Sustainable Façades

Key European Challenges



Transposing innovation from government funded research to commercially viable solutions becomes ever more important when combined with the urgent need to meet the climate crisis. With a shift in priorities induced by the COVID19 pandemic, the European construction sector is showing an increasing focus on tackling green transition to meet the net Zero carbon emissions targets. In the present paper, some examples of initiatives that are gaining priority in the European facade market will be illustrated. It will be detailed how the largest European aluminium manufacturer has developed ways of increasing the amount of recycled content in façade extrusions up to unforeseen levels, in order to reduce the so-called “embodied carbon” in façades. Then, in an effort to decrease energy demand for heating and cooling in buildings (so-called “operational carbon”) and supported by academic studies from European universities, it will be demonstrated how designers and suppliers across Europe are considering envelopes that make use of triple glazed insulated units rather than double-glazed ones.

All these initiatives show common traits such as the key role of an appropriate mix of experience from real-world projects and on methodologies from the research environment. Such methodologies evaluate the current situation, formulate a specific question, and conduct measurable experiments to give answers, similarly to pure academic research.

The paper will conclude with future research trends in the European construction market and the challenges that must be addressed to guarantee a more sustainable future.


Photo of Dr. Thomas Henriksen

Dr. Thomas Henriksen

Henriksen Studio

Photo of Jean-Marc Moulin Norsk

Jean-Marc Moulin Norsk

Hydro Extruded Solutions

Photo of Dr. Jacopo Montali

Dr. Jacopo Montali

Henriksen Studio



Europe is currently facing urgent challenges to meet the climate crisis, challenges which have been accelerated and become a priority item after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such challenges are best summarised by President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, whose ambition is to build a “a resilient, green, and digital Europe”.

The European construction and façade sectors are facing these challenges, by leading façade engineering consultants addressing them initially and governmental initiative and legation following. The key challenge is achieving netZero carbon buildings, a requirement which is gradually being implemented in European building regulations to meet the 2050 strategy for a net Zero Europe, an initiative that stems in turn from the “European green deal” (European Union 2021) and the recent Paris agreement (United Nations 2015). The debate net Zero carbon for European buildings and facades revolves around the balance between the “embodied” carbon (i.e., the sum of all fuel-related and process-related carbon emissions for a specific product or service, normally measured from cradle to gate, i.e. before entering in operation, (Hammond and Jones 2011) and operational carbon(Hacker et al. 2008), i.e., carbon emission used to operate the building through its lifespan. In the last decades the focus for facades has been on improving operational carbon usage, however, the embodied carbon of the construction materials is currently becoming more important in determining which products can be used on buildings.

In this scenario, research and development play a fundamental role, as existing problems require innovative solutions and methodical processes to resolve the complex challenges, which are often interconnected. Transforming research into practice has always been a fine art, which is impeded by a series of obstacles, for example introduction of new material vs long term warranties; doing so in the construction and façade sectors, commonly known for their risk-aversion, makes the situation even harder. The aim of this paper is to show a series of European research and development activities that, despite being started before the pandemic, are currently emerging as a result of the above-mentioned and renewed European ambitions. This paper will first show how aluminium is currently recycled to unprecedented levels in an attempt to reduce embodied carbon in facades, based on a series of internal research and development efforts and investments from a major aluminium manufacturer. Secondly, it will be shown how currently there is a debate in Europe about increasing the thermal performance of the transparent envelope by adopting triple glazed units. It will be reviewed the latest academic research to help support the decision-making process. The paper will conclude and summarize the key findings from the European research and development activities with current challenges and future perspective regarding the next ambitions for a more sustainable future in Europe.

Reducing Embodied Carbon: Recy Cling Content in Aluminium Facades

The increasing adoption of aluminium for curtain wall systems in Europe is one of the reasons why the largest European aluminium producer, Hydro, has invested significant resources to improve the

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Reducing Operational Carbon: Considering the Use of Triple Glazed Insulated Units

The European flat glass market is valued about USD 110 billion, and it is estimated to grow at approximately 10% pace in the next five years (Anon 2021e). About 50%

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Conclusions and Future Challenges

This paper has illustrated independent research and development initiatives that are currently tackling two major European challenges in the building industry, namely reducing embodied and operational carbon. All initiatives stem

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