Buildings In Use
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Economically achieving climate neutrality in building operations

Denkraum München

If you want to prepare buildings for the future and safeguard the value of your assets in the long term, you’ll need a property strategy that is not only geared to the challenges of climate protection, but also makes sense in economic terms. It will also need to weigh up opportunities and threats for each specific building. This is where the DGNB System for Buildings in Use comes in. We use nine criteria to focus the mind on all kinds of topics with a bearing on sustainability. In a series of blog posts, we describe why it makes sense for all building stakeholders to think more about these topics. In this second post, we consider the economically relevant factors.

All existing buildings in Germany will need to achieve a zero carbon footprint by 2050. That’s the target. But for people who operate or occupy buildings, as well as those who own such assets, it goes without saying that running buildings sustainably and in an environmentally responsible manner goes hand in hand with using them economically.

Criteria for economically sustainable building operation.

Criteria for economically sustainable building operation.

An overview of outlays

The yardstick for using buildings sustainably and introducing measures so that buildings become sustainable in the first place should also be whether achieving this works in economic terms. There’s simply no getting around this. We address this requirement during Buildings in Use assessments with the criterion called Operating Costs. To be sure that any change made to a building in use is also economically the best option, continual monitoring is required. All financial outlays and optimisations made to business resources need to be captured.

What this means specifically and in practical terms is that all cost drivers have to be identified for a building in use, targets have to be laid down for total outlays, and actuals have to be compared with targets so that measures can be introduced to make things better. And the ideal way to achieve this is to use a uniform approach for all expenditures. This allows you to pinpoint potential savings and work out any areas where costs could be sidestepped in the future. Keeping close tabs on costs and the goals you want to pursue is already an important step forward. This is another reason why the DGNB System for Buildings in Use even awards points for setting targets and laying down plans for hitting those targets.

Preserving value by actively managing risk

A fundamental aspect of drafting a robust financial plan, not to mention planning any other required measures, is ensuring that a thorough analysis is conducted of opportunities and threats. Any good analysis takes specific contexts into account to ensure that any ideas weighed up when it comes to the condition of a building also consider user requirements, risks posed by the outdoor environment and pertinent potential. The idea is to put processes in place so that the condition of a building can be managed proactively, not only to avoid uncertainty, but also to ensure that asset value is retained in the long term. This is because badly laid plans and unexpectedly high costs are sometimes the result of unforeseen investment needs, poor fire protection systems, hazardous materials, etc. The criterion “Risk Management and Long-term Asset Value” therefore has the second highest weighting in evaluations in the DGNB system after “Climate Action and Energy“.

The first step is to agree who should be made responsible for what. Why? Because when people are given responsibility, they feel responsible. This ensures key issues don’t disappear off the radar. User surveys and a complaint management system also help when it comes to ensuring that a building is used in keeping with the requirements of its occupants. They also help minimise risk, which can have a decisive impact on rentals. Information or data on the condition of a building can be captured in documentation, observed by walking around buildings, etc. It also makes sense when planning the future operation of a building to consider factors relating to the geographical location of a property and any natural threats posed by the surrounding area. It’s rarely possible to influence or predict how often such factors pose a risk, or how grave a risk may be. This makes it all the more important that such factors are identified as part of an analysis of opportunities and threats, that these are categorised and that any potential negative impacts they could have on users in or around a building are compensated for or avoided.

Useful pointers for using resources

Apart from avoiding natural risks, it’s also important to avoid hazardous products or materials with any potential to harm health or the environment. This is where purchasing policies are important. The ability of a property to retain or appreciate value is strongly influenced by decisions relating to purchasing practices and how a building is managed. Every new purchase is an opportunity or threat when it comes to fulfilling sustainability goals.

This is where it can be particularly helpful to introduce guidelines to help with decision-making. Placing emphasis on long-term product use and hiring services that adhere to recognised environmental and social standards is useful when it comes to achieving minimum quality benchmarks. It also makes it possible to revisit standards at regular intervals. Any such standards should be applied to all areas – fittings, maintenance, facility management, on-site biodiversity and technical monitoring. The higher you set the bar for quality standards, the better. The DGNB System rewards buildings if there are already guidelines in place relating to the Procurement and Operations criterion, especially if they meet fundamental requirements and address the most important issues. This is because no matter what people’s precise expectations are regarding the goals they set, the fact that they already set goals means they have already taken the first step.

Systematically preparing for the future

The DGNB System for Buildings in Use addresses all of these aspects. It provides useful orientation in focusing on taking tangible action, acting as a change and management tool and offering systematic support with your continuous improvement programmes. Click here for more detailed information on the DGNB System for Buildings in Use.

In the third post we turn to sociocultural and functional factors. Read more about the environmentally relevant aspects here.


Filed under: Buildings In Use


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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