When it comes to cutting carbon emissions, buildings play a decisive role worldwide. There is considerable potential to improve the net emissions of environmentally harmful gases, not just when constructing buildings but also when operating them. What we need now is urgent action. The question is, what’s the best way to make the environment we build around ourselves ‘fit for the future’?
Bottom line, the framework that exists now is the same for all measures that are introduced. The declared goal that came out of the Paris Agreement was that climate warming should be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. What this means in tangible terms is that worldwide, we will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to an absolute minimum by the middle of this century and, at the same time, build and expand carbon sinks to establish a healthy balance based on zero emissions.
Certification for comparable standards
One instrument that can help us systematically achieve our climate protection objectives – and at the same time apply uniform high standards that are comparable on a multinational level – is certification. After specifically focusing on requirements within an international context, in 2020 the DGNB released a new version of the international DGNB certification system for new constructions. The method adopted for the updated version is based on a comprehensive approach focusing on the life cycle of a building and how it performs over time. It also considers a myriad of factors affecting climate protection and resource conservation. As such, it is the first certification model worldwide that makes it possible to assess and measure circular economy solutions on a building level, also providing clear incentives for planning and developing climate-positive buildings.
The idea is not to simply work through checklists but to introduce measures that make the most sense in terms of holistic sustainability, in order to demonstrably improve our buildings. Dr. Robert Himmler, managing director of EGS-plan (Bangkok) Co Ltd and DGNB Auditor, carries out certifications in Southeast Asia. “The criteria catalogue provides us with guidelines for designing concepts and acts as a quality control instrument during planning and implementation,” says Himmler, highlighting the benefits of the system, particularly in an international context.
Thomas Kraubitz, Associate Director at BuroHappold and a Senior Auditor for the DGNB, also emphasises: “The DGNB System is extremely useful in global consulting, and it’s fundamentally international in design and application. The logical and systematic structure of the criteria, the fact that the system is so adaptable – plus the ‘Made in Germany‘ label it comes with, which is still held in such high esteem internationally – make it an effective quality assurance tool for sustainable projects inside and outside Germany.”
Taking local conditions into account
One important aspect is that uniform quality expectations and high standards cannot be equated with a one-size-fits-all solution. The regulatory framework is different from one country to the next, as are climate conditions and cultural factors. “Being able to adapt the system to specific countries is extremely important. For example this is also a matter of safeguarding minimum social standards,” states Kraubitz. The DGNB System makes it possible to determine certain values and encourage people to think about things in different ways. Himmler also considers adaptability a key advantage offered by the system, emphasising that, “It’s especially worth mentioning how local standards are accepted when it comes to calculating energy requirements, noise requirements and barrier-free construction.”
This is one of the reasons why, for many years now, the DGNB has been working successfully with System Partners in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Spain. Its System Partners have already been adapting the certification system to their individual countries, thus making it possible to gain local certification. In all other countries, experienced DGNB Auditors coordinate requirements with the DGNB to agree adaptations.
Eradicating preconceptions and highlighting advantages
For sustainability to really become the new normal in construction worldwide, not only is a recognised system needed to act as the global benchmark, more than anything a change in the mindset is required. “In lots of countries, sustainable building isn’t that common yet, so in those areas introducing measures to make a building more sustainable is often perceived as tantamount to more work and higher costs,” reports DGNB Auditor Robert Smodiš.
This is where it is valuable to integrate consultation, coordination and clarification as early as possible into the planning process and involve sustainability experts like DGNB Auditors or Consultants – also to deal with preconceptions and explain the benefits not just of sustainable building in itself, but also of certification. “When the results of all your efforts become visible and palpable, it makes it all the more satisfying for all the different stakeholders,” says Smodiš enthusiastically.
The growing importance of sustainability certification worldwide
Overall, over the past decade there has been a sharp rise in international interest in certifying the sustainability of development projects. The DGNB has certified more than 6000 developments alone, in just under 30 countries. At 45 per cent, the share of our international experts is also a reflection of this rising importance.
Detailed information on the new international version of our certification system for new constructions can be found here. For an overview of further international areas in which the DGNB works, see here.