Energy efficiency and promotion: How policy can foster sustainable housing


The residential sector is a large emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the EU: It is responsible for 40 percent of energy consumption and 36 percent of GHG emissions. Not only poorly insulated houses and outdated heating systems are to blame; inefficient household appliances and air conditioning also cause environmental problems due to their high electricity consumption. So what can be done to counter this? The energy retrofitting of buildings, switching heating systems to renewable sources, and improved consumer guidance on energy issues can help.

According to researchers at Oeko-Institut, a bundle of policy measures based on best practice solutions and improved support and regulatory instruments could save up to 400 million tonnes of GHG emissions by 2030. To realise this, both the EU and national policy makers need to draw more strongly on “hard” regulatory measures such as a progressive energy tax, clear minimum efficiency standards and the incorporation of utility companies in efforts to achieve reduction targets. That is the conclusion reached by the experts in the “EUPOPP – Policies to Promote Sustainable Consumption Patterns” research project.

The key task of EUPOPP was to develop solutions and strategies for consumption with a view to environmental and climate protection and resource conservation. It concentrated on two specific areas: food and housing. The latter has been an agenda priority in the last two decades, in terms of both research and policy. In spite of great progress being made in those years, many policy instruments are still falling well short of fulfilling their impact potential.

Focus on housing

“Numerous measures have been implemented on both EU and national level to make buildings more energy-efficient, ranging from the EU Energy Label, through the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) to national energy-saving programmes,” says project leader Dr. Bettina Brohmann of the efforts made up to now. “However, many measures are not fulfilling their objectives because they are poorly implemented, and rebound effects can sometimes mean that there are more, not less, emissions.”

Household appliances provide a good example: Many consumers who want to exchange their old refrigerator for a more efficient one often purchase a new, larger appliance which consumes just as much energy overall as their previous one. Moreover, many are confused by the energy labels from A to A+++. Thinking that a washing machine labelled with the energy classification “A” is more efficient, they purchase it, without realising that there are three higher efficiency – and more cost-effective - categories.

Therefore, experts at Oeko-Institut are proposing that EU energy labels for household appliances should be improved. Clear product categories from G (worst) to A (best) should be chosen, which are adapted annually. By introducing a flexible scale and a premium for returning old models when new ones are purchased, the most inefficient “energy guzzlers” could disappear from the market every ten years.

Furthermore, the efficiency standards for buildings should be improved within the EU and a stronger focus should be placed on compliance with these standards in the case of new buildings and in particular during renovations. Access to financial support such as loans, credits with favourable rates, tax breaks, and subsidies should be made easier so that energy retrofits becomes simpler for building owners. Introducing a registry for the energy performance certificates that are already obligatory for buildings could – according to EUPOPP recommendations – provide an overview of energy retrofits already made and the emission savings they realised. The results of EUPOPP demonstrate that such initiatives have large potentials in terms of reducing environmental burdens and saving costs without disadvantaging lower-income households.

More information on the “EUPOPP – Policies to Promote Sustainable Consumption Patterns” project

Together with six European partners, researchers at Oeko-Institut analysed the impacts and effectiveness of policies and measures geared to promoting the sustainable consumption of private consumers.

All EU member states are covered by the project, with a special focus being placed on Spain, Finland, UK, Germany and the Baltic states. Oeko-Institut’s project partners for EUPOPP are the National Consumer Research Centre (Finland), University College London (UK), Baltic Environmental Forum (Latvia), ecoinstitut Barcelona (Spain), the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (Germany) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (Germany). <p>Further information and research findings can be found in the project booklet and on the project website


Dr. Bettina Brohmann

Head of Energy & Climate Division

Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt Office

Phone: +49 6151 8191-35


Regine Barth

Head of Environmental Law & Governance Division

Oeko-Institut e.V., Darmstadt Office

Phone: +49 6151 8191-30


Oeko-Institut is a leading independent European research and consultancy institute working for a sustainable future. Founded in 1977, the institute develops principles and strategies for ways in which the vision of sustainable development can be realised globally, nationally and locally. It has offices in three cities in Germany: Freiburg, Darmstadt and Berlin.

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