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GBN - Green Buildings and Neighbourhoods

The PROBONO project envisions establishing a people-focused European construction industry, by working in harmony with the broader community of stakeholders, to deliver scalable, sustainable, and viable energy-positive and zero-carbon Green Buildings and Neighbourhoods (GBN). Then what is Green Buildings and Neighborhoods (GBN), and what are the benefits of GBN? In the following interview, WP1 Leader of the PROBONO project, Laurence Marzell (SERCO), explains the GBN concept and its social, economic and environmental benefits within the PROBONO framework.

What is Green Buildings and Neighbourhoods (GBN)?

Firstly, I would like to mention that a GBN whilst being a defined area (or areas) those definitions and areas are varied, dynamic and dependent upon context. Therefore, there isn’t one concrete definition but a variety of definitions based upon the discussions and work that we’re now undertaking through the newly formed GBNC – Green Building Neighbourhoods Committee. Where we are in those discussions and in refining and maturing the GBN definition is that: a GBN is a cluster of physical, technical, natural, and social attributes that work together in an interdependent ecosystem; or as set out in D1.1 and D1.10, an urban ecosystem. "In the context of PROBONO, a neighbourhood is defined as a set of buildings in the urban environment, together with the rest of the built (technology and physical), the natural and the social environment which extend in an area smaller than that of a district. Each of these attributes, which are underpinned by enabling policy and social construct, has elements within it, such as circular economy, just transition, mobility etc. Additionally, a GBN has a dynamic and moving set of boundaries that together describe the area of the GBN, which could be defined within different contexts such as geographical, legislative, sustainability, etc.

Why do you think that GBNs are important? What are the benefits of GBNs?

GBNs acts as a real and interconnected stimulus for change. As mentioned before, it is a cluster of physical, technical, natural, and social attributes that work together in an interdependent urban ecosystem. By working together, these attributes lead to the combined effect of a collective effort which produces significant sustainable outcomes. Moreover, GBNs create a vision that allows people to set their desired targets, working toward a collective vision for how they wish to live better quality lives in an environment working with, not against nature., etc.

How is GBN related to smart growth and sustainable development?

The things like smart growth, sustainable development, etc., could of course happen in isolation. However, in isolation, you aren’t going to get the same impact from those things happening in isolation to drive sustainable growth, sustainable development, or smart growth. If there is a GBN vision where things are working together, it will allow people to understand how different elements of their community and neighbourhood are related and interrelated. It produces a more impactful and better stimulus and vision; and far quicker too. Thus, a better vision and combined effect of a collective effort create more chances of success in the terms of smart growth and sustainable development.

What are the economic benefits of GBNs?

The question is difficult to answer in specific terms since every GBN, neighbourhood, community, etc. is different. However, we can put those into very clear and defined categories. For example, jobs. We all know, and there is a lot of evidence that being green and sustainable focuses on high-tech, high-value development which generates economic growth in terms of high-value jobs and skills, etc. Furthermore, there are economic benefits in terms of cost reduction, energy security, energy surplus, and income benefits. We shouldn’t forget less tangible economic benefits in terms of social improvement, health and well-being, etc.

How do GBNs support the challenges of climate change?

We could say direct and indirectly. There are different sets of requirements on global, European and GBN levels for climate change. It is obvious that one GBN cannot have an enormous impact on climate change on a global level. However, when many of them come together, they could produce a cumulative effect on climate change on the global level. At a local level however, even one GBN would have a significant impact on the quality of life in the immediate vicinity of the GBN.

What are the key priors for sustainable and environmentally friendly construction?

I am not a technical expert, but I would argue the first thing we need to focus on is the design of the buildings. More precisely, we need to be sure that these renovated/new buildings are designed around how they are going to be used: Human-centric! As technical and physical benefits of smart buildings are achieved by how the buildings are used. I also suggest that organizations, which implement sustainable solutions, shouldn’t work in isolation. Working together with your neighbour would produce better benefits and impacts. For example, the collective planning and implementation of energy or renewable energy communities by organisations inhabiting the same neighbourhood. In sum, when a building is renovated or built, we need to look at it from a wider sustainable ecosystem perspective.

How will the PROBONO project contribute to GBN sector?

There is no GBN sector yet. However, I think that PROBONO can produce a structure and architecture to create a GBN sector. Since the word sector is too specific, we could call it a GBN philosophy. It would be an overarching philosophy around how GBNs work or are constructed. Thus, people should understand this philosophy, methodology and the approaches within it, and how they are related to individual plans before applying the GBN concept.

What makes PROBONO different than other projects on GBN?

There are not many projects on GBN. So, I would say that PROBONO will incorporate and be the sum of all of the parts, of all key policy areas that the EU has, such as circular economy, Green Deal, Just Transition etc.

What are the key factors that PROBONO should focus on in the context of GBN?

PROBONO will create a concept of GBN by considering physical, technical, natural, and social attributes as key factors.

How PROBONO will contribute toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

It is clear that SDGs don’t often or have difficulty being defined in practice. . Therefore, PROBONO will take the relevant SDGs and define them in the physical world. In other words, PROBONO will provide a real and tangible understanding and interpretation of very high-level SDGs on a practical basis.

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