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Investing in sustainability is regaining its pre-pandemic popularity, but not as fast you may expect

With high energy prices on the one hand and increasingly devastating effects of climate change on the other, sustainability has become a hot topic, especially in the construction sector. That is especially so in the building construction sector, where many solutions to make buildings and their construction more sustainable have been developed over the years.  

To measure the temperature of the topic of sustainability in the European construction sector, we regularly ask architects from eight countries whether their clients ask for sustainable options. Sustainable options often come at a higher price though, which is why we also ask architects what share of their clients is willing to pay that price.    

Interest in sustainability has grown slowly but steadily over the past years 

The results of our European Architectural Barometer show that the share of clients of architects that show interest in sustainable options has increased steadily over the past years. In the graph, that is visualised by the deceasing trend of the share of clients who do not ask for sustainable options. That share has slowly decreased from 27% in 2018 to 19% in 2023. Clearly, architects see a vast share of their clients showing interest in sustainable options.  

Willingness to invest fluctuated wildly though 

Interest does not mean that clients are willing to pay the price for those sustainable options, however. In contrast to the gradual and consistent trendline of interest in sustainable options, the willingness to invest in them fluctuated wildly over the past few years. In 2018, architects reported that 35% of their clients were willing to invest in sustainable solutions, while two years later, that share had dropped dramatically to a mere 20%. 

The reason for that dramatic drop is the COVID pandemic that engulfed the world in crisis. Given the resulting economic uncertainty, it is understandable that people and businesses were more careful and hesitant with their investments. Given the generally higher price of sustainable options, it makes sense that willingness to invest in sustainability dropped during the pandemic.  

Pre-pandemic popularity of investing in sustainable options has not yet been reached 

After the threat and turmoil of those COVID times disappeared, architects saw their clients’ willingness to invest in sustainable options return slowly, up to a share of 27% in 2022, and 31% in 2023. And that is where it gets interesting, because that growth seems rather low compared to the surge in attention for sustainability over the past year or so.   

That general attention is one of the reasons why we decided to do an extra measurement in 2023 and make sustainability the topic of the Q2 2023 report of the European Architectural Barometer. Interestingly, the explosive growth of attention for sustainability, mainly because of dramatically increasing energy prices due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was not seen in the willingness to invest. The question is, why not? 

Again, there may be an economic reason. The construction industry boomed after the pandemic, but has slowed down a bit more recently, especially in the new-build segment. This is a consequence of the rising costs of both construction materials and labour, and of higher interest rates. That means developing a new building has gotten more expensive, which has consequences for the willingness to pay extra for more sustainable options.  

So overall, there is positive development regarding the interest and willingness to invest in sustainable solutions, but due to market circumstances, we do not see an explosive growth.  For a full overview of economic developments and sustainability in the building construction sector in Europe, we refer you to USP Marketing Consultancy’s European Architectural Barometer. 

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