If we're already thinking and acting with the future in mind, then we're already acting sustainably. But this also means that we must be willing to tackle existing problems now, such as fighting climate change or solving the shortage of resources. These are issues that affect not only our actions as individuals, but also the buildings we use and occupy.
Sustainable building – the role played by the DGNB
Conscious of the limited availability of resources and the noticeable impact of climate change, in 2007, sixteen pioneers from the construction and real estate industry joined forces and set up the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB – Deutsche Gesellschaft für nachhaltiges Bauen e.V.). Their aim: to do more in the future to promote sustainable building. In the meantime, the DGNB has about 1200 members from all corners of the globe, representing the interests of the construction and real estate industry at every stage of the value chain – from architects to building owners, investors, planners, local authorities and scientists.
What is sustainable building?
Sustainable building means using and introducing available resources consciously, minimising energy consumption and preserving the environment.
The conventional view of sustainability is based on a model consisting of three pillars representing economic, environmental and sociocultural aspects. The concept can also be applied to construction. Economic factors are about looking at a property over its entire life cycle. In simple terms, environmental factors are about constructing buildings in ways that preserve resources and the environment. The key focus of socio-cultural factors is the user of a building.
As a result, sustainable action is only really possible if all three of these factors are considered and applied in harmony.
The sustainability concept of the DGNB goes one step further, however, and actually covers six areas. We thus look beyond environmental, economic and sociocultural and functional factors and include aspects that are important during the construction of a building: technology, processes and location.
Interacting with our environment responsibly
Focussing on sustainability when constructing a building is not just about using new or reusable materials such as recyclable concrete, it also entails reducing energy requirements and avoiding expensive transportation by deliberately deciding to source materials and products locally.
Appealing and sustainable
Whether it's a residential building or office premises, we all want to feel comfortable in our surroundings. Ultimately, the buildings we spend our time in play a pivotal role in how we feel about our quality of life. This ranges from the design and architecture of a building to maintaining comfortable temperatures, ensuring the air is pleasant to breathe, and offering the right illumination and sound insulation. Barrier-free planning is also an important factor when it comes to sustainability.
The DGNB certification
These aspects – from selecting the right kinds of materials to thinking about feel-good factors – reflect the criteria that play a central role in how we assess buildings. This is because at the end of the day, they determine whether a building really is sustainable. To evaluate and define the sustainability of buildings and urban districts objectively, we offer the DGNB certification system, an entirely unique system. This uniqueness stems from our assessment of a comprehensive battery of quality factors – spanning the entire life cycle of a building for no less than 50 years.
Depending on the specific type of building, our evaluations can encompass up to 40 sustainability criteria, each of which is regularly reassessed and developed by an independent panel of experts. Depending on the degree to which a building meets these criteria (gauged by the DGNB Performance Index), we award a building a Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze rating.
Of course the DGNB system is not just about assessing the current standards of a building. It should also provide an incentive to establish sustainable building and processes in the long term – as part of our way of life.
Good for the environment = good for all of us
There is an interesting preconception regarding sustainability, not only in general, but also with respect to sustainable building: apparently, sustainability is expensive. This is why it's worth taking a second look and perhaps doing something as simple as comparing different types of materials. It's surprising, but many of the materials that offer sustainability benefits are actually not more expensive. So on the bottom line, if you consciously decide to use these materials you can actually even save money. Why? Because many sustainable products break even in the long term, for example by helping the owner or operator of a building to reduce running costs.