Are OSS the job of Tomorrow?

June 10, 2024
12
min read

The Belgian Renovation Week took place from the 15th to the 18th of January, in Brussels, organised under the framework of the Belgian Presidency of the EU. 

Our journey in the Renovation Week started learning from the Flemish Ministry of Energy and Environment, represented by Stijn Caekelbergh, what’s the right mix of regional policies, funds, and OSS that managed to triple the renovation rate of the region in one year, including: 
- A new renovation obligation for new homeowners to increase the energy performance to at least EPC D;
- A fund of 1bln €, that supported 130.000 families in their renovation efforts; 
- A ban to fossil fuel-based heating;
- The setting up of energy helpdesks / OSS to provide information and support to citizens.

This is the kind of practices that EU Peers wants to learn, promote and support throughout its Community. 

Changing the scope of EPC

Paul Garcia Audi, from DG ENER B.3, presented the upcoming novelties of the EPBD revision, focusing on the changing role and increasing importance of EPCs. Launched as mere tool providing information on the energy performance of a building, the EPCs is more and more used to define common criteria for energy labels in EU, and to build national databases on the energy performance of buildings. The upcoming EPBD will set stronger linkages between the EPC and the Green taxonomy, the concept of energy flexibility, financing, etc. Unexpected uses of the EPC were also driven by the private sector, influencing the way buildings are designed, or the interest rates of private loans. 

Roel Vermeiren, representing the Flemish Energy and Climate Agency, spoke about the use of EPCs in the region in 4 dimensions: inform, advice, finance, oblige. It is worth noticing the focus on inform and advice, carried out through a renovation guidance system delivered via local OSS, covering all municipalities. EPCs are also used by low income families in the region to get private banks’ loans for renovation works.

An interesting use of EPCs is present in Ireland as well, where the Sustainable Energy Authority, represented by Chris Hughes, runs a central database storing all EPCs. OSS have access to this database and the EPC of each building in the system and provide the homeowners with a tailored set of renovation measures. The database also requests the OSS to perform a new EPC after the renovation works, to update the status of the building in the database. 

The future of OSS for private home renovation

Why do we need a OSS? Henrietta de Robiano, from Climact, opened her presentation asking this question. The answer she gave is simple: when people are facing an obligation to renovate, they must be supported and helped. OSS are here to do exactly this. In Wallonia, OSS are now mainly advising (level 1) their customers on the renovation path they may undertake. But, if EU and national targets are to be reached, in the next 5 years, OSS must move to level 2 – coordination – and progressively move to level 3 – all in. What does it mean in practice? OSS shall soon start supporting homeowners in liaising with financing institutions, constructors and any other stakeholders they may need to interact with for the renovation of their apartments / buildings. OSS may also undertake more responsibilities, by actually entering in the negotiation process and acting as internal and integral partner of the renovation path of a building.

Jumping out of the “boring” trap

Looking at the emissions in the EU, 20% are caused by buildings and 20% by transport. But when we look at the private investment offer, transport gets the 60%, building only the 4%. The building sector lacks attractiveness. According to Sebastien Delpont, from EnergieSprong, the renovation sector needs innovation, needs technology providers… in brief: it needs a better offer. But to attract the offer, the demand shall increase. 

OSS need to build trust. They need to activate association of homeowners. Transnational cooperation platforms, such as the one that EU Peers is building, are key to overcome the barriers faced by individual homeowners and better aggregate the demand. OSS should include marketing aspects in their work to increase the appeal of renovation, not only for homeowner, but for the entire renovation market.

How will our world be in 2030?

Rob Hopkins, co-founder of Transition Network, triggered our imagination bringing everyone to a pictured travel to the Brussels of 2030.

2030 targets cannot be reached without a rapid transformation of our society. According to Hopkins, if we would travel to 2030 and bring back stories of the future we see, perhaps then, we could trigger change in the present. When we think of the future, we often imagine things that if presented today could seem ridiculous or crazy. 

