Capital Language Solutions | Sustainable buildings

Sustainable buildings

sustainable sv-hochhausSustainable buildings are being built and leased in greater and greater numbers. According to the latest “Certification and Sustainability Radar” (“CESAR”) report published by JLL, there has been a one million square metre (or 21%) increase in the volume of certified office space in sustainable buildings in Germany’s big seven office centres (Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart, Hamburg and Cologne). JLL uses the term “certified” for office properties that are certified, pre-certified or registered for certification under one of the major sustainable building schemes (e.g. DGNB, LEED or BREEAM). There are now a total of 5.8 million square metres of certified office space in these major office centres, but what do the certificates actually mean, who issues them and what sustainability criteria do they assess?

  • Why are office tenants so interested in certified space?
  • The DGNB scheme
  • The LEED scheme
  • The BREEAM scheme
  • Demand for sustainable office space set to grow

Why are office tenants so interested in certified space?

Ecological sustainability is not just an issue for the most environmentally-aware members of society, it is also a key issue for companies looking for office space. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an important element of any major company’s business philosophy and there’s certainly no damage to be done by being able to publicise the fact that your premises are ecologically sustainable – and you have the certificate to prove it! If your company uses fewer resources (energy, water, heating, etc.), there are also substantial long-term cost savings to be made. There is also the fact that certified buildings generally offer higher levels of comfort to their users. Against the backdrop of a healthy labour market, employers are often engaged in fierce competition to attract and retain skilled workers. Pay and benefits are one thing, but so is the quality of your workplace environment. As can be seen from the criteria listed below, atmosphere and comfort are key criteria in any certification scheme.
Interest from tenants in sustainable buildings is certainly running high, as can be seen from the healthy letting figures and the fact that certified space accounted for 11% of take-up in 2015, despite only making up less than 7% of the total office space in the seven biggest office centres. In Frankfurt, certified space represented just under 24% of the year’s total office space take-up; in Munich the figure stood at over 15%. Financial services companies may not have been responsible for the greatest take up of space in overall square metre terms, but as far as certified office space is concerned, one in every three square metres leased by companies in this sector were in certified buildings.


The DGNB scheme

The German Sustainable Building Council certificate for green and sustainable buildings exists as bronze, silver, gold and platinum awards, in combination with a simplified pre-certification process during a project’s planning stages. Bronze to platinum certificates can be awarded to existing buildings, whereas silver to platinum awards can be made for new buildings. It is the most-widely used certification in Germany. The scheme assesses 50 different sustainability criteria based on the entire life-cycle of a building, divided across six categories:

  • Environmental quality: procurement, primary energy, water and waste water, land use, environmental impact and life-cycle impacted.
  • Economic quality: flexibility and adaptability, commercial viability, life-cycle cost.
  • Sociocultural and functional quality: air quality, thermal, acoustic and visual comfort, outdoor spaces, safety and security, accessibility, cyclist facilities, integrated public art, design quality.
  • Technical quality: building envelope, cleaning and maintenance, fire safety, adaptability of technical systems, deconstruction and disassembly.
  • Process quality: design concept, sustainability aspects of tendering phase, documentation for facility management, environmental impact of construction, quality assurance.
  • Site quality: accessibility and public transport provision, transport access, access to amenities, public image and social conditions.

The criteria are weighted differently, with scores of between 1 and 10 for each criterion.

The LEED scheme

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certificate applies to all buildings – from homes to offices, hospitals to schools. Projects are assessed against a range of sustainable building criteria and achieve either Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum status. LEED is the fastest growing sustainable building scheme in Germany – the number of LEED certified buildings doubled between 2013 and 2015. Like DGNB, the scheme assesses projects based on six categories:

  • Energy and Atmosphere: energy performance, renewable energy production, carbon offsetting, smart grids (demand response programmes).
  • Water efficiency: reducing both indoor and outdoor water use and the amount of waste water produced, water metering and cooling water tower use.
  • Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ): air quality, acoustic performance, low-emitting materials, thermal comfort levels, lighting, natural light, quality of views.
  • Site sustainability: rainwater management, accessibility, open spaces, light pollution, heat island reduction to limit the impact on wildlife and human habitats.
  • Materials and Resources: recycling of materials, construction and demolition waste management, life-cycle impact, flexibility of design, reduction of materials including mercury, cadmium, lead and copper.
  • Innovation in Design: innovative strategies not otherwise covered by LEED to achieve measurable environmental performance improvements.

The BREEAM scheme

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) is the longest established method for assessing and certifying the sustainability of buildings. The scheme helps owners to successfully and cost-effectively adopt sustainable solutions, and provides recognition of their achievements. A range of certificates have been developed to cover new construction, refurbishment and fit-outs, in-use buildings and master-planned communities. Operated in Germany by the German Institute for Sustainable Real Estate (DIFNI), this is the most widespread certification standard for existing buildings. BREEAM uses nine sustainable building assessment criteria, although objectively speaking, the categories do overlap somewhat with the other schemes‘ criteria:

  • Management: project brief and integrated design, responsible construction practices, stakeholder involvement, designed-in flexibility, commissioning, handover and aftercare and opportunities for shared use.
  • Energy: reduction of energy use and carbon emmissions, energy monitoring, external lighting, low carbon design, energy efficient equipment and transportation systems.
  • Health & wellbeing: visual comfort (including lighting), indoor air quality, thermal comfort, acoustic performance and safety and security.
  • Transport: public transport accessibility, proximity to local amenities and services, cyclist facilities and parking space provision
  • Water: water consumption, monitoring and efficiency.
  • Materials: strategic approach to the selection, sourcing and procurement of construction materials.
  • Waste: construction waste management, operational waste and recycling, functional adaptability.
  • Land use and ecology: site selection, protection of ecological features, minimising ecological impact, enhancing site ecology and long-term impact on biodiversity. 
  • Pollution: refrigerants, reducing NOX and CO2 emmissions, surface water run-off, minimising light and noise pollution.

Demand for office space in sustainable buildings set to grow

There are enough recent reports forecasting an overall increase in demand for office space in Germany’s major office centres. Now JLL’s CESAR predicts that demand for certified office space will continue to increase at a disproportionately high rate. From JLL’s report and the breakdown of certified space take-up by tenants‘ business sectors, it is clear that the drivers of this trend are companies in the service and IT industries – which also just happen to be Germany’s biggest growth sectors. As building regulations (e.g. EnEV and EEWärmeG) have been progressively tightened, it is only natural that more and more buildings meet the schemes‘ sustainability criteria. It will be interesting to see how many project developers are willing to invest in the certification process, although given the way they are currently fighting over tenants, any competitive advantage is welcome.

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