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Prof. Manfred Hegger, TU Darmstadt, is the president of the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB). For him, the issues of responsibility and sustainability are closely entwined. Only an ecological, economical, and socially responsible building can be a sustainable building.

Many complain that the term “sustainability” is used excessively. It is virtually indispensable in self-portrayals and advertising, but it is not often implemented comprehensively. Still, it seems that the proposition of sustainability is increasingly bringing about changes in the way companies think and act. In his essay “What is Sustainability?”1, Dr. Bernd Klauer from the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research remarked: “The common denominator between all definitions of sustainability is the preservation of a system… Something always has to be maintained for the good of future generations.” This goal, assuming responsibility for the good of future generations, is the first rule of sustainable action.

Sustainability has ecological, economic, and social aspects. Opinions differ about how much weight these aspects have. There are strong arguments that the environment is the basis of the society, and that the environment and society are the basis of economic systems. This casts doubt on the claim that the most important aspect is to optimize all areas of life economically. Social change that takes account of this situation seems to have only begun.

The construction industry and buildings have a major influence on all aspects of sustainability. Due to the high resource use and long lifecycles, as well as their design and effect on users, buildings have an especially strong impact on the environment and society. Spaces and buildings influence everyday life and the world.

Thus, construction should move in a sustainable direction. Cities and transportation, energy systems and building are undergoing an accelerated process of change. At the same time, technological innovations are helping us protect ecological and economic resources and simultaneously enhancing user comfort. To show the advantages of such technologies, the sustainability of buildings has to be measurable and demonstrable. Here the DGNB’s certification system is making a big contribution.

Sustainability is one of many components in a new social development and design process. It can lead us out of the current wastefulness and out of the non-communicable ethics of abstinence. If we approach it correctly, we can look confidently to a future that conserves resources and redefines economies, that creates fascinating spaces that we can justifiably call sustainable.