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As Paris Climate Talks progress, so have France’s eco-construction efforts

As host country for the 21st edition of the International Climate Summit, France has been taking tangible steps to green its real estate sector. Encouraged by new legislation, financial incentives and environmental certifications, France’s construction industry has produced a number of eco-friendly edifices of late.

The latest edition of the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference (COP 21) is underway in Paris. Last Friday’s session was specifically focused on finding solutions to render the construction sector as sustainable as possible, but a number of French real estate developers have already taken steps towards reducing their projects’ ecological footprint. Following is a selection of some of the most innovative and eco-friendly construction projects launched or completed in recent months.

Wooden social housing:

Less precarious than it sounds, this building project is the largest residential property made with cross-laminated timber (CLT), or solid wood. Located in Ris-Orangis, in the southern suburbs of Paris, the project began in mid-September and will be completed in under a year. It will comprise 140 social housing units made from ethically sourced and recyclable CLT building material, which comes in kit form from Austria.

Furthermore, the building possesses another beneficial eco-virtue: it stores carbon instead of emitting it. Thanks to the CLT wood used, the structure can stock 880 tons of CO2 — the equivalent of carbon emitted for the heating and hot water production of the building for 88 years — thus actively contributing to the fight against climate change.

Green housing development:

The city of Lyon just inaugurated an innovative set of buildings which produce their own energy. Completed in late September, the housing complex named Hikari was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It comprises 32 housing units, 4 luxury duplexes and 8,500 square meters of offices and shops. Created to consume 1,500 megawatt-hours (MWh) of primary energy — 50-60% less than what is required by current thermal regulations — these buildings produce more energy than they consume.

To achieve this, the buildings use LED lighting and geothermal heating — the process of exploiting heat retained underground— and their roofs and certain façades are covered in photovoltaic — solar — panels. To mitigate the risk of a blackout, a gas boiler and a generator running on rapeseed oil have been installed.

According to the Environmental and Energy Maintenance Agency (Ademe), Hikari is unique because it combines offices, shops and homes in its energy-efficient complex. However, the organization lists 333 energy-positive buildings in France, mostly houses and schools, but more and more commercial spaces too.

Energy-positive residential tower:

Another energy-positive edifice is the Elithis Danube tower in Strasbourg. Construction started in early November and is set for completion in 2017. Housing 63 residential units, the tower will measure 50 meters in height and comprise 4,364 m2 of habitable surface. Much like Hikari, it will contain a mix of residential and commercial spaces, 974 m2 of offices will be set up on the ground floor.

Renewable energy production will also occur thanks to photovoltaic panels and heating deriving from the city’s forthcoming “biomass cogeneration plant,” the construction of which began on 25th November. Replacing a polluting and greenhouse-gas-emitting installation, this new plant will save 40,000 tons of CO2 per year — the equivalent of the annual pollution produced by 25,000 cars. Expected for launch in November 2016, the wood-burning facility will produce heat and electricity for 14,000 housing units, and will save each household around 15% on energy bills.

Certified eco-districts:

In recent years, France has seen a surge in eco-districts, urban areas whose construction and running integrate sustainable and ecological objectives. In the last three years, 39 areas have received this certification. Last week, Housing Minister Sylvia Pinel certified seven new eco-districts located all over France, as part of the EcoQuartier 2015 competition, while 24 projects have received the “engaged in an eco-certification” label. The minister has also launched a fourth session of the eco-district competition for 2016.

Photo credit: Wikipedia / Serres Auteuil

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