28. April 2022

The growing importance of green certifications in the building industry

Josefine Skou Klepner

Technical Manager, Product Compliance, Cembrit Holding

In 2015, the UN member states adopted a plan for achieving a better world. The plan provides a clear definition and path to protecting and preserving our planet, combating injustice and inequality and eradicating poverty.  The plan is formalized as the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Today, governments, individuals, and organisations are taking measures to comply with and fulfil the agenda laid down in the various parts of the 17 goals to achieve the results mentioned above.

Since 2015, businesses are scrambling to realign their sustainability agenda to fit the goals and pledging to various initiatives and programs that support the fulfilment of these goals and creating sustainable development by 2030. In the building industry too, we’ve seen initiatives to reduce waste, minimize carbon footprint, recycle materials, etc. However,  as with other industries, so far this has been treated as ‘nice-to-have’ rather than ‘need-to-have’.

The case has been further strengthened by the announcement of the EU Green Deal to decarbonize buildings in Europe by 2050. This, along with a number of other demands has now placed the responsibility on governments to introduce legislation and regulations for green construction in many countries – resulting in the introduction of green certifications in the building and construction industry.

Green building and the future

‘Green building’ has been the buzzword in the construction industry for the last few years and with the 2030 target and 2050 goal, the concept is becoming more of a requirement by architects and builders than just an item on the wish list. Green building applies to various aspects of buildings such as air, water and resource usage, use of materials, indoor air and environmental quality, and waste management.

The concept or movement shares its objective with the EU Green Deal, which is to improve the energy efficiency of buildings and climate-proof them in order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Choosing a green building for a home is not just an option but a lifelong commitment to upholding the virtues of natural and sustainable living. It’s a conscious decision to arrest resource depletion and protect nature for our future generations. Green building has seen the introduction of a number of green certifications that are making measuring and evaluating the sustainability factor of buildings.

Understanding the green certifications

In the EU, the schemes that are playing an important role in the building industry are DGNB, BREEAM, LEED and WELL Building Standard. These certificates are in place in several EU countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Italy. But the criteria within the certifications for these countries vary based on local requirements and conditions.

DGNB: DGNB is a voluntary sustainability certification scheme for Danish building codes, and it provides a common framework for architects, builders and manufacturers when developing sustainable buildings. The system includes all aspects of sustainability and offers the possibility to calculate the LCA and LCC of the entire building during all the various stages. It serves as a decision tool to optimise the building according to the requirements as well as altering the choice of materials for final certification.

BREEAM: Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method or BREEAM is the leading scheme for assessing the sustainability of planned projects, buildings and infrastructure. BREEAM values the environmental factors such as air, water and health of buildings and also takes into account the social and economic sustainability performance.

WELL Building Standard: This is a performance measuring system that considers the entire health of the building, including its impact on human health through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It was introduced to initially only include commercial and institutional buildings, but recently provisions have been put in place to take into account multifamily residential, educational and restaurant buildings.

EPD: Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a document that contains information about the environmental impact of materials used and shows the most sustainable materials for products. EPDs help to achieve EPD and LCA credits in certification schemes, like DGNB, LEED, BREEAM and others. The sustainability performance of a building is evaluated on specific criteria within each of these certification schemes, in their defined categories. EPDs are usually valid for a period of 5 years.

Regulation paving the way forward

As I mentioned in the beginning, we are still at a stage where, in many countries,  green certifications are seen as a nice to have than a need to have. In the construction industry specifically, where the materials and products are measured by economic, environmental and social parameters, achieving these certifications could mean that sustainability and mitigating carbon emissions can become a daily practice.

Having green certifications as a part of the construction or renovation project will certainly make sustainability a natural element of the building and making green certifications a requirement could also be key to achieving the goals set by the EU Green Deal for the building industry.

About the author:

Josefine Skou Klepner is a Technical Manager in the Product Compliance Department at Cembrit Holding and primarily works with product sustainability, EPDs and sustainability schemes.
She has more than 20 years of experience in the building industry and in operating management systems in quality, specifically with environment and safety. Josefine has a huge interest in and is continuously expanding her knowledge of requirements for certifications and documentation.