Conscious of the limited availability of resources and the noticeable impact of climate change, in 2007 sixteen pioneers from the building and property industry joined forces and set up the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB). Their aim: to do more in the future to promote sustainable building. In the meantime, the DGNB has over 1,500 members from all corners of the globe, representing the interests of the building and property industry at different stages of the value chain, from architects to clients, investors, planners, the local authorities, and science and academia.
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. This concept can also be applied to construction. Economic factors are about using buildings sensibly and looking at a property over its entire lifetime. 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 pillars 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 factors to include the functional aspects of planning, plus factors that are important during the construction of a building: technology, processes and location.
Focusing on sustainability when constructing a building is not just about using new or reusable materials such as recyclable concrete, it also entails cutting energy requirements and avoiding expensive transportation by consciously sourcing materials and products locally.
Whether it's a residential property or an office building, 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.
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 DGNB certification – 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, all of which are regularly reassessed and redeveloped 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 taking a snapshot and 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.
There is an interesting preconception regarding sustainability, not only in general, but also with respect to sustainable building. It's a preconception that is extremely difficult to eradicate: apparently, sustainability is expensive. This is why it's worth taking a second look and perhaps drawing comparisons between 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 operating costs.