Do principals in the construction industry ask for sustainable materials in their projects and are they willing to invest in sustainability?

The construction industry has always had a significant impact on our environment and when looking at carbon emissions a rather negative one. It’s not strange that sustainability in construction has been an important development in the sector, one worthy of following closely. This is exactly what USP Marketing Consultancy has been doing in the European Architectural Barometer, a quarterly research based on 1,600 successful interviews with architects in 8 European countries.

In the Q3 2017 report we focused on sustainability. This topic is repeated every 2 years since 2013, so clear trends can be distinguished. One of the key findings of the 2017 report is that the demand for sustainability and not unimportant the willingness to invest of principals has increased significantly compared to 2015. Only in Italy the demand is stable and shows no growth (which is inline with the lack off/lower growth of construction in Italy).

The results of previous measurements (2013 & 2015) showed that the demand and willingness to invest (of the principal) in sustainability has been stable or even decreasing. In 2017, this has clearly changed and we can now report a significant increase. The demand & willingness to invest in sustainability is the highest in the UK and the lowest in Poland and Italy. 

Another interesting observation is that sustainability is taken into account in projects more often than is demanded. For example, in Belgium sustainability is asked for in 36% of the new build projects, but it’s actually taken into account in 65% of the projects.

Drivers for this trend

So what is driving this increase in demand? I think that during the financial crisis, the demand for sustainable products/solutions was suppressed due to higher cost and the lack of government support. Now that the crisis is over and the construction industry is growing again, principals are more willing to invest in sustainable products/solutions. Furthermore, sustainability is on the minds of the general public much more, due to all the news on global warming and big events like the Paris climate agreements. Speaking of which, this agreement also forced governments to start supporting sustainability in construction more. Now that the economic situation looks much brighter in most EU countries, there is more money for it as well.


In Europe, this also resulted in a higher awareness of architects on European legislation regarding sustainability. In some countries like the UK and France, more than 70% of the architects are aware of European legislation. In most other countries this is around 50%. In Germany and Poland the awareness is the lowest (under 30%). In the case of Germany this isn’t a surprise as certificates aren’t obliged and German architects are focusing strongly on certificates such as EnEV. Furthermore, they are taking into account DIN (the German standard in which European legislation is incorporated).

Regarding these certificates, in the United Kingdom and Italy sustainable certificates (like LEED and BREEAM) are the most valued certifications, whereas in Germany there is a clear preference for product certificates. In France, The Netherlands, Belgium and Poland both types of certificates are mostly considered equally important. In Germany, France, Spain and Belgium energy efficiency certificates are also frequently used in projects. This is mostly due to the legislation in these countries, like in Spain where it is mandatory for new-build or already existing buildings to have an Energetic Efficiency Certificate (CEE).

All of this means that architects are more actively incorporating sustainable features in their designs and that sustainable products/solutions will see an increase in demand as well. Obviously there are clear differences per country, but the demand for sustianabilty is most definitely on the rise again.