Building for the future

28 September 2021

Two years ago Muenster acknowledged that we face a climate emergency, and this Autumn the city will publish a new climate plan with ambitions to become climate neutral as soon as possible.

“In Muenster, we must recognise that climate change represents a turning point in time, which has been made more dynamic by the corona crisis,” says the city’s Lord Mayor, Markus Lewe. “Profound social transformations, which can only be managed together with European partners, are imperative.”

The challenge, according to the mayor, will be to “adapt our lives so that we can find new value chains instead of the traditional economy and continue to live a good life.”

It’s a challenge taken up by dedicated staff within the city administration, such as Thomas Werner, Head of the Administration for Infrastructure Management, who is working on, among other things, how to reduce the energy consumption of 1,000,000 square metres of public building space in the city’s portfolio. These buildings, such as public schools, libraries and hospitals are large energy consumers, currently accounting for 35% of the city’s energy consumption.

Renovation wave

For more than 25 years, Muenster has been engaged in the renovation of existing buildings and the pursuit of energy-neutral buildings.

Since 1997, the city has offered financial grants, totalling more than €11 million annually, to support homeowners in the energy renovation of their old buildings as well as in the use of renewable energies and by providing advice on the advantages of innovative solar technology. The existing target of becoming climate neutral by 2030 is a big challenge, which will mean upping the annual renovation rate from around 1% to nearer 10% according to Werner. Reaching this goal will require both technical solutions and innovative ideas to fuel an “education offensive” for skilled labour, he says.

The coordination office where Werner works has already started a major project to help people adapt their everyday behaviour towards a climate-friendly lifestyle. ‘Climate coaches’ are currently being trained to accompany and support friends and acquaintances on their way to climate-neutral households.

Another avenue for the city, however, is to lead by example, hence a desire to reduce energy consumption in existing buildings within its portfolio – up to 50% on 1990 levels by 2030.

“One problem is that we have around one third more building space since then,” Werner points out.

A second challenge is that many public buildings in Germany, which often date from the 1960s and 1970s, were built to a different building code than the one being used today.

“The reality is we only have a short time to change those systems, and it’s not only about money,” exclaims Werner. “We need ideas, and we need real plans. We want to hear from other cities, but also we want more details on ideas such as the renovation wave,” he says.

New builds

A sports hall designed to nearly zero emission standard
Copyright: Stadt Muenster

New public buildings in Muenster are being designed with photovoltaic power cells and green roofs – the city administration understands that the social responsibility it accords its citizens by providing schools and other public services, must nowadays also be extended to the environment.

Under the city’s new public building code watching carbon emissions is key. This means, so far as possible, taking account of things like construction materials and energy supplies.

“For example, we are working with our partners from the local energy company,” says Werner, “and our goal is to move away from fossil-fuel-based energy in the next 15 years or so.”

By working closely with the local energy company, the city of Muenster helps to ensure that new development areas are either connected to the existing district heating system, which will become climate neutral by 2040, or are supplied by innovative local heating systems, such as cold local heat.

In fact, for more than two decades now, new private builds in Muenster have been subject to fixed energy standards to reduce overall energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The new standards will aim for climate-neutral buildings.

A European perspective

For city administrations like Muenster to have the best chance to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions footprint of all buildings, and to set an example for others to follow, support is needed from both national and European level. The upcoming revision of the EU’s ‘Energy Performance of Buildings Directive’ – taken as part of the FitFor55 package, will be an opportunity to set the tone for the coming years.

“It is important that the requirements for energy efficient buildings in countries with a long heating season are significantly increased. Only in this way can the energy consumption be reduced significantly in these countries,” concludes Werner.

Read more on Eurocities’ position here.

Muenster is part of the Mayors Alliance for the European Green Deal, which strives to show that a sustainable transition is possible, with mayors and cities on board. More here.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer