Sustainable Construction and Refurbishment
Vonovia’s construction projects create fairly priced homes that are urgently needed, particularly in metropolitan areas. Our construction and conversion projects focus on optimizing energy efficiency, renewable energy and using environmentally conscious construction methods that conserve resources, with a greater use of renewable resources. We also make sure that the layouts of our buildings and developments are suitable for a wide variety of lifestyles, in addition to providing accessible homes. Our strategy is economically and ecologically sustainable, and combines profitability with our objective of being climate neutral by 2045 (see Climate Path).
We set clear targets and integrate sustainability aspects into our decision-making processes. We have clear, Group-wide targets for energy consumption and efficiency standards for all construction projects. The average primary energy demand of newly constructed buildings, in relation to rental area, make up the most important performance indicator. This performance indicator is part of the planning process and must be made transparent as part of all Management Board approvals of newbuild and development projects.
By taking a holistic neighborhood-based approach to developments, we bring together planning expertise and construction (see Society and Contribution to Urban Development). This involves focusing on vertical expansion and densification in order to provide additional homes while minimizing surface sealing. Our approach is complemented by our Building Information Management (BIM) strategy, which allows us to identify effective measures on the basis of data from across the entire life cycle of our neighborhoods. This reflects our commitment to long-term sustainability, which takes a close look at every stage of a building’s life – from finding plots of land through to handing over the keys and demolition – in order to minimize its emissions, the impact it has on the environment and the amount of resources that it consumes. Our holistic approach to the planning process includes incorporating elements such as playgrounds and leisure areas, charging stations and wildflower meadows into the residential environment. The progress that has been made – particularly in terms of reducing the annual carbon emissions of our portfolio and the energy efficiency of new buildings – was incorporated into the SPI, a non-financial indicator that was introduced in 2021 (see Sustainability in the Corporate Strategy).
It is extremely likely that only projects that meet the KfW40 standard will be subsidized in Germany going forward. Based on guidance from the government, this standard will be the new statutory construction standard from 2025 onwards. We are already using this standard as a benchmark in our projects. We also look at the option of applying for sustainability certification for large-scale development projects from the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB), its Austrian counterpart the Austrian Sustainable Building Council (ÖGNI), or for certification in accordance with the klimaaktiv building standard or the Green Pass. These certification programs make it possible to verify and compare the sustainability performance of different properties so that we can meet the expectations of a wide variety of interest groups, such as investors, owners, tenants and the general public.
BUWOG focuses on the development of high-quality residential neighborhoods for the company’s own portfolio (to hold) and for direct sale (to sell) in Germany and Austria. These activities are the responsibility of the Chief Development Officer (CDO), and the individual development projects are approved by the Management Board. Until recently, Vonovia Technische Service GmbH (VTS) worked together with the regions in Germany on new construction projects, with a particular focus on densification and the addition of extra stories as part of our neighborhood development projects. The decision was made to integrate the new construction division of VTS into BUWOG Germany during the reporting year. The central Procurement department is responsible for supplier management and the processes for procuring construction materials and services. Architects, technical building service engineers and structural engineers are responsible for agreeing on the best use of sustainable construction methods, insulation and technology in internal modernization and development and construction projects. All plans for development and new construction projects are examined carefully by the Vonovia Management Board and approved.
Objectives and Measures
To achieve our aim of creating new and affordable housing, we set ourselves a target of around 2,300 completions for the portfolio and direct sales (to hold and to sell) Group-wide in 2021. By completing around 2,200 apartments across the Group, we almost reached this target despite the coronavirus pandemic. Across the Group we were able to transfer 1,373 of these new residential units to our own portfolio, of which 1,073 are located in Germany. In addition, 8,000 further apartments are in the planning stage – including for the company’s own portfolio. The overall potential (to hold and to sell) is significantly higher and comprises – including the medium-term development potential of 36,000 units – a development pipeline of approximately 49,000 residential units (see Portfolio in the Development Business).
