Impulse, Phase Sustainability
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Phase Sustainability – exchanging ideas openly and honestly at the first network get-together

Prof. Thomas Auer, Transsolar

Architects and specialist planners involved in the Phase Sustainability initiative ‘met up’ for the first time on 28 July. The main idea of the get-together was to share people’s experiences dealing with sustainability issues when building. By the end of the day, the participants had benefited from a number of long-overdue discussions and gained many valuable insights. Time for Phase Sustainability to enter the next round.

Declaration of Sustainability

Go to Declaration of Sustainability

The starting gun for our new initiative was fired in the autumn of 2019, when the DGNB and the Federal Chamber of Architects (BAK) called on architects and planners to work together in promoting more sustainability in the planning and building process. Instead of just signing on to ideas, members of the initiative made a commitment to proactively raise sustainability issues when talking to building owners. Discussion at the event revolved around the Declaration of Sustainability, covering six key topics: eco-sufficiency, climate protection, environmental protection, circular value creation, positive spaces and Baukultur (architectural culture). The aim of the document is to encourage architects and building owners to discuss which topics are important for a development when they embark on a project.

First feedback after just under one year

At Expo Real in 2019, the first architecture firms signed on to the idea of applying the new concept. They have now been joined by a further 100 signatories. So how has it gone? In July 2020, a variety of signatories took part in an annual get-together for the initiative – at the DGNB or online – to share their experiences with a wider audience. The evening session involved two hours of speeches and moderated discussion, from which four key insights emerged.

  • Stefan Rappold signed on the dotted line on 8 October 2019. How have things gone for him? A personal account from a Behnisch architect
    Stefan Rappold signed on the dotted line on 8 October 2019. How have things gone for him? A personal account from a Behnisch architect

1. The potential and limitations of the Declaration of Sustainability

When it comes to construction, sustainability is such a complex issue that breaking it down into six key topics is a bold – but good – thing to do. The Declaration of Sustainability encourages different stakeholders to broach certain subjects and start a process that extends as far as the project delivery phase. Despite that, it does have its limitations. A number of architects and planners have experienced this first hand, especially when dealing with building owners caught up in traditional mindsets – they are simply not open to certain topics, or don’t dare to leave the trodden path. So was that it?

2. Taking a clear stance as architects and planners

No, quite the opposite. This is where the planners enter the picture. During the evening event their task was referred to in terms like ‘the power to make things happen’, ‘responsibility’ and ‘attitude’. Of course this whole issue revolves around more than just a two-page document. It’s about the approaches adopted by planners and how they manage meetings. It’s about bringing building owners on board and ensuring people on both sides of the fence discuss responsibilities. But how?

3. Establishing common practice within the company

First and foremost, by ensuring your co-workers catch the sustainability bug. Sustainability doesn’t stop at the board room door. It should be a guiding principle in every office and central to everybody’s thoughts. When people embody and embrace something, it gets noticed. Some participants at the event have worked this out for themselves and shifted into action. Others are still in the exploration phase. One way to address this is to form working groups within the company and give people ownership of the many different topics involved in sustainability. Another is to train staff in asking the right people the right questions at the right time.

4. Knowledge-sharing through the network

One solution already points to an important insight gained by participants and was probably the most hotly discussed topic of the evening: knowledge. Sustainability requires specialist knowledge. And specialist knowledge takes time and costs money. So how much money can or should one invest in this area, over and above current projects? The answer to this question lies in accepting that nobody knows everything, so one has to be open to sharing knowledge. There’s no need to keep reinventing the wheel. It’s good to go through a network that offers access to different skills and know-how under one roof. A network you can simply reach out to. An initiative called Phase Sustainability.

Phase Sustainability: next steps!

A willingness to challenge rather than praise yourself – unembellished honesty rather than glossy statements – questions rather than answers. These probably sum up best the insights gained from the first network meeting. We asked participants what they thought and they seemed happy. “I’m so pleased the two presenters were so honest with what they told us,” was the first piece of feedback offered. This utterance was probably a fitting reflection of many sentiments during the evening. Nobody should have to face the challenges of building a sustainable future on their own. To work out the answers, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder. Which is also why Phase Sustainability is now going to start the next lap.

Sharing responsibility – which also means you!

Is the topic of sustainability important to you for development projects? Do you have any questions, or is there something you’d like to share from your own experience? Then get in touch and become part of our initiative – a growing network of committed planners who will be happy to welcome you to the next event. It costs nothing to participate in Phase Sustainability. Follow the link for more information and details on joining in:

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