The number of buildings that have been constructed in China in the last 15 years equals the total number of buildings that already exist in Europe. Construction volumes remain high and the demand for certifiably better buildings is growing. And this is where the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) certification system comes into play, serving as a quality standard for projects reflecting Made in Germany levels of sustainability.
By 2020, the market for sustainable buildings in China is projected to be around 25 per cent of total construction volumes (EU: 9 per cent). The DGNB, with the certification system that bears its name, will serve as a reliable partner for China as it moves towards even more sustainability. With the aim of fostering dialogue and forging a common understanding of what sustainable building methods really look like, at the end of July a German-Chinese Forum for Sustainable Building was held for the first time in Beijing under the patronage of the German-Chinese Urbanisation Partnership. Among those representing the DGNB at the forum were Johannes Kreißig, Managing Director of DGNB GmbH, and Dr Stephan Anders, Director of the DGNB system.
Henny Radicke: The German-Chinese Forum for Sustainable Building is a joint initiative of CCTC (China Construction Technology Consulting, one of the world’s largest development groups) and the DGNB. Why was the forum organised?
Stephan Anders: The DGNB has been active in China for several years now. Whereas the focus in past decades has mostly been on building as quickly as possible, today a lot more attention is being paid to quality and sustainability. One reason for this is definitely the dual burden of smog and noise pollution, which is becoming increasingly serious as the urban population grows. Above all, the forum facilitated discussion of the issues that are important to both the DGNB and the Chinese market with an eye to tackling future challenges together.
Johannes Kreißig: We’re noticing a shift in China in how people think about the environment we build around ourselves. It’s one reason the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) analysed the performance of buildings that are considered ‘green’. The results were sobering. Problems identified 15 years ago, like building standards or energy and resource consumption, were still there. If anything, buildings actually tend to use more energy, the resource problem hasn’t been solved and the issue of quality hasn’t been addressed at all. It became clear that the instruments aimed at sustainable building practices that had been tried until then weren’t up to the job. As the search for better methods continued, one of the places people turned to was Germany. And this led to the first conversations. We see sustainable building as a process rather than a finished state – an approach that has won people over in China, along with the planning philosophy behind our certification system. The first German-Chinese Forum for Sustainable Building marks the kick-off of more joint activities and intensive collaboration.
HR: China is the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases by a long shot and there have been global media reports about the veil of smog hanging over its cities. What role does sustainable building actually play in China?
JK: A big one! There’s a growing recognition that the focus in recent years has been on quantity rather than quality. So buildings that are only 25 years old already need complete restoration. Awareness is changing, however. Today it’s about more comfort and convenience for the user. The Chinese market will stop growing at the rate it has in past years, so competition will become fiercer and this will automatically push up the quality of the buildings. Forward-looking developers are already realising that it will be quality that will make the big difference with buildings.
SA: The five-year plans issued by the Chinese government are also important in the country; they define mandatory targets and are implemented top-down. This can give enormous leverage to social issues. Sustainable building is a topic that is explicitly named in the current five-year plan. But to get there, there has to be sufficient understanding of how sustainable building works. We’ve been transferring this knowledge through the DGNB Academy since 2012. During this period, 300 Chinese professionals have already become sustainability experts with the help of DGNB training. Sustainable urban districts are an especially hot topic.
HR: There’s a think tank in China called the China Society for Urban Studies, which brings together the relevant players in the building industry every year. The theme of its 2017 annual conference was Urban Development and Planning. What did you find out at the conference?
SA: We were invited to the conference to speak about our experiences in planning sustainable cities and urban districts. The discussions showed that the topics of fair urban development and redevelopment generated the most interest. China now also has a large number of existing buildings that have to be made fit for the future – so they need renovating with an eye towards sustainability. This presents an enormous lever for actively broadening the reach of sustainable building.
JK: Our sustainable building approach and our planning philosophy have proven themselves over the years. Our approach to quality can set standards for countries like China that want to build better buildings and urban districts. The DGNB system we present at these kinds of conferences provides a global sustainability benchmark for countries like China to strive for, especially as the projects that have been certified to date have demonstrated that the DGNB system itself is practical to apply and implement.
Workshop on sustainable urban planning
Conference in Haikou
HR: Moving forward, what will cooperation between the DGNB and China look like?
JK: We now need to implement the ideas we came up with in our initial meetings. We’ve been able to find important partners for this on the Chinese side – people who are interested in applying the quality standards and the philosophy behind the DGNB system. There are several pioneers in China like the GeZhOuBa Group, who have integrated the DGNB approach into their corporate strategy and have already certified their first projects. We’re also looking to hold the Forum for Sustainable Building for a second time in the coming year, just on a larger scale.
SA: We’re planning more courses this year for people to qualify as a DGNB Consultant, including a focus on urban districts. We’re also trying to expand collaboration with Chinese universities to establish sustainable building as an integral part of the curriculum. And from 7 to 10 November, we’ll be at FENESTRATION BAU China, where we’ll be contributing our ideas as a partner.
SOURCES: EU (2013). THE CONSTRUCTION SECTOR IN CHINA, EU SME CENTRE, BEIJING, WWW.CCILC.PT/SITES/DEFAULT/FILES/REPORT_THE_CONSTRUCTION_SECTOR_IN_CHINA.PDF