The average primary energy demand of newly constructed buildings, in relation to rental area, make up the most important performance indicator. Our aim is to reduce this significantly in the medium term. The increase in average primary energy demand in 2021 (2020: 35.7 kWh/m2, 2021: 38.6 kWh/m2 per year) is attributable to projects that had already been planned and approved under other framework conditions prior to the setting of our goals. For the same reason, we expect this figure to increase slightly in 2022 to 49.0 kWh/m2 per year, before going down significantly in subsequent years (2025 forecast: 31.0 kWh/m2 per year). This will be achieved by insulating buildings to a high standard, focusing on district heat with a low primary energy factor and the increased use of air source heat pumps combined with photovoltaic systems. These efforts have allowed some projects to meet the KfW Effizienzhaus EE standard, which requires a building to use renewable energy for more than 55% of its heating and cooling needs.
During the reporting year, we analyzed the climate footprint of a building throughout its entire life cycle (i.e., from the manufacturing process used for the construction materials through to the running of the building and its ultimate demolition) in order to find ways to make the construction process more environmentally friendly and less resource-intensive. We compared six different construction methods in terms of their carbon emissions, primary energy requirements and resource intensity. We will use the results of this analysis to calculate the emissions and requirements of all of our development and construction projects so that they can be incorporated into the planning phase. This data can also be used as the basis for subsidies and certification in future. The next step of this process involves determining the costs involved in each of these construction methods. We will also be taking a closer look at the methodology that we use to assess the disposal and reuse of materials.
We believe that this approach will allow us to compare a range of different construction methods in terms of their sustainability, expense and potential for a return. This will make it possible for us to use sustainable construction methods involving wood frame, solid wood or hybrid-timber structures, in addition to using pre-fabricated parts. We will continue our strategy of integrating different energy sectors together and generating our own energy. These approaches will provide new ways to significantly reduce our carbon emissions. A pilot project looking at this area is due to start in 2022, and will involve a total of 167 residential units in the Münsterberger Weg neighborhood in Berlin. The project will be the largest neighborhood made purely of timber structures from a single provider. It will also integrate a number of different energy systems together in order to ensure that more than 55% of the neighborhood’s energy comes from renewables. The project also marks the first time that Vonovia Technical Service (VTS) will be responsible for supplying energy to a neighborhood in this manner. The 94 units completed between 2020 and 2022 that make up the Kompass- und Lotsenhäuser project in the 52°Nord neighborhood in Berlin-Grünau are made from hybrid-timber material and meet Niedrigstenergiehaus energy standards. A large proportion of the facade elements and floors are made from pre-fabricated European timber and meet the current KfW 40 energy efficiency standards.
We play our part in the circular economy by using construction materials that are separated out at the end of their life cycle so that they can be reused in future construction projects. BUWOG has put the circular economy at the heart of a pilot project called Monte Laa in the 10th district of Vienna. The tender process involved specific questions about the planned amount of recycled and recyclable materials, which factored into how the bids were assessed. We will discuss and champion these and other approaches at our “Perspectives on the Future of Construction” conference, which is planned for 2022 (see project box “Construction Conference 2022 – a Look at the Future of Construction”).
We have also spearheaded activities in this area outside of Germany, with one example being our involvement in the “klimaaktiv pakt” in Austria. The “klimaaktiv pakt” climate protection initiative was launched by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology. BUWOG has been involved in the initiative for many years. A new agreement was signed in 2021 with targets set out for 2030. BUWOG is the only company in the Austrian real estate sector to have signed up to the agreement. It is now committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 55% by 2030, compared to the base year of 2005. The initiative is largely focused on modernizing our existing portfolio, but does also set some criteria for new construction projects. It primarily addresses insulation refurbishments, improvements in the efficiency of heating systems and switching to more eco-friendly energy sources. All of BUWOG’s construction projects meet the Niedrigstenergiehaus standard. Additional measures like adding green spaces and providing environmentally friendly mobility solutions (charging stations, rental bikes, parking spaces for bicycles) will also improve the sustainability of our neighborhoods (see Reducing CO2 in the Real Estate Portfolio/Energy-efficient Modernization). The 25th floor of the Marina Tower project in Vienna’s second district was completed in January 2021. The project will provide around 500 new residential units spread over 40 floors by spring 2022. The project was awarded the klimaaktiv GOLD certificate in 2020 due to the high quality of its construction materials and products, the fact that a comprehensive product and chemical management system is being used throughout the construction project, and the planned use of geothermal energy for heating, cooling and electricity due to the building’s proximity to the Danube. In Sweden, we aim for new buildings to meet the requirements of the Miljöbyggnad Silver Standard set by the Sweden Green Building Council. With this in mind we provide our employees with annual training courses on energy and environmental topics.
Making sure that construction site management are aware of their responsibilities has a key role to play in ensuring that construction and refurbishment are done in a sustainable way. The German Occupational Safety and Health Act (ArbSchG) requires us to meet a high standard when it comes to protecting the health of our employees and promoting their well-being (see Promoting Health and Safety), as do employer’s liability insurance associations and the German Employee Secondment Act. Construction site compliance with these requirements is ensured by a safety and health coordinator to ensure that these requirements are implemented and complied with as completely as possible. Our general contractors and subcontractors are also subject to strict safety standards. These include measures like risk assessments and discussions, on-site safety inspections, rules about fencing, warning signs, protective clothing and safety equipment, in addition to an obligation to provide regular training for all employees (see Promoting Health and Safety).
The German Waste Management Act (AWG) sets strict requirements for waste management. Mistakes like failing to sort waste properly carry the risk of significant financial penalties. While we are committed to sustainability in its own right, this provides an additional financial incentive to make sure that we have a responsible approach to waste management. That is why we include the cost of disposal in our tenders as standard in Germany and Austria.
Designing the residential environment and preserving biodiversity are top priorities for us (see project box “Living on the Water: 52° Nord Sponge City”). Numerous buildings feature green spaces that serve as natural habitats for flora and fauna at ground level, on roofs or on facades. In addition to the optical effects, these green spaces also offer a practical added value, for example, by slowing the flow of rainwater into the partially overburdened municipal sewage system and by making a considerable contribution to the microclimate, especially by preventing heat from building up in densely populated urban areas. Attention is also paid to conserving resources and protecting the environment during the construction phase, too (see Biodiversity).
We also implement a number of measures to protect species that are under threat. We make sure to follow all of the relevant statutory requirements in this area and ensure that surveys are done at an early stage of the planning process for every refurbishment or construction project to determine whether the project poses a threat or an issue to any protected plant or animal species in the area. We follow a strict statutory framework – which includes the German Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) in Germany and the Federal Environmental Impact Assessment Act (UVP-G-200) in Austria – in addition to municipal building regulations and our internal planning guidelines (such as those related to protecting woodland areas and incorporating protected species into the planning process) in order to protect any species in the immediate vicinity of the construction site that may be under threat. We commission all surveys required under biodiversity legislation whenever we buy new areas or plots of land for construction purposes. Whenever a survey uncovers a protected species, we implement a wide range of measures to ensure that this species is protected from the impact of any construction or refurbishment projects. We do this in close partnership with specialists and the relevant authorities. Whenever necessary, we purchase land that can be used as an alternative habitat for endangered animal populations or for planting. Biodiversity surveys were used as part of the planning phase for the new development project on the grounds of the former freight yard at Brunsbütteler Damm in Berlin-Spandau. This project was scheduled to provide 320 units for students, families and older people by 2024. Before work began, we relocated a colony of sand lizards – which are strictly protected – to an appropriate habitat in partnership with the authorities in Spandau. In 2021, BUWOG worked closely together with the Nature Conservation Office in Leipzig to commission a survey of potentially protected species in advance of the construction of the Lößniger Straße neighborhood in the city’s Bayerischer Bahnhof district. BUWOG secured a 5.5 hectare area near the Hainer Lake as an alternative biotope for the population of green toads that were found by the survey. Their new habitat is due to be ready in spring 2022.