Making KTH buildings environmentally-friendly

Published Mar 15, 2017

To construct environmentally-certified buildings with the least possible impact on the environment depends on the objectives of the property owners. But there is much to gain for all parties from buildings that have a proper environmental investment, as shown by a recent study on environmental management in the construction and real estate sector.

KTH is one