aims to continue and consolidate the work of NEES by identifying a further 15 renewable and recycled materials that contribute to energy efficiency in buildings (this time from the whole of Europe) and which can achieve targeted reductions in energy use and carbon emissions during their life-cycle, as well superior energy efficiency in use and other sustainability benefits. The NATLOW CO2 Partnership comprises 14 organisations, including 4 current NEES Partners. The Project is currently undergoing evaluation and a decision is expected in August 2014.
Activity has been intense during the 3 years of the Project, aiming at achieving the objectives of the Project. We have had our ups and our downs. Partners have been surprised at the low level of official support currently given to the use of renewable and recycled materials in most regions, and the difficulties involved in securing accreditation and recognition for products and services. However, we have also been impressed at the committed and consistent work carried out by producers and service providers, and some grass roots organisations and lobby groups, to promote this important alternative.
Partners are satisfied that we have achieved what we set out to do in terms of demonstrating the viability of products and services of this type in the NPP region, and of the kind of mechanisms that could be put in place to support these. We have concluded that much work is still needed to make this sector economically sustainable and technically advanced. We believe that both these factors are necessary for the mainstreaming of a more sustainable approach to construction, based on organic architecture and circular economy principles. Partners share the conviction that the best way to ensure this continued development is by the resourcing and continuation of the work carried out in NEES, on the basis of future related initiatives.