For many people, the three leading international systems for certifying sustainable buildings – DGNB, LEED and BREEAM – are sometimes used in the same breath and the public perception is that they’re largely interchangeable. But if you take a closer look at the obvious overlaps between the systems, there are actually a number of fundamental differences. This is what our blog series is about.
In the third and last part of the series we present a number of special features of the DGNB system, which set it apart from other systems in the market.
9) Measuring indoor air quality
Indoor air quality is applied by the DGNB System as an all-or-nothing criterion – if it is not met, a building will not be certified, independent of other certification scores. Within four weeks of the final completion date of a building, measurements must be taken of any harmful substances in the air. The idea of including this test in the DGNB System is to do everything possible to ensure that a finished building really does adhere to quality criteria and that the products documented in the building plans really were used as indicated. The DGNB has the strictest indoor air quality criteria in the world, and this underscores the importance of air quality to the health of people who use a building. The other certification systems do not require measurements to be taken of indoor air quality.
There is a new system called WELL, which is being marketed and sold by GBCI, and this does look at the issue of ‘Health & Well-Being’. The system is extremely broad, however, and thus far from cheap. It also touches on a variety of factors that are already sufficiently covered by statutory standards in the German market and includes a number of criteria that do not relate to the building itself. The DGNB feels that it makes no sense to certify a building separately on aspects relating to health and wellbeing because sustainability is an issue that has to be considered as part of a holistic, integrated process.
10) Design quality and Baukultur
As the first and only worldwide provider of certification systems for sustainable buildings, the DGNB is committed to promoting the quality of architecture in the planning and construction process, plus a quality factor called Baukultur. The DGNB has been working with the Federal Chamber of Architects (BAK) under the expert guidance of the Association of German Architects (BDA) to develop a methodology that makes it possible to assess the quality of architectural design and the Baukultur. In addition to the DGNB Certificate, the DGNB also bestows a separate award for new buildings or developments of existing buildings. Developments that reflect outstanding quality in terms of architecture and Baukultur receive a DGNB Diamond. These criteria are assessed by a design commission. The DGNB also has options for developments that are still in the early stages of planning so they can receive individual advice or recommendations from this auditing commission. The overarching aim with this initiative is to promote the architectural culture and the quality of Baukultur in the built environment. Thus the DGNB provides tangible support with implementation and considers design criteria and Baukultur to be a central factor for holistic sustainability. It makes a fundamental contribution to acceptance among the people who use a building in the long term.
11) Innovation capacities
The DGNB believes that certification should provide an incentive for building owners, architects and planners to systematically improve the quality of buildings by considering sustainability issues. Ensuring people have enough freedom to think innovatively and that they are open to new technology is an important part of certification systems in order to pave the way for buildings that are genuinely focused on future needs. When the DGNB introduced Version 2018 of its system, it also introduced so-called innovation capacities. The aim is to offer certain alternatives within audits in order to acknowledge innovative solutions that may not yet be covered by the criteria. This approach to innovation is an important difference between the DGNB and other providers of certification systems. They have included innovation criteria by using totally separate measures that are not linked to the other sustainability criteria and are honoured with extra points.
12) The circular economy
Encouraging people to think consciously about how they use resources has been a central issue for the DGNB from the very beginning. The DGNB is committed to ensuring that material cycles are in place so that products can be re-used or reclaimed. This idea can be incorporated into new business models and become a part of responsible, future-centric product development. This makes the DGNB System the first and until now the only system of its kind to make circular economy principles an assessable and measurable aspect of buildings. To promote the use of new methods, such solutions are rewarded with bonuses, which have a positive impact on certification outcomes.
13) Sustainable Development Goals
The United Nations has issued Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a central pillar of its Agenda 2030. The aim is to provide 17 specific and meaningful targets aimed at shaping the future development of our planet, encouraging people to think again and thus paving the way for life in a sustainable world. The DGNB supports the UN objectives and wants to encourage others to make a tangible and positive contribution to achieving these targets through certification. To link sustainable building methods to the SDGs and make any connections transparent, all of the criteria in Version 2018 were examined in terms of their pertinence to the UN goals and this is highlighted as necessary. The result: 13 of the 17 SDGs are already directly or indirectly addressed by the criteria of DGNB certification. Accordingly, in future all projects that gain DGNB certification will include a statement on the extent to which they make a contribution to fulfilling the SDGs. This makes the DGNB System a pioneer in transferring the internationally applicable SDGs to the building sector.
Ever since it was introduced, the DGNB System and the methods it is based on have been unlike any other certification system in the way they interpret European sustainability standards. Every aspect of the system revolves around prevailing standards and legislation throughout the EU. This means that all projects certified by the DGNB go a long way towards safeguarding their own relevance in the future. One example of this is the life cycle assessment of entire buildings. This is captured in the DGNB System in accordance with EU standards and ranges from how materials are produced to final deconstruction. It’s important that scientifically defined benchmarks are used to calculate and optimise impacts on the environment. The EU has reworked some sustainability indicators in its common framework for the communication of sustainability services – Level(s) – and these are now included in Version 2018 of the DGNB System in order to highlight conformity with the DGNB criteria.
The 14 aspects of our blog series show that the certification systems differ in their basic understanding, approaches and underlying objectives. If you take a closer look, it turns out that it’s not quite right to consider them synonymous.
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