Ever since the European Union declared sustainability a competitive advantage, the property industry has been in turmoil. Everyone is talking about ESG – or environmental, social and governance. Of course a property being sustainable – because it demonstrably takes environmental, social and governance factors into account during construction, renovations or operation – is nothing new. But it does make you wonder why everything suddenly feels so different and exciting … because a three-letter acronym is doing the rounds. The DGNB has been pointing the way forward in sustainable building for more than 15 years.
For days now, everywhere we look we’re forced to hear outcry, warnings and worries about changes to building efficiency funding – the German BEG scheme for new buildings. The criticism being levelled at the new rule, which means subsidies will only be awarded if sustainability factors are taken into account, comes in as many guises as the topic of sustainable construction itself. We no longer want to watch what is happening without passing comment.
What we’re hearing isn’t surprising – sadly – but that doesn’t make it any less shocking or, above all, any less significant: the Sixth Assessment Report on the world climate puts an end to the era of climate change denial. To maintain tolerable levels of life on Earth, decisive action is required now. The only real option available to us is to systematically cut carbon emissions. This is where action is called for across the entire building sector – and time is running out.
The 15th UN Biodiversity Conference has been rescheduled to take place in October of this year in the Chinese city of Kunming. At the conference – known as the CBD COP 15 – member states will set a new 10-year strategy until 2030. Currently, the DGNB is the only association in the building sector to have made a clear commitment to the CBD. Why? Because there are many overlaps between building and biodiversity – as this post explains in a nutshell.
The German government has presented the results of its 2020 climate targets. The building sector failed to make the grade. What this means in tangible terms is that simply carrying on as before is not even an option. Immediate action is required. Which means a plan now – as in the next three months. It is therefore quite fitting that – practically simultaneously – the DGNB, Environmental Action Germany (DUH) and the Federal Chamber of Architects (BAK) presented a position paper that is ideal for exactly that.
With its Green Deal, the EU under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen has caused quite a stir. When it comes to climate protection and sustainability, there’s a new spirit of optimism. It’s right and important that the building industry plays a central role on this path to becoming the ‘first carbon-neutral continent’. The penny has finally dropped and not been ‘lobbied off the stage’ by reservations and objections.
Circular Economy or Cradle to Cradle is often talked about when it comes to planning buildings or developing products. The question the logistics and processes at the end of use is hardly ever discussed. But if we do not make deconstruction sustainable and do not close cycles of materials at this point, many problems will remain unsolved. The DGNB would like to change this!
Any conversation about climate protection and introducing key measures likely to make a real difference quickly moves on to the topic of buildings. Our choices regarding how buildings are planned, constructed and used have a considerable impact on the carbon levels of our planet, which are currently somewhat worrying. But there’s also good news. We can turn things around and make positive contributions to climate protection in the way we need to – but only if we work together, approach things systematically and act as quickly as possible. How specifically this should happen is addressed by a number of services recently announced by the DGNB.
What are we doing anyway? This is the question I kept asking myself after going to this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid. Last weekend the COP25 drew to a close, once again without any real results or ambition to show for its efforts. After three days at the conference, this came as no surprise. But instead of shying away from this painful topic, it is now time for some honesty and openness.
The sustainable building philosophy is generally viewed positively, yet large swaths of the construction and real estate industry drag their heels when it comes to implementation, often with a ‘Yes, but…’ on their lips. In a new publication, the DGNB examines the most common misgivings.
Globalization has many positive aspects but when it comes to our build environment the aspects are not always so positive. With a one fits all mentality and the drive to sell the same products all over the world combined with the constant hunger for modernism and efficiency the globalized architecture often doesn’t correspond with its cultural or climate context.
One third of all global resources go into the construction of buildings. But if something involves lots of resources, it also represents an opportunity to save lots of resources. This is where four criteria under the overhauled DGNB System come in: deconstruction and disassembly, potable water demand and waste water volume, sustainable resource extraction and land use.
Thorough preparation is indispensable – and this is especially true with a development project. The early stages of planning are decisive for a high-quality building. The DGNB addresses the relevance of the various aspects of planning for sustainable construction, for example with three criteria: comprehensive project brief; sustainability aspects in tender phase; and urban planning and design procedure.
People should feel comfortable in buildings. This a fundamental requirement of the DGNB. And by focusing on issues such as accessibility, safety and security, its criteria for sociocultural and functional quality contribute to this aim.
Looking after the health and comfort of everyone, no matter how old, is one of the central goals of the United Nations. Accordingly, the UN has even given the issue its own sustainable development goal (SDG). In terms of its implications for sustainable building, this has an influence on how the DGNB looks at areas such as air quality in indoor environments. It is also why this issue has its own criterion under the DGNB System.
Certified construction? Oh yes – that’s those handy plaques in platinum or gold, the ones that allow building owners to walk around with architects and announce publicly, “Look everyone, we’re sustainable!” Sort of – yes, that’s one way to describe sustainability certificates. Though actually, buildings don’t simply earn certificates because they deserve to, especially after investing so much time and hard work. It is also a well-earned award for of all those important decisions to look after the environment, for keeping a close eye on commercial viability, and for ensuring the development will be good for the people within the buildings and districts.
Thinking consciously about how natural resources are used has always been a core topic at the DGNB. Right from the beginning, the DGNB has offered a certification system that favours a holistic approach to carbon footprints. Therefore, this has always involved not only the conscious selection of building materials according to their composition and origin, but also a methodical assessment of the ‘reclaimability’ of individual residual materials – all based on strict criteria, criteria that have thus become established in the market.