Currently the need for sustainability is generally accepted. Over time the concept of sustainability has become increasingly complex particularly due to the lack of a clear definition and the emergence of various often conflicting ideas, visions and approaches. Depending on who you are and what you find important, your concept of sustainability will likely vary from others. The growing demand for sustainability has placed greater responsibility on organisations to develop and transmit information about their sustainability performance. This has led to a growing demand for and supply of tools to measure, manage and transmit the sustainability performance of buildings and its components.
All over the world organisations have introduced sustainability tools. In addition to all these sustainability tools, each country has its own standards and initiatives related to sustainable construction, its own databases for environmental information and their own labelling and certification systems. The wide variety of different tools make it increasingly complex to choose a particular tool to measure, manage and transmit the sustainability performance of buildings. It is also unclear for companies responsible for only a specific building component, such as the façade industry, what their specific impact is on the sustainability performance and rating of the building and what their opportunities are to improve these.
In the Dutch building industry a building is generally called sustainable once a sustainability label or certificate is awarded. Certifying a building is used by real estate organisations as a method to assess the sustainability performance of buildings and to compare the results to other available alternatives. Having a certified building is also used by organisations to communicate their sustainability to relevant stakeholders, such as prospective investors or tenants. Despite the relatively strong demand for sustainability certificates many office organisations indicate they are not familiar with the content of the different existing certificates. In addition, a large proportion of European citizens indicate they are not confident that products indicated as environmentally friendly actually are less damaging to the environment than other products. This in turn raises a number of questions about the actual value of a sustainability label or certificate.
In the construction industry sustainability can be considered on either product or building level. The sustainability performance of products is commonly calculated using Life Cycle Assessment. However, the results of these assessment can greatly differ and in some cases even contradict. Despite the debate it is mandatory is now mandatory in the Netherlands to submit an environmental calculation when applying for some building permits. The Dutch government is also developing legislation which sets a limit to the maximum environmental impact of buildings.
The sustainability performance of buildings can be calculated using a number of labelling and certification systems available, e.g. BREEAM and LEED. When analysing the impact of the façade within these systems it becomes clear the direct influence of the façade is not higher than a few percent. This is remarkable when we know the façade plays a major role on sustainability issues such as health, wellbeing and energy. The VMRG (Dutch metal façade trade association) is currently doing research in order to gain insight into the impact of a façade on the sustainability performance and rating of a building.