Last edited 19 Apr 2015

Mandating transparency about building energy performance in use

This article summarises a research paper ‘Mandating transparency about building energy performance in use’ by Robert Cohen and Bill Bordass, published in --Building Research & Information in 2015. DOI: 10.1080/09613218.2015.1017416.


The European Union Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) was adopted in 2002. It was intended to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, reduce carbon emissions and reduce the impact of climate change.

Amongst a range of provisions, Article 7 of the Directive required that public buildings with a total useful floor area over 1000 m2 display an energy certificate. As a result, Display Energy Certificates (DEC’s) were introduced for public buildings in the UK in 2008. They show the energy performance of a building based on actual energy consumption and are intended to raise awareness of the energy use of buildings, help unlock better building energy management and facilitate targeted investment in energy-saving measures.

When they were introduced, it was expected that they would go on to be rolled out to non-domestic private buildings, but in the event, this did not happen, although they can be prepared for private buildings on a voluntary basis. The government is now considering watering down the existing requirements, suggesting that ‘…It is possible that the current regulations for the issue and display of energy certificates in public buildings have gold-plated the requirements of the Directive’ and proposing that the definition of ‘public buildings’ should be more narrow and that EU requirements might be satisfied by Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), renewed every ten years rather than Display Energy Certificates.

It is within this context that this paper by Robert Cohen and Bill Bordass looks at the history and impact of mandating transparency about building energy performance in use. It considers the value of the EPBD and DECs to society and construction professionals and highlights the tortured approach that government has taken to this instrument.

The paper contrasts ‘…what started as a completely valid and promising policy and its less than satisfactory outcomes’ and strongly criticizes the tendency for policies to seek to improve energy efficiency through the specification of inputs rather than through requirements for outcomes. The paper suggests that twelve years after the introduction of the EPBD, the idea of transparency in actual energy performance in use still remains a potent driver for change and a necessary tool to measure the actual outcomes. It highlights that a significant gap continues to exist between the designed and actual performance - and that the construction industry and property markets are not yet providing appropriate strategies to match prediction to outcomes.

The paper describes at length the history leading to, and following, the introduction of DECs. It criticises the poor exploitation of the central register database of information submitted when DECs are lodged and suggests that, ‘The resultant lack of feedback affects not just the efficacy of policy-making, but the ability of the market to understand which interventions work and which do not.’

It suggests that success of the policy has been hampered by a fragmentation of responsibility within government, a deregulatory agenda and reliance on market forces, and contrasts this with the evolution of successful mandatory operational energy rating systems for non-domestic buildings in Australia and the United States.

The paper concludes that DEC’s have been an opportunity missed and proposes that future policies should have clearer lines of responsibility, better alignment with policies designed to influence individual buildings, and an understanding that data needs to be exploited as well as collected. It also suggests that continuity of policy is crucial to securing uptake by the industry.


Robert Cohen and Bill Bordass (2015) Mandating transparency about building energy performance in use, Building Research & Information, DOI: 10.1080/09613218.2015.1017416

Read the full paper at Taylor & Francis Online.

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