Saving the world – the DGNB’s contribution to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals

Around a year ago on 1 January 2016, the United Nation’s landmark 2030 Agenda came into effect. The initiative lays down meaningful goals and targets for the future development of our planet with the aim of changing long-term thinking and thus facilitates life in a world of sustainability. The UN’s 17 objectives are called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and each is broken down into a total of 169 targets. These will be used by the UN and its member states to provide development guidelines for the next 15 years. The goals have also provided a foundation for the German government’s recently updated 2016 National Sustainable Development Strategy.

As a central organ of sustainable construction, the DGNB has also decided to play an active role in supporting the global sustainability goals. Our first step was to go through the activities we’ve been involved in until now and compare these to central aspects of the SDGs and SDG targets. Our future action plans will follow the lead of the SDGs and draw on them as a source of inspiration. We would also appeal to our members and any parties involved in our network to actively follow the example provided by the initiative.

One thing that stands out with many of the SDGs is that implementing them as aspired to by the UN has a strong bearing on the construction industry. The world we are building around us currently accounts for one third of all consumption of global resources and almost one half of global energy use. Buildings generate a third (at least) of global greenhouse gas emissions. A good 2.8 million people work in the property and building industry in Germany alone. The combined effect of globalisation and the increasingly overlapping nature of international business processes have catapulted more and more people into the sphere of influence of German construction activities.

As a comparison between the global sustainability goals and the current version of our DGNB System shows, there are already many overlaps and areas of potential synergy.

Climate protection
In November 2016, the German government laid down goals for 2050 as part of its Climate Action Plan 2050, which also covered ‘reduction goals’ for 2030. The aim is keep global warming below 2°C as defined in the Paris Agreement. For example, greenhouse gas emissions stemming from buildings in Germany should be reduced by 66-67% versus 1990 levels. As already outlined on in our blog entry on the climate protection plan, our feeling is that existing buildings have huge potential in this respect, partly due to the high levels of consumption already caused by operating properties and the wide-scale use of fossil fuels at the moment. The reduction goals underscore the urgency with which climate protection measures need to be introduced. They also provide us with an important springboard for making immediate contributions to the SDGs.

Overall, the DGNB System – itself part of a higher goal to improve sustainability in the world we build around ourselves – makes a direct contribution to SDG 13, which revolves around climate action. One of the aims of the DGNB certification system is to lay down ambitious targets and robust points of reference for carbon emissions when building and operating new or existing buildings. Our current target for energy requirements is to bring them 30% below the statutory guideline. This includes embedded energy, which is the energy required to produce building materials in the first place.
As an association the DGNB also fulfils a more holistic role working alongside its members and its network, which spans many different sectors of society. It plays a key role not just in establishing climate protection goals within the property sector but also in continually spotlighting the importance of such issues. Working closely in a relationship of trust with producers, investors, building contractors, architects, engineers, construction companies, building operators and tenants plus a variety of other associations and research establishments helps foster the development and introduction of innovative technologies, new solutions and materials that promote climate protection. The DGNB’s involvement also includes issuing position statements and taking a stance in the current political discussion surrounding climate change, as was the case with our position statement on the Climate Action Plan 2050 and on amendments to energy laws affecting buildings. Our DGNB Akademie helps share and proliferate know-how held by the DGNB, strengthening awareness of the important role played by climate protection.

Resources and consumption
The Earth’s natural resources are a precious asset that should be looked after. Whenever resources are used, this has an effect on flora, fauna and humanity. Many resources are already in short supply, and this is increasingly leading to conflict about how they should be shared. The DGNB System promotes sustainable business and the efficient use of all resources. The resources that are specifically needed for buildings – ranging from drinking water to finite materials or energy sources – can be systematically calculated for an individual building, made transparent and thus evaluated.

By looking at carbon footprints, we’re able to gauge and understand the impact a building has on our environment. For example land and oceans can be polluted due to soil acidification and over-fertilisation, resulting in forest decline and higher fish mortality. Apart from actually reducing the use of resources, we also assess when to use renewable energy sources and how to make more efficient use of land. To promote sustainability in the extraction of materials, the DGNB honours the use of wood and natural stone from sustainable forestry and mining. We also promote construction that reduces environmental hazard, the minimal use of harmful substances, the replacement of building materials with recyclable alternatives, and construction that allows materials to be reclaimed or recycled.

Effectively, this is about an overarching principle that resources should be used responsibly in ways that revolve around the concept of recycling. This is in keeping with the idea of a circular economy and is thus already part and parcel of our system. It’s also reflected in a variety of the criteria we subscribe to. We plan to keep building on this principle in the future.

Sustainability in every neighbourhood
When it comes to the buildings that form our environment, it’s important that our approach to sustainability doesn’t just look at each building in isolation, separate from its surroundings. This applies to how they’re planned, assessed, or both. With the right transportation networks, electric car sharing systems and the infrastructure to match, so much can be done to promote sustainable travel in the long term – and this also ties in with building standards. The DGNB System offers ways to view entire towns, cities, commercial districts and centres of manufacturing from a broader perspective. We find it important to assess such aspects as the extent to which actual end-users are involved in decision-making processes, governance issues and the availability of and accessibility to “green spaces” and natural areas – cheek by jowl with buildings.
Health and well-being
To ensure the buildings we certify use non-harmful materials and are fitted to avoid hazardous materials and pollutants to the fullest extent possible, certification involves drafting an exhaustive list of building materials. This list makes it possible to place materials and building items into categories according to their environmental compatibility. To ascertain whether there are harmful substances in the air inside buildings, measurements are taken once construction has been completed. In most cases, ensuring that the air inside buildings is pollutant-free means that harmful materials are not used in the first place. When we calculate the sustainability of a building, we also assess emissions during the entire life cycle of materials, from initial production to final use/recycling/disposal. This evaluation includes any potential harm to the environment or people.

Equality and inclusion
One of the DGNB’s aims is, wherever possible, to make sure that buildings establish the necessary conditions for the equal treatment of people of any gender and the inclusion of people in all stages of life. The DGNB System goes to great lengths to ensure these issues are covered, as reflected by the fact that buildings which fail to fulfil minimum accessibility standards are excluded from certification. Expanding the number of buildings that offer family-friendly options, such as rooms dedicated to child care or places to feed infants or change nappies, helps strike a healthy balance between pursuing a career and running a family. It also makes it possible for people in all walks of life to enjoy equal opportunities in public and professional circles.

Indirect contributions to other SDGs
The DGNB also helps indirectly with three other sustainability goals. For example we support processes which ensure that economic growth does not have a negative impact on the environment, promoting scientific research and the development of innovative solutions. As a registered association, the DGNB helps decision-makers working on a number of levels to gain access to the right support when making a decision – and also to ensure that the decision is representative of prevailing opinion, is based on robust evidence and is sustainable in the long term. This support facilitates decisions that can make a lasting contribution to environmental protection and achieve the very goals outlined in this article.

The DGNB gladly takes up the challenge of Agenda 2030.

The UN’s goals for humanity and the Earth lay a foundation for peaceful coexistence, and as an organisation, they provide us with orientation and inspiration in one. We will invest all of our energy in ensuring that these goals are achievable, driven by the aspiration that we can inspire many others to join us on the journey.

Pictures: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/communications-material/

Dr. Anna Braune

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As environmental engineer, Dr. Anna Braune has a deep understanding of both, environmental effects and issues and technical expertise on processing, using and disposal of natural and industrial goods. With a focus on the built environment, she gained vast experiences by assessing technologies, building elements, entire buildings and sites using environmental Life Cycle Assessment methodologies, substance assessments, and others. Being very business-oriented, she always keeps economic constraints and opportunities in mind when proposing environmental preferable solutions. From July 2007 until October 2008 she was the Initiator and Founding CEO of the German Sustainable Building Council. From November 2008 until June 2015 she was at PE INTERNATIONAL AG as responsible Project Manager and as Principal Consultant. In September 2015 she joined the DGNB again and is now Head of Research and Trends at the DGNB.

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