So, how is the future Brussels? Hopkins made us image a city car-free, with buildings made of beautiful and colourful local material, concrete-free and where nature takes back its rightful place. We imagined a city fostering beauty in our daily life, where people take space back from cars, where buildings are owned by the local communities, which are much more involved in the decision-making and planning of their living spaces. We imagined trees crowding our landscapes. Beavers re-wilding our rivers and building 0-flood-risk neighbourhood for us…

Can you also imagine it? Well, good news! This is already happening… or at least, climate pioneers have already started building our future cities. How? Proposing (and implementing) crazy, ridiculous and out of ordinary ideas and training people to imagine the future. 

In Wallonia, for instance, there are city imagination offices, where people are asked to share smart ideas that then cities will implement. 

In Camden, UK, the government created an imagination activism training for citizens to learn how to be futuristic and picture the infrastructures they would like in the town.

“Any suggestion that doesn’t seem at least a bit ridiculous is not ambitious enough”. Rob Hopkins

Moving from individual to collective thinking

The Sociologist Suzanne de Cheveigne, CNRS, started her intervention making us reflect on how we speak about renovation. We always say “we”… but who is “we”? The problem of the renovation is that it rests on the shoulders of individual homeowners. We need to shift the paradigm to working together, thinking together. 

Leo Van Broeck, professor at the university KULeuven, addressed this question to decision-makers. Governments impose people to renovate, sometimes to carry out deep renovation that can last years. But they don’t create the conditions for people to renovate, they don’t create facilities where people can live while renovating their homes. A community, a collective thinking to renovation, cannot be created without the support of its government. 

Individual approach to renovation is particularly challenging for low income people. Renovation costs. And while it is true that it will bring to increased comfort, it will also bring increased energy bills, at least at first, and low income people are simply not able to afford it. Furthermore, their planning is often limited to few months in the future, while renovation works often require a much more longer timeline. Governments need to build trust in their citizens. The obligation to renovate should go hand in hand with support and flexibility to allow collective renovation efforts. 

What makes OSS the perfect job for young generations?

Valerie Barlet, Renocity, Florence Lepropre, Reno+, and Britt Berglis, Antwerp, closed our journey at the Belgian Renovation Week by changing our way of thinking of OSS and their workers. 

OSS need to build trust in their customers. Interpersonal skills are, hence, necessary for an OSS operator. Because only by building their trust, the OSS can truly and successfully accompany the homeowner in their renovation journey. 

OSS shall integrate social and cultural aspects in the renovation. They need to be able to work with social workers, if they truly want to support the entire society and all the buildings in their territory. Listening is also key. You can be an expert but then, if you do not listen to your customer’s needs, you won’t be able to bring them to renovate. 

So, why are OSS fit for young generations?

  • Does working in a OSS strongly contribute to the wellbeing of a society? Yes.
  • Does working in a OSS positively impact on our future? Yes.
  • Does working in a OSS require human contact? Yes.  

These are all elements that young generations are currently looking for when applying for a job, and this is what makes OSS the perfect job of Tomorrow.

Conclusion

To conclude, we would like to raise here the questions that Jean-Yves Saliz, from the Ministry of Energy and Climate of the Walloon Government, used to open the discussion during the last day of the Renovation Week. Our field is full of experts on renovation. But can we honestly say that we see around us a strong renovation wave being implemented? Do we manage to attract the market and lead the climate transition? Should our policy-makers design policies with a stronger focus on social aspects? How confident are we that the current policies correctly integrate human practices? Are we sure that all households are heated at 19-20° max?

Or are we missing something? Are we missing out in integrating social practices and human behaviours in our jobs? Can we imagine a collective approach to renovation?

EU Peers Consortium
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The European Union has been at the forefront of crafting policies addressing the built environment's environmental impact. An example of this is the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) first enacted in 2002. A key instrument in the effort to address climate change. Through the Directive, Europe recognizes the responsibility of buildings for a significant portion of total energy consumption.
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EU Peers joined the Belgian Renovation Week where the main outcome seems to be that yes, OSS are the job of Tomorrow and for young generations. In this article we dive into the speeches which inspired us the most and that, we hope, will inspire you too.
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