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Sustainable Building

Guidance for the building and construction industry

Tomorrow's built environment should be climate-neutral, resource- and energy-efficient, environmentally friendly and healthy. It should combine ecological concerns with social and cultural aspects as well as economic efficiency – in short, it should be sustainable.

This requires a new way of thinking by building owners, specifiers, designers, manufacturers, contractors and the authorities. But where do we start?

Legal requirements

Some basic requirements pertaining to the environmental and health impacts of construction products and the built environment are set out in the Building Codes in conjunction with the Technical Building Rules. These include, in particular:

  • Annex 8 'Requirements for construction works in relation to health protection (ABG)' of the Model Administrative Provisions – Technical Building Rules*
  • Annex 10 'Requirements for construction works relating to impact on soil and water (ABuG)' of the Model Administrative Provisions – Technical Building Rules*

* Reference is made here generally to the Model Administrative Provisions – Technical Building Rules (MVV TB). Please note that the state-specific implementation is governed by the Administrative Provisions – Technical Building Rules of the relevant federal state (VV TB).

The construction of storage, filling and handling facilities for substances hazardous to water as well as wastewater treatment plants has to comply with building and water regulations. For further information about this area, please see our topic page Facility-based water protection.

Construction products containing mineral primary raw materials and residues may fall under the radiation protection regulations. A separate page provides information on Protection against radiation from construction products.

Energy requirements for residential and non-residential buildings as well as for air-conditioning and heating technology are laid down in the Building Energy Act and associated legislation. For further information, please visit the Energy efficiency portal of the BBSR. DIBt's tasks with respect to the Registration of energy performance certificates are explained on our website.

The Building Codes and regulations do not detail specific implementing provisions for sustainability and circular economy. Implementation is based on voluntary initiatives and approaches. Some of them are presented below. All approaches have in common that they are an important first step.

Guidelines for sustainable building

Construction industry associations now publish guides and guidelines for sustainable building (sources of information) to provide building professionals with what they consider to be helpful tools with which to design and build sustainably. As a service to the construction industry, DIBt has begun to collect such sources of information about sustainable building and compile them on this page. The choice of information sources made here does not imply endorsement of the content and does not claim to be exhaustive. Please feel free to send us your comments and suggestions.

Concrete structures

Walls, roofs, facades and outdoor facilities

Timber construction

Further design guidelines are available on the WECOBIS – Information system on ecological building materials (German).

Sustainability of construction products and construction techniques

Sustainable building begins with an environmentally and health-friendly, sustainable building design and the selection of appropriate products …

To begin with: What information do DIBt approvals, construction technique permits, ETAs and evaluations offer?

The national technical approvals, general construction technique permits and evaluations provided by DIBt consider all aspects for which regulatory requirements exist (see also section 'Legal requirements' above). For the construction products and construction techniques specified in the WasBauPVO Ordinance (PDF, German), the regulatory verifications and approvals granted under building law also serve as evidence of the fulfilment of water law requirements.

The contribution of construction products to sustainable building can also be assessed and declared by means of a European Technical Assessment (ETA). Pursuant to the Construction Products Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 305/2011), the assessment of product performance is possible in relation to the basic requirements 'Hygiene, health and environmental protection' (BWR 3), 'Energy economy and heat retention' (BWR 6) and 'Sustainable use of natural resources' (BWR 7). The CPR Acquis process currently underway and the revision of the Construction Products Regulation is expected to strengthen the reporting of product performance pertaining to environmental and health protection, circular economy and sustainability in general.

DIBt approvals, construction technique permits, evaluations and ETAs with an evaluation of environmental and health protection aspects or water protection aspects can be found on our Information portal for construction products and construction techniques, especially in the areas of

Further guidance for the selection of construction materials

For those, who would like to go beyond what is required and use voluntary systems for selecting ecological construction materials, the Blue Angel (Blauer Engel) or the WECOBIS information system, among others, may prove helpful.

The WECOBIS Internet platform is a service by the Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Construction (BMWSB) and the Bavarian Chamber of Architects operated by the German Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR).

The aim is to deliver manufacturer-independent information on the environmental and health impacts of building materials and construction products in order to provide specifiers, designers, architects and those involved in construction with criteria for selecting ecological products.

In addition to product-related information, WECOBIS also contains design and procurement guidance, information on relevant labels and declarations as well as on the applicable BNB criteria (Federal Criteria for Sustainable Building).

Go to the WECOBIS website (German)

The Blue Angel is a voluntary environmental label under the aegis of the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMUV) and identifies environmentally friendly products and services across all sectors. In the construction sector, the Blue Angel can be found, for example, on insulation materials, floor coverings and sealants, particleboard, paints and many other products.

The aim of the Blue Angel is to provide procurers and consumers with reliable guidance for selecting environmentally friendly products. Blue Angel certification is based on publicly available criteria developed by an expert jury with the participation by stakeholders on the basis of established evaluation procedures. The secretariat of the 'Jury Umweltzeichen' (Environmental Label Jury) is located at the German Environment Agency (UBA). The Blue Angel is awarded by RAL gGmbH as an independent certification organisation.

Go to the 'Blue Angel' website

Apart from the Blue Angel, there are various other environmental labels for construction products, including the EU Ecolabel and others, some of which are used within the framework of assessment and certification systems for sustainable building (see below).

Environmental Products Declarations (EPDs) describe building materials, construction products and components in terms of their environmental and health impacts over the entire life cycle. An essential component of EPDs is life cycle assessment data. This data is used in numerous building certification systems (e.g. BNB, DGNB) as a basis for assessing the sustainability of buildings.

The EPD system in the construction sector spans across Europe, with DIN EN 15804:2022-03 'Sustainability of construction works – Environmental product declarations – Core rules for the product category of construction products' serving as a common guideline.

EPDs can be issued by several accepted EPD programme operators.

The ÖKOBAUDAT platform provides data and information for the life cycle assessment of buildings. The platform is operated by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Housing, Urban Development and Building (BMWSB, German).

At the core of the platform is an open online database with life cycle assessment datasets on construction products, including both specific environmental product declaration datasets and generic datasets. With more than 1400 datasets, available in German and English, ÖKOBAUDAT is one of the most comprehensive platforms of its kind worldwide.

Based on this data, life cycle assessment tools, such as eLCA provided by the BBSR, can be used to describe the entire life cycle of a building, for example within the framework of building certification.

ÖKOBAUDAT is the mandatory data basis for the German Federal Assessment System for Sustainable Building (BNB). It is also used for several other assessment and certification systems, both nationally and worldwide.

Go to the ÖKOBAUDAT database

Assessment and certification systems for sustainable building

There is a range of assessment and certification systems available to evaluate a building's or construction project's performance from a sustainability perspective. At the national level, these include the Federal Assessment System for Sustainable Building (BNB) or the DGNB certification system for sustainable buildings and districts. Internationally others may be mentioned, such as BREEAM and LEED.

The Federal Assessment System for Sustainable Building (BNB) provides a quantitative method to assess the sustainability performance of a building over its entire life cycle. The analysis encompasses the ecological, economical and socio-cultural quality of the building as well as technical and procedural aspects and the location profile.

The BNB system was created with a view to evaluating public construction projects and offers system variants for office and administration buildings, educational buildings, laboratory buildings as well as outdoor facilities. There are three possible modules or subjects of the assessment: New Construction, Complete Refurbishment or Use & Operation.

The assessment is based on 'Main Criteria Groups' covering different sustainability aspects. The 'Main Criteria Group: Ecological Quality', for example, comprises criteria such as global warming potential (GWP), ozone depletion potential (ODP) acidification potential (AP), but also risks for the local environment, sustainable material sourcing/biodiversity as well as resource and land consumption.

Further information on the BNB system

This certification is awarded by the German Sustainable Building Council (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen, DGNB), a non-profit founded in 2007. The system aims to provide a quantitative approach in order to make the sustainability performance of buildings comparable. It has common historical roots with the BNB system, but has been designed to cater to private and commercial construction projects.

DGNB certification can extend to diverse building types and occupancies, including office buildings, hotels, small or bigger residential buildings, mixed use buildings, car parcs, production and retail facilities as well as many others.

The certification can be carried out at the level of buildings, interiors or districts and be applied to new construction or buildings in use, focusing on renovation, operation or dismantling. The system assesses criteria divided into six thematic fields, namely ecological quality, economic quality, socio-cultural quality, functional quality, technical quality, process quality and location quality. There are four award levels: platinum, gold, silver and bronze.

DGNB is also a registered provider for the Federal Quality Label for Sustainable Building (QNG) (see below).

Further information on DGNB certification

The Qualitätssiegel Nachhaltiges Gebäude (QNG), which translate into Quality Label for Sustainable Building, is a public label awarded by the federal ministry for building for buildings fulfilling special requirements with regard to their environmental, socio-cultural and economic quality.

The label requires a sustainability assessment and certification carried out by a registered provider (German). It can be used to apply for funding from the Federal Programme for Efficient Buildings – Climate-Friendly New Construction (Bundesförderung für Effiziente Gebäude (BEG) – Klimafreundlicher Neubau (KNF)).

