Bruno Sauer, CEO of the Green Building Council España, summarises in an interview the introduction of the DGNB System in Spain, talks about special conditions of the Spanish real estate market, the challenges of 2020 and explains why solutions in the building sector must be pan-European.
Felix Jansen (FJ): Hi Bruno, one and a half year after officially announcing its collaboration with DGNB, GBCe is now ready to kick-off the new version of DGNB certification adapted to the Spanish market. What was your motivation to join forces with DGNB?
Bruno Sauer (BS): More than my personal motivation, it was a whole of circumstances that made us saying “yes” to the request of Christine Lemaitre asking if GBCe would be interested in being the DGNB certification body in the Spanish market. GBCe is certifying in the Spanish market since 2009 with our own tool VERDE. This is a national tool based on LCA but without international application. One of the positive aspects we saw in a collaboration with DGNB was the opportunity to bring together the knowledge and market experience of two tools with a similar methodology but with different market impact; one with a national character and another with an international, and even more important, a European character.
This collaboration was in line with many years of close collaboration in other fields between DGNB and GBCe. We both represent since years the European vision on sustainability in the Board of Directors of WorldGBC, we both are participating as strong partners in the ERN, in some H2020-projects, or in the development of LEVELs. We both are founding members of G17. And Christine and I are founding members of Building Sense Now.
Additional to our common past and common vision on how to measure sustainability, the fact that already 4 other GBCs in Europe are using DGNB as rating tool, was highly valued being a strong bases to work towards a real EU-tool, recognized by the European Commission as the best way of transforming our building sector in the EU. There is still a long way to go, but joined forces are going faster than walking alone.
FJ: You have just finalized a pilot phase with a number of Spanish projects being the first to apply the DGNB System in your country. How was the feedback of the attending builders and planners?
BS: The pilot project was done with 6 projects; housing, facilities and offices. We looked for projects built around members of GBCe, architects and assessors with experience in VERDE and three DGNB assessors who had certified with DGNB International in the Spanish Market. All of them are convinced of the added value of DGNB and we only could do this job of adapting the DGNB to the Spanish context working with this large team of experts.
One of the new assessors already asked how to register a new building, so that is a clear sign that DGNB will have its place in the Spanish market.
FJ: Spain has been hit hard by COVID-19. How has this extreme situation influenced the development of the DGNB certification in Spain in the last months?
BS: The whole process went slower than expected but that is normal in the context of a COVID-year. Some of the projects are not yet pre-certified but we are on the way. The delay was not caused by the absence of people in workshops or in the period we were adapting the criteria, but rather because some investors decided to slow down the process or to introduce changes in the project due the sanitary crisis. The market slowed down, so we had to follow. I suppose that 2021 will recover certain confidence in the market and that we fasten up the process.
FJ: What characterizes the Spanish building and real estate market compared to other markets?
BS: One of the big differences with the rest of Europe is the rhythm of real estate investment. Spain still did not recover from the real estate crisis 2008-2016. The destruction of employment and capacity of investment was tremendous. I think we are not reaching yet a 20-30% of the investment volume of pre-2008. There is still a huge amount of the building stock that needs to be finished or should be refurbished, before a strong demand for new construction will appear.
The rehabilitation market exists. Millions of houses have to be renovated, but we have a very atomized ownership structure that makes it very complex to manage the process of refurbishment. Real estate investors do not see a business case in massive housing renovation because of the complex process of coordinating all these individual owners.
Real estate investment for new construction in housing is now focusing completely on Build to Rent. This is interesting because that is the only way of linking an LCA approach to an attractive business case of building in a more sustainable way. Maintenance and building performance are becoming important assets.
Besides a real estate market with a still fragile private investment, the public administration has no capacity at all to push the market. It is true that the public administration is maybe more convinced of the need of building in a sustainable way than the private sector, but the volume of real estate investment is very small.
FJ: After Austria, Switzerland and Denmark Spain is the fourth European country to adapt the certification from Germany. Do you think that it is important to have a strong European network based on a common understanding of the requirements for a more sustainable planning and building practice?
BS: Yes. We have to go for a third-generation rating tool in which we are able to create value for investors based on future sustainability directives. And that context is an EU-context. Europe is the leading continent in climate ambitions, so we have to have a clear EU approach to sustainability in our building sector, with local or national adaptations, but speaking one language. We are not yet where we have to be. DGNB is still considered as a German tool, not a European, but the fact that 5 countries can work together towards the next generation of measuring sustainability, is very exciting. It is the only way, there is no alternative.
FJ: What are your expectations for the next months and years, in terms of the relevance of sustainability in your market but also for the acceptance of the DGNB certification in Spain?
BS: There is no return. We see a real and clear demand for training and certification in sustainability, but we are dealing still with the “early births after the crisis”. Let’s look at it in a positive way: the growth the coming years will be spectacular, but we have to be patient and keep on working.