The German Sustainable Building Council: Normalizing Sustainability in Construction and Real Estate

Over the past few years, the emphasis on sustainability has significantly increased across various sectors. The construction industry has also turned its attention towards sustainability through concepts like sustainable construction, green buildings, etc. Enhanced health due to safe materials, increased productivity due to better surroundings, and much more effective protection against noise are some of the numerous advantages offered by sustainable/green buildings.

The German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) is one of the strongest and oldest proponents of sustainable construction. The company was founded with the aim of making sustainable construction the new standard in the construction and real estate industry. It is a participatory association that currently has more than 1600 members from all kinds of sectors including product manufacturers, architects, specialist planners, universities, and industrial companies.

The German Sustainable Building Council
Overcoming the Initial Hurdles

When DGNB was founded in 2007, sustainability was understood as an add-on in large parts of business, society, and politics. The construction industry, in particular, ridiculed methods like life cycle assessment which evaluates environmental impacts over the entire lifecycle of buildings. The criteria that DGNB developed with the certification system were often seen as unnecessary extra effort.

Thus, standing firm, convincing people, and implementing the first concrete projects was one of the biggest challenges DGNB confronted at the beginning. The efforts taken by the company have been justified with its tremendous growth over the years. Today, it is Europe’s largest network for sustainable building with system partnerships in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and Croatia.
The DGNB Certification System

DGNB has leveraged its diverse expertise to develop the DGNB certification system, which makes sustainable building plannable, measurable, and realizable. It reads a catalog of criteria that shows the necessary levers of sustainable construction in the course of the planning and the construction process, as well as during the operation of buildings. Today, more than 9000 awards have been granted with it worldwide.

The DGNB certification system is based on a holistic understanding of sustainability that takes equal account of the three pillars of ecology, economy, and socio-culture. Unlike other certification systems on the market, the DGNB evaluates the overall performance of the building rather than individual measures in a checklist. The company consistently takes into account the entire lifecycle of the building, from the production of materials to potential deconstruction. In this way, it ensures that buildings retain their value in the long term and that potential problems are not postponed to later life cycles.

The certification is possible for new as well as existing buildings for their operational optimization. It can be applied to all types of use, from offices and logistics halls to apartment buildings and entire neighborhoods. Since time immemorial, the DGNB certification system has firmly anchored the topics of climate protection, circular economy, human health, biodiversity, and much more.
Disseminating Knowledge about Sustainable Construction

As a non-profit organization, DGNB’s mission is to disseminate knowledge about sustainable construction. With its advanced training platform, the DGNB Academy, the company trains experts in sustainable construction. These experts can accompany the planning process and know the levers that lead the building to a sustainable result. The platform also offers knowledge transfer via numerous free online events that provide insight into the topics of sustainability in construction. Additionally, it regularly publishes reports that address very specific issues.

DGNB has also launched two new initiatives that bring together specific groups in the construction and real estate industry and motivate them to take action. These initiatives are,
1.“Phase Sustainability”: An association of architects, civil engineers, and specialist planners who undertake to focus on key sustainability issues in their discussion with building owners.

2.“The Climate-positive Cities and Communities”: An initiative that brings together analogous cities and communities that are on their way to a climate-positive future.
Collaborations and Partnerships

The DGNB is a participatory association. Members of the association can get involved in committees, technical committees, and strategy groups. Additionally, numerous events are held throughout the year that offers opportunities for exchange and discusses the status quo of the industry. Moreover, an annual general meeting is held for all members as part of a DGNB Sustainability Day, which is filled with impulses and inspiring conversations.

The DGNB maintains international partnerships to promote the standard of sustainable buildings throughout the world. Together with the Green Building Council Espana (GBCe), the Austrian Sustainable Building Council, and the REHVA- Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations, it has founded the Climate Positive European Alliance (CPEA).

CPEA is a kind of think tank that brings together the expertise and market-based pragmatic solutions and translates them into concrete recommendations for action. “The aim is to strengthen joint European action. Because only together can we achieve the transformation,” says Dr. Christine Lemaitre (CEO of DGNB).
A Laurelled Leader at the Helm

Born in Gießen, Germany, Christine studied structural engineering at the University of Stuttgart from 1995 to 2000. After working in the USA for two years as a structural engineer, she started in 2003 working at the Institute of Lightweight Structures Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart as a teaching assistant. She also worked as a project manager for R&D and completed her Ph.D. thesis on adaptive lightweight structures before undertaking the role of director certification system of the German Sustainable Building Council.

Christine has been serving as the CEO of DGNB since February 2010. From 2016 to 2020, she was a board member of the World Green Building Council (WGBC). She is also a member of the Advisory Council for Baukultur of the State of Baden- Wuerttemberg, the Sustainability Board of the German Property Federation (ZIA), and the board of directors of the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute. Throughout her eminent career, Christine has won several awards like the W.I.R.E. Award 2019 (Women in Real Estate) of Heuer Dialog GmbH and the Eco Innovator Award 2019 by the Global Green Economic Forum.
United to Improve

Together with Johannes Kreißig, also CEO of the DGNB, Christine leads a team of more than 70 employees who are united by the common goal of making the construction industry more sustainable. The spirit characterizes the work at DGNB. It works with an open culture with flat hierarchies and diverse work models depending on life situations. The company has already received several awards as a top employer. Moreover, beyond the office, DGNB counts a large number of volunteers who pass on their knowledge in expert committees. All these volunteers are united by the will to improve and this is one of DGNB’s greatest success factors.
The Commitment to Sustainability

DGNB is looking forward to a future focused on climate protection. Christine mentions that the Paris Agreement has been signed and the annual IPPC reports make it clear that we have only a 10-year window of opportunity to achieve our climate protection goals. “The next few years will show which industries really make sense. Those that are consistently committed to climate protection and sustainability will emerge,” she adds. DGNB expects sustainability to become the standard in the construction and real estate industry.

DGNB’s motto is–Start Now! As awareness about the serious state of the planet grows, the range of the company’s solutions also expands. More than ever, it is committed to drawing on existing knowledge now. “Because we have the tools and knowledge to build sustainably, now it’s a matter of joining forces and bringing sustainable buildings to a wider audience,” concludes Christine.
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