Further information on the QNG label (German)

Impulses for sustainable building coming from the EU

Green Deal

Many publications on sustainability currently refer to the EU's Green Deal. But what are the approaches, impulses and ideas that it holds for the construction industry? An overview:

The European Green Deal is a cross-sector initiative presented by the European Commission in December 2019 with the core objectives of

  • making Europe climate neutral by 2050 and
  • establishing a circular economy in which economic growth is decoupled from resource use.

In the construction sector, efforts in this direction date back to mid-2012, when the European Commission presented a 'Strategy for the sustainable competitiveness of the construction sector and its enterprises', the so-called 'Construction 2020' action plan. This plan envisaged, among other things, the creation of a European framework for assessing the sustainability performance of buildings (see Level(s)) and an improvement in waste management (see Circular Economy Action Plan).

Further information:
Green Deal website of the European Commission

Circular Economy Action Plan

In March 2020, the European Commission presented a new action plan for a forward-looking circular economy, which is one of the key building blocks of the Green Deal and continues the work of the first action plan from 2015. The aim is to move towards a circular economy where production and services result in the resources used remaining in the EU economy for as long as possible. The action plan includes an overview and a time schedule and announces measures along the entire life cycle of buildings.

Further information:
Communication from the European Commission 'A new circular economy action plan – For a cleaner and more competitive Europe' (PDF) with Annex (PDF)

Level(s) – European framework for sustainable buildings

In 2017 the Commission launched Level(s) and thereby created an EU framework for assessing and reporting the sustainability performance of buildings throughout their life cycle – from design and construction to use and end-of-life. Level(s) thereby builds up on the goals of the Green Deal and the EU's Circular Economy Action Plan and supports the construction sector's efforts to reduce the consumption of resources and energy.

Level(s) is not about creating a new certification system for buildings. Rather, the voluntary assessment and reporting framework is intended to provide a 'common European language' to report the sustainability performance of buildings and make it comparable, as well as to identify opportunities for improvement from design to the end of the life cycle. Level(s) is based on six macro-objectives for sustainability:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions along a building's life cycle
  • Resource efficient and circular material life cycles
  • Efficient use of water resources
  • Healthy and comfortable spaces
  • Adaptation and resilience to climate change
  • Optimised life cycle cost and value

and tracks these through 16 indicators.

Level(s) is a voluntary instrument which, after a two-year test phase, was published in its final version in October 2020 and can thus be rolled out.

Further information:

Renovation Wave

The renovation wave is an initiative based on the Green Deal published by the European Commission in October 2020 to increase the energy efficiency of the building stock. The aim is to double the annual Europe-wide renovation rate by 2030 and to ensure that renovations lead to higher energy and resource efficiency. Buildings account for about 40 % of energy consumption in the EU and 36 % of greenhouse gas emissions. Only 1 % of the building stock is renovated for energy efficiency every year.

Further information:
Renovation Wave website of the European Commission

New taxonomy rules and effects on the 'construction and real estate' sector

The EU Taxonomy is a measure set out in the EU Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth and codified in Regulation (EU) 2020/852 (Taxonomy Regulation). The aim of the action plan is to channel capital flows into sustainable activities. To achieve this, a common understanding and a clear definition of what is 'sustainable' is needed, as well as the creation of verifiable criteria that enable the classification of an economic activity as 'sustainable'. The details necessary for this are specified in Commission delegated acts.

The Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2021/2139 of 4 June 2021 specifies the first two of the six environmental goals addressed in the Taxonomy Regulation.

  1. Climate change mitigation
  2. Climate change adaptation
  3. Sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources
  4. Transition to a circular economy
  5. Pollution prevention and control
  6. Protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems

For example, one requirement related to climate change mitigation set out in Annex I point 7 'Construction and real estate activities' of the afore-mentioned Delegated Regulation requires for new buildings that the primary energy demand (PED) defining the energy performance of the building resulting from the construction is at least 10 % lower than the threshold set for the nearly zero-energy building (NZEB) requirements in national measures implementing Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings.

Further requirements set out in Annex I point 7 include a minimum quota of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste to be reused, recycled or otherwise recovered and limit emission values for building components and materials that may come into contact with occupiers.

Further information:
EU taxonomy for sustainable activities website of the European Commission

Revision of the Construction Products Regulation

One major goal of the revision of the Construction Products Regulation is to strengthen circular economy and sustainability in the construction sector. The revision is still ongoing. The final Regulation text is expected to be available in the summer of 2024. DIBt informs the German-speaking audience regularly about the state of play in its newsletter (German).