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.
We spend up to 90 per cent of our life inside buildings. It’s therefore important to know that buildings can actually protect people’s health. To make sure this is the case, the following key questions have to be addressed:
- How high is the concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air? Such compounds come out of floors, walls, ceilings and other building elements and materials. They can cause nausea, headaches and other unpleasant medical conditions.
- What is the concentration of carbon dioxide?
- How much of the air inside buildings is exchanged to ensure occupants remain productive and happy, especially in working environments?
The ultimate yardstick for a building: the health of its occupants
We take our own ambition of putting people first very seriously. Accordingly, no property receives a DGNB Certificate if the air inside a building is harmful to its occupants. It is simply no longer acceptable these days, despite everything that is known and all the information about building materials, to not plan and build with sufficient care and attention – and thus end up adversely affecting the health of occupants.
We are thus setting a clear signal regarding building standards and going much further in terms of requirements compared to other rating systems. We would like everyone involved in planning and building projects – including the users of buildings – to take this topic seriously and will not solely rely on theoretical data. Instead we expect TVOC readings to be taken and the formaldehyde content of indoor areas to be measured on conclusion of building projects. To ensure architects and planners take all sustainable aspects into consideration during the planning phase, the DGNB System defines appropriate products and the requirements they should fulfil, depending on their envisaged use. This is to ensure premium products are selected according to appropriate standards and that it remains possible to keep costs under control.
Using technology sensibly
The reason why we now offer the most ambitious certification system when it comes to indoor air quality is that we know that sustainability is something that can be planned. Our aim is to consciously and systematically not just bank on technical workarounds, even if this runs against the grain of the global concept of ‘”the more the better”. It is still quite common to witness people trying to deal with the uncertainty or ignorance regarding harmful substances in building materials by using over-engineered solutions. All this does cause people to use even more energy than they need to. The result of this is a rise in carbon emissions, energy costs and the amount of time and money invested in maintenance and repairing equipment.
The DGNB has nothing against the use of technology in itself. But when it is used, it should be used sensibly and intelligently to help supply buildings with good air.
What else to think about
There are a number of other factors that influence the quality of indoor air and that planners and architects have to keep in mind during the planning phase. These include the following questions: How can fine dust be avoided when using photocopying devices and laser printers? Can inkjet printers be used that create lower emissions, or would it be possible to accommodate devices in a separate room with proper ventilation? What solutions can be thought of to prevent cigarette smokefrom entering the building from outside? Valuable points can be earned with our bonus system and our concept regarding Innovation Capacities.
This is another reason why it pays to put these kinds of issues under the microscope early. Buildings are only truly sustainable if people feel comfortable, safe and protected inside them. And this is why the DGNB will not compromise in this area.