DGNB, Impetus
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Moving beyond ‘Yes, but…’ – No more excuses

The sustainable building philosophy is generally viewed positively, yet large swaths of the construction and real estate industry drag their heels when it comes to implementation, often with a ‘Yes, but…’ on their lips. In a new publication, the DGNB examines the most common misgivings.

Everyone seems to agree that sustainability in the construction industry is good – and the right thing to do. However, many also seem to think that it is just one of those concepts for prestigious buildings – it’s not for the masses.. Besides, sustainable building is too expensive and too much work. . And if you adhere strictly to legal requirements, you are already doing enough.

One thing is certain: if we all thought and acted this way, we would just be treading water when it comes to sustainability and climate protection – if not slowly going under.

In a new publication, the DGNB sets out to explain how many of these entrenched ideas are based on shaky assumptions. It offers food for thought and plenty of facts which illustrate why it’s time to finally put an end to the mantra-like assertions of ‘Yes, but…’. Here are a few examples:

‘Yes, the building smells but it’s new!’

While the food industry is shifting towards natural products and away from plastic, a transformation that is becoming a way of life for many, when it comes to construction, very few people are aware of the effects that a building and the materials it contains can have on us. In particular, the quality of the air – the elixir of life – is mostly ignored, which is odd when you consider that we spend up to 90 per cent of our time inside buildings.
Certification systems such as the DGNB’s pay careful attention to indoor air quality and require it to meet certain standards. Why? Because none of us would willingly eat hazardous substances, so why would we want to breathe them in?

‘Yes, but we already build energy-efficiently…’

Energy efficiency alone does not make a building sustainable. Efficient material use, for instance, is one of the most commonly overlooked levers for improving sustainability. In 2018, Germany hit its Earth Overshoot Day on the 2nd of May. This is the day on which the demand for resources exceeds what the earth can regenerate in that year. So for the rest of 2018, Germany was living on credit – at the expense not only of future generations, but also of poorer countries, which have a smaller carbon footprint but are hit harder by the consequences. At the same time the amount of waste generated is increasing exponentially. Construction materials must be discarded less frequently and instead be integrated into a circular economy for reuse or recycling.
It’s often forgotten that sustainability goes beyond issues such as climate and environmental protection, as demonstrated by a survey conducted by the DGNB among former clients with DGNB-certified projects. Two-thirds of respondents stated that they also count on sustainable quality to boost the well-being and productivity of their employees.

‘Yes, but let’s just wait and then comply with legislation – that’ll be enough….’

When constructing a building that will be used for at least the next 50 years, it’s short-sighted to only follow current standards. Premature renovations and additional investment costs are practically assured.
And one thing is already clear today: if we in the building sector continue to do only the bare minimum required by the law, then the climate protection targets set by the German government will be missed by miles. The downstream environmental costs will increase, and at the end of the day society will have to pay the bill at the cost of their own prosperity.

‘Yes, but sustainable building is too expensive’

DGNB-certified projects show that the additional costs for sustainability measures that are incurred in the course of the certification process depend strongly on when exactly during the planning and construction process the measures are initiated. If you start early enough, the additional costs are minimal and any outlays that are incurred are quite low compared to the cost of the overall project.

It has been demonstrated that sustainable building cuts operating costs, which roughly equate to the construction costs over the service life of the building. This boosts the appeal of sustainable buildings and increases demand from investors, tenants and clients. Besides, future-oriented buildings tend to secure a long-term value stability. In addition, buildings that are built with the future in mind tend to retain their value in the long term. So sustainable construction makes economic sense as well.

Filed under: DGNB, Impetus


Dr. Christine Lemaitre was born in Gießen, Germany in 1975 and studied structural engineering at the University of Stuttgart from 1995 to 2000. After working in the USA for two years as structural engineer, she started in 2003 working at the Institute of Lightweight Structures Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart as a research and teaching assistant. In 2007, she started as a project manager for R&D at Bilfinger Berger AG in the area of resource efficient buildings. She completed her phd thesis on adaptive lightweight structures in 2008. In January 2009 she took on the role as director certification system of the German Sustainable Building Council. Since February 2010 Dr. Christine Lemaitre is the CEO of the German Sustainable Building Council. Since 2013 she is member of the board of directors of the Sustainable Building Alliance. From 2015 until June 2019 she was Chair of the European Regional Network (ERN) of the World Green Building Council. Since 2016 she is board member of the World Green Building Council (WGBC).

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