Taxonomy and the Level(s) reporting framework are intended to make the often vague concept of sustainability more understandable to everyone in Europe, especially when it comes to sustainable business and the construction and property industry. The DGNB adapted to this development early on and has incorporated EU sustainability goals in its thinking. But how ‘European’ actually is the DGNB System?
By putting forward its Green Deal manifesto, the European Union has set everyone’s sights on becoming climate-neutral by 2050. The aim being pursued by the EU is to complete a transition to the circular economy across all sectors of industry. Taking 1990 greenhouse gas emissions as its starting point, it wants carbon emissions to be cut by more than half by 2030. This would position Europe as a pioneer of climate protection and sustainability.
To achieve these goals in the construction and property sector – and ensure that the sustainability of buildings and development projects is both measurable and comparable – the EU Commission has developed the Level(s) reporting framework. The DGNB was also involved in the early stages of Level(s), which adds clear definition to sustainability within the context of buildings, in all areas of the EU. In addition, the framework explains the uniform documentation of sustainability, outlining 16 indicators for this purpose.
The DGNB started taking the common framework into account with the 2018 version of its system, and large parts of the Level(s) indicators are covered by its certification. As a result, the reporting process under Level(s) is relatively straightforward for projects certified by the DGNB. Given the Green Deal, this will be becoming increasingly important in the future, as the framework is part and parcel of related initiatives, such as the Circular Economy Action Plan and EU taxonomy for sustainable activities.
To lend further support to the European understanding of sustainability – and promote use of the common framework among market stakeholders – the DGNB has joined forces with seven European green building councils as part of a project called LIFE Level(s), placing particular emphasis on the three Level(s) indicators: life cycle assessment (LCA), life cycle costing (LCC) and indoor air quality (IAQ).
Closing the investment gap
Implementing the EU targets will take more than new assessment criteria, however. It’s estimated that investments of between €175 and €290 billion are needed – every year – to achieve the planned transformation to a climate-neutral circular economy. As a result, to make environmentally sustainable economic activity more visible, and if possible reinforce this activity, the EU has developed its own classification system: taxonomy. EU taxonomy is a central element of its sustainable finance activities, and it points to prerequisites revolving around six environmental objectives: (1) climate change mitigation, (2) climate change adaptation, (3) sustainable use of water resources, (4) transition to a circular economy, (5) pollution prevention and (6) protection of ecosystems and biodiversity. Some of these requirements also refer directly to Level(s). For example, buildings with a total gross floor area of more than 5000 sq m should undergo life cycle assessments.
So does taxonomy apply to everything?
In the construction and property sector, EU taxonomy applies to:
- New buildings
- Renovations and restorations
- Acquisition and ownership/buildings in use
- Individual measures and professional services
With new buildings, renovation/restorations, and acquisition and ownership/buildings in use, it’s possible to make direct comparisons between the criteria of EU taxonomy and the certification systems of the DGNB. These close overlaps demonstrate that using the different certification systems offered by the DGNB leaves investors and financial institutions well equipped to meet the requirements of EU taxonomy. This has also been confirmed by an initial study on EU taxonomy conducted with the support of the DGNB. As part of a follow-up study, the DGNB and its partners are currently evaluating the market viability of proposed EU taxonomy screening criteria for circular economy principles in the construction and property industries. Similar to the criteria applying to climate protection and climate change mitigation, reference is also made to Level(s).
Geared to future needs
If you’re a property owner, you can ask the DGNB and its partners in the Climate Positive Europe Alliance (CPEA) to conduct an ESG audit and check for conformity with the EU taxonomy criteria. Based on the current taxonomy criteria, ESG audits also cover the employment practices, social standards and ‘good governance’ of companies. If you invite the DGNB to conduct an ESG audit, as well as receiving written proof that your project conforms to EU taxonomy, you will also be provided with a report showing the findings in detail. This can be used to pinpoint potential areas of improvement.
The DGNB offers several tools for use by building owners and those intending to develop property. As well as helping you work out what could be done better, they also make it easier to plan, build and use/operate buildings in keeping with future needs.
In a nutshell then, projects certified by the DGNB comply with EU sustainability goals, allowing you to gear buildings to the world we will build around ourselves in the future – not only in environmental terms, but also when it comes to healthy living and climate protection.