The promotion of low energy construction and the Passive House Standard: Successful strategies for forming a Passive House Association

The following is based on a presentation given by ANDA KURSISA on 29 May 2010 at the 14th International Passive House Conference, Dresden, Germany, and refers to the author’s experiences in setting up a Lativan Passive House Association.


To create a strong network of sustainable industries, to encourage the uptake of low energy building standards and to promote sustainable development through the formation of a Passive House Association.


  • How can we introduce and promote the Passive House Standard in shrinking economies and growing markets?
  • How can we overcome uncertainty about sustainable building standards?
  • How to foster awareness of the sustainable building and especially Passive House market, promoting uptake within 6-12 months?

In order to answer these initial questions, a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis should be conducted.


  • The strong technical and engineering background of building professionals allows for the quick absorption of knowledge about low energy design and building principles.
  • Professional organisations and individuals tend to be open to new information due to a down-turn in the building industry.
  • A small group of enthusiastic actors with similar sustainability goals already exist.


  • Public bodies do not coordinate activities in the sustainable building field and there are often unnecessary duplications such as with development plans, while, at the same time, state support for low energy building is lacking.
  • Public bodies do not have the appropriate expertise to evaluate better building standards although they tend to have the final word over what professional energy and building experts can and cannot do.
  • Municipalities and state bodies are not experienced in dealing with sustainable procurement procedures such as the Green Label Purchase standard – the lowest price principle is still widely used.
  • Information about sustainable building legislation is often sparse and unclear.
  • Many small NGOs act with similar goals, but have access to limited resources.
  • Average companies in the building industry tend to be suspicious of trends and changes towards low energy standards, while some managers oppose any change at all.


  • There is a potential for sustainable entrepreneurship both locally and internationally via cross-border networks.
  • Public procurement procedures can be improved with the application of low-energy and sustainability criteria such as the Green Label Purchase principles.
  • The requirements for International Green Investment Scheme projects can be improved so as to attract increased support in the near future.
  • Time resources for organisational and individual learning can be taken advantage of while building market is still slow.


  • Successful and fast promotion might lead to shortage of project financing, even for projects showing appropriate pay back periods.
  • The number of trained architects, building engineers, HVAC professionals may not be sufficient to keep up with demand.
  • Due to lack of knowledge, some pilot projects may fail and result in negative feedback.

SWOT Summary

Using a bottom-up strategy, one can start with informal networking, moving on to support from small businesses as well as green thinking municipalities, individuals and opinion leaders.

In the begining, it makes sense to approacnh friends and companies with the Passive House concept, asking for their assistance, contacts and enthusiasm. Positive partisan marketing, or seeking every opportunity to overcome stagnation, doubts, uncertainty and suspicion, is of the utmost importance.


  • Summarise the existing information on the human and financial resources available.
  • Establish a legal body in the form of a non-governmental organisation/association, with two primary goals: addressing the public at large and participating in projects to be financed by supporting instruments.
  • Create a network of organisations and people who work with energy efficiency in a variety of fields with the strong involvement of universities.
  • Define common goals and interests, also using an informal approach.
  • Inform the public and raise awareness while adding specialists with the right knowledge and enthusiasm to the network so as to strengthen the ‘grapevine’ of information.
  • Form a pool of professionals and set up interdisciplinary teams to work with different target groups such as public bodies, ministries and professional organisations.
  • Promote horizontal communication between public bodies and ministries.
  • Involve organisations dealing with EU funds and create a list of the financing available.
  • Participate in advisory boards, consulting management and end users of green financial instruments.
  • Be proactive by working to add new members to the network and sharing information.
  • Make use of and share free web resources for information and learning.



Local Networks

Experts to focus on first and foremost on a regional level may include various environmental, architectural and energy related networks and decision making bodies.

Taking the Latvian example, the sustainable industry professionals that were first involved on a local level included the energy group of the Latvian Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the Ministry of the Environment Advisory Board, the Latvian Architect Association, the Latvian Association of Building Engineers and the consultancy services of the Ministry of the Environment.

International networks

On an international level, the focus could tend towards expert research institutes, other professionals in the field and educational bodies. Often, this involvement takes the form of involvement in international projects.

Again taking the Latvian example, the sustainable industry professionals that were first involved on an international level included the Energieinstitut Voralberg, Tartu University Estonia and Norwegian energy professionals while international projects included the Estonia – Latvia programme – project “Active through Passive”, EEA Grants and Norway Grants for “Low energy building in Latvia”, and the “Nordic Baltic network development for sustainable energy management methods at manufacturing industries: Manufactory Integrated Energy Design”.


Offering training opportunities such as special Passive House seminars or the Passive House Designer Course helps strengthen involvement and further the pool of knowledgeable actors locally. In addition to the above, short 2 day training courses introducing Passive House basics including thermal envelopes, windows, heating and ventilation systems and the Passive House Planning Package tool were offered in the Latvian example, as were six day training courses for prospective local lecturers at Latvian Architects Society.

Simply touring already built Passive Houses is also a good way to raise both interest in and understanding of the Passive House concept. Business trips to Passive Houses for prospective clients and business partners help when it comes to understanding basic Passive House principles and work to overcome myths about the cost as well as the technical and architectural limitations of Passive Houses.


The aforementioned approach is a good way to strengthen the Passive House movement in regions or countries not yet very active in the field.

In the Latvian case, the network “Passive House Latvija” was successfully created. The network relied on a variety of interdisciplinary communication strategies such as Open Space communication technology. Regionally, the network works to communicate with entrepreneurs using the business case for Passive Houses, as increasing their market share is in the interest of all the actors involved.

The moral of the story:


In short term and especially in the face of instable, weak or declining markets, NGOs must promote low-energy building concepts as the successful instrument for the long-term development of the building market and economy. As in Latvia, in just the space of a year, the Passive House Standard can gain recognition and even become widely known in professional circles and municipalities, with the parties involved showing themselves ready to both discuss and implement a step-by-step transition to more stringent energy standards.


Formal, costly public relation techniques are not required to get the job done. Low cost, informal and creative solutions work just as well.

  • Use informal networks and innovative public relation strategies that do not require large amounts of funding, as the process of acquiring funding often takes a lot of time and resources
  • Stress the responsibility of each professional group (architects, engineers, construction companies, etc) has to work towards increased environmental sustainability and the utmost building quality
  • Address decision makers and strong companies at every stage of promotion, if not as ready participants in the initial phase, than as advisors/participants at a later stage, once the strategy and activity plans have been clearly stated
  • Strive for increased participation in international networks and case analyses, as this both aid the development of the network and relies upon information that is often available free of charge via web
  • Speak with organisations who are ready for sustainability – others will come later
  • Do not be afraid of experiments (within reason) – the field is open
  • Be proactive and positive as this approach will always yield a result sooner or later
  • Talk to your personal contacts and networks, even if they are not professionals in the field, about sustainability – this will help train you to speak with people who are not specialists



It can be done. The most important requirements are a positive attitude, competence and the involvement of professional organisations.

WxMom, 2005
jpockele, 2006
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