Have the most sustainable urban environments already been built? 2023

9 February - 2023 , Online

How to better utilise the existing urban structures to decrease climate emissions

10:00-12:00 CET

This online meeting of the METREX Metropolitan Climate Challenge Expert Group looked at the following topic:

Have the most sustainable urban environments already been built? How to better utilise the existing urban structures to decrease climate emissions

Introduction to the topic

Buildings and construction contribute significantly to carbon emissions and climate change in Europe. Decreasing emissions throughout the building lifecycles is an important policy priority in the EU, not least in the revised Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD).

More and more actors have, however, started to emphasise that we also need to reduce emissions by prioritising renovations instead of new buildings, and reuse existing buildings and enable increased space sharing.

For example, a recent research project commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment concluded that complete renovation is a more effective means to reduce emissions in the next few decades compared to demolition followed by new building. According to the study, steering instruments towards low carbon buildings should encourage renovation rather than demolition and master plans should, for instance, more often explore how to utilise and repurpose existing buildings.

At the same time, how growing metropolitan regions should prioritise between renovating existing buildings and replacing buildings with new buildings is still a complex question. Adding the perspectives of overall local and global, social and environmental sustainability further complicates the question. The study by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment also calls for more research on the emission impacts from the perspective of the whole urban structure. More knowledge is needed to support steering towards low carbon built environment in cases when renovation and adding of floor space to existing buildings cannot accommodate the increased need for space in fast growing metropolitan regions, and where avoiding demolition may lead to a need for new construction in other parts of the region — in some cases outside the existing urban fabric risking negative overall impact on sustainability (Finnish Ministry of the Environment, 2021).

In this webinar, we discussed the role of land use planning in decreasing emissions from the built environment. The focus is on land use planning and policy solutions and how to better utilise the existing urban structure to cut emissions. The more technical building solutions as such are not discussed in detail in this planning and policy-focused webinar.

We learnt and think about how land use planning could contribute to decreased emissions by better utilisation of existing buildings and infrastructure, and what environmental and social sustainability perspectives need to be taken into consideration and addressed.


Robin Rushdi Al-Salehi, from the architecture company Codesign AB, is a Swedish sustainability expert. He presented a list of principles for sustainable buildings that will function as a basis for our discussions during the webinar.

Eric Huybrechts
, Manager of International Affairs from L’Institute Paris Region, told us about French approaches to sustainable building and reuse and renovation of existing buildings. We learnt about solutions such as demolition permits in development control regulation as well as lessons learned from examples of urban planning projects that reuse existing buildings.

Finally, we held our third Climate Challenge Clinic, where we helped the City of Helsinki (Finland) with their challenges. Alpo Tani, planner at the City of Helsinki, guided us to discuss questions such as what good examples from other cities could help Helsinki to better utilise the existing built environment, or how to better cooperate at metropolitan level to lower the construction phase emissions. We discussed these and other questions in smaller group and draft ideas to guide and help Helsinki.

Presentations are available to METREX Members on the Metropolitan Climate Challenge page


Please contact liisa.perjo@uudenmaanliitto.fi to register.