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The myth of increased costs in sustainable building

The myth of increased costs due to sustainable building

“I would like to build more sustainably, but the costs…”: The fear of additional costs due to sustainability often leads to doubts and hesitations during planning and implementation. A new study from Denmark now shows with regard to new building construction that this is unfounded. Here it becomes clear: more sustainable does not equal more expensive. On the contrary.

“Sustainable is (more) expensive”: a prejudice that has accompanied sustainable building since its beginnings. The study by Buus Consult on behalf of our system partner from Denmark, the Green Building Council Denmark, now provides more clarity. It takes a close look at 37 DGNB-certified buildings and asks: Is there a connection between the level of sustainability and construction costs?

The sample: What was examined?

The selection of the sample is particularly challenging when it comes to the question of correlation. It is well known that each building is unique and that its economic efficiency depends on a large number of factors. To answer this question, however, comparable data is required. In order to guarantee this, new buildings were selected that are also part of the report “Climate impact from 60 buildings” by the Subsidiary Bodies for Implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the course of this analysis, all buildings were subjected to a quality check and LCA calculations were performed using the same tool.

Among these 37 buildings are eight multi-storey residential buildings, 21 office buildings and eight terraced houses. The developers are public, joint, private and pension funds. The projects are geographically distributed throughout Denmark, built between 2012 and 2019 and range from approximately 500 square metres to approximately 40,000 square metres.

The factors: How are sustainability and costs measured?

On the one hand, DGNB certification has been chosen as the basis for the sustainability assessment because it reflects the overall performance of a building with regard to a number of sustainability parameters. Three of the buildings are DGNB platinum certified, 27 are gold and seven are silver. On the other hand, the CO2 footprint of the buildings was considered due to its high relevance as well.

With regard to costs, the total construction costs as well as the net present value were considered. The latter consists of the total costs for construction, operation and maintenance, possible replacement of parts of the building, cleaning and expenses for the supply of energy and water. The construction costs range from approximately 800 Euro per square metre to 3200 Euro per square metres.

The result: “The more sustainable, the more expensive” is a myth

The results show: more sustainable is not necessarily more expensive. Neither higher DGNB award levels nor lower environmental impacts are necessarily associated with higher costs.

The results show: more sustainable is not necessarily more expensive. Neither higher DGNB award levels (Fig.1) nor lower environmental impacts (Fig2.2) are necessarily associated with higher costs. Copyright: Green Building Council Denmark

If we now compare cost and sustainability factors, the result is clear: there is no clear correlation between costs and the DGNB certification level (see Fig.1), nor between costs and environmental impacts (see Fig.2). Although it must be noted that these are trends and that it cannot be ruled out that measures to increase sustainability have increased the costs in individual projects. Nevertheless, it is clear that more sustainable does not necessarily mean more expensive. On the contrary, some of the buildings with the highest DGNB ratings or the lowest CO2 footprints are also among those with the lowest construction costs.

Click here for the full study.

Sustainability pays off

This is an insight that is in line with the DGNB’s previous experience with certified buildings. Higher construction costs do not usually result from climate protection measures, but mostly from numerous extras that are implemented additionally or actually only to ensure good marketing. In principle, the earlier relevant aspects are considered in the planning process, the greater the influence and the lower the costs.  Those who want to build sustainably should think about sustainability from the very beginning.

DGNB Study in construction costs and sustainability

An internal evaluation of DGNB (2018) certified office buildings also shows: higher ratings in certification do not necessarily equal higher construction costs.

It can also be observed that sustainable construction reduces operating costs, which are roughly equivalent to the construction costs over the lifetime of a building. This increases the attractiveness and raises demand from investors, tenants and customers. Sustainable buildings also ensure long-term value stability. This means sustainability pays off in more than one respect.

Anyone who would like to learn more will find the most common reasons for DGNB certification in the report “Added value of certified buildings”, as well as the experiences of building owners with it. And the brochure “No more excuses” dispels other common prejudices about sustainable building.

Filed under: Impulse, Research


Levke Maria Kehl works for the DGNB as an editor in the PR, Communications and Marketing department. It is particularly important to her to present topics in an appealing and entertaining way and at the same time to prepare them in a way that is appropriate for the target group and channel. Driven by her keen interest in the topic of sustainability, she joined DGNB as a working student during her communications management studies.

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