The building sector is undergoing a transformation, moving away from linear practices to a systematically circular economy. What sounds entirely logical and highly appealing in theory, however, has until now been a huge challenge in practice. The new building material passport, launched to coincide with our annual online conference, offers a key DGNB instrument for pulling together documentation that will provide important support with this transformation. Our aim is to establish a common basis in this area and create transparency. During the recent event, as well as discussing the content of the passport and different ways to use it, experts considered where to go next with this important document. We look back at the discussion.
BLOG SERIES ON THE DGNB ANNUAL CONGRESS 2023 (PART 1)
The second annual digital congress of the DGNB took place on 14 and 15 February. The event featured a variety of open discussions, providing plenty of ideas and inspiration on different aspects of sustainable building. This series of blog posts offers a look back at the event with a summary of key insights. For example, in our next post we look at the topic of biodiversity.
The underlying idea of the building material passport is simple: its purpose is to create transparency regarding the most important material properties of a building. As well as providing information on whether buildings already contribute to the circular economy, the passport is intended to show how long buildings can be used for, if they can be adapted to different uses and whether they can be disassembled, broken down or reused in the future, i.e. whether they can be recycled.
Circular building – commonly accepted as important, but not yet implemented in practice
During the panel discussion – between Dominik Campanella (Concular), Claudius Frank (Madaster Germany), Pascal Keppler (EPEA, part of Drees & Sommer), Thomas Kraubitz (Happold Architects) and Prof. Dr. Anja Rosen (University of Wuppertal, C5) – there was general agreement regarding why such a documentation tool is important: the construction industry now seems to have understood the importance of circular building. Indeed there’s been a particularly sharp rise in interest since 2021, and as Campanella pointed out, no building development can afford to ignore circularity factors. Yet as the panel established, until now there have been no real signs of consistent implementation in practice.
Acknowledging (and remembering) the true value of materials
This is where the building material passport has an important contribution to make by providing a uniform standard for documenting material facts in a format that’s objective and allows for comparisons.
Anja Rosen emphasised how important it is to have such documentation for building improvements, especially given that such measures are not just carried out for the sake of it. Documentation lays the groundwork for acknowledging important issues and, based on this, being in a position to make improvements. One aspect that’s important in all of this, said Rosen, is that people are clear about the meaning of terms like recycling, upcycling, reuse and so on. In the best-case scenario, building materials are extracted from a building, transferred like-for-like and fitted in another without damage. This offers the greatest potential for climate protection and resource conservation, said Rosen. If that’s not possible, ‘normal’ recycling would be desirable, she continued.
Another point that was raised is that reliable and transparent documentation encourages people responsible for developments to become more aware again of the value of materials. What currently happens when buildings are torn down is that costs are incurred for the disposal of materials. As Dominik Campanella explained, you end up paying for materials to be just thrown away. By digitalising processes and using building material passports, materials gain an identity and with that: a value. This allows them to be sold again. The residual value of a material is an important factor in raising awareness of this topic among a wider audience, said Pascal Keppler. Building on this, Thomas Kraubitz explained how important it is to shorten the time it takes for materials to be used again. This is because materials in intermediate storage are also defunct materials.
A passport spanning the entire life cycle
The DGNB passport can be used just as easily for new buildings as it can for existing ones, bringing benefit to various groups of stakeholders.
As well as gaining insights into the actual materials used in a building, property owners are furnished with information on the actual format of materials and potentially hazardous substances. Owners also benefit from ongoing information on potential optimisations during the overall lifetime of buildings. For people planning or designing buildings, passports can be particularly valuable when it comes to in-depth evaluations and advising building owners and project commissioners, also allowing options to be weighed up regarding recyclability and resource conservation. Building contractors can use the tool to systematically document measures they have already implemented, offering clear overviews of services provided. Local authorities also stand to benefit from the new documentation possibilities. For example, they can use passports to set up and manage material stockpiles in so-called urban mines. During the discussion, Campanella referred to the document as a life cycle passport, a fitting reflection of its usefulness throughout all stages of the building life cycle.
Looking to the future: scoring points during DGNB certification
Use of the new passport is not yet mandatory. According to the host of the discussion, Dr Anna Braune (DGNB), there is currently no information in this respect. Potentially she does believe some form of incentive would be possible in the long term. The 2023 version of the New Construction certification announced by the DGNB will allow for use to be rewarded with points, and this comes into effect as soon as it is published.
In addition, the German government has made the development of a building material passport a fixed element of its coalition agreement. The aim is to ensure the DGNB passport is able to dovetail with corresponding measures planned by the federal government. A number of providers of digital solutions used to document or optimise building documentation (such as Concular, Madaster, the Circular Design Toolkit offered by EPEA and the Urban Mining Index) have already integrated the required content of the DGNB building material passport into their tools. There is also discussion underway on further ideas applicable to business practice.
For more information on the DGNB building material passport, click here. You can also watch the discussion that took place (in German) at the DGNB Annual Congress on our DGNB YouTube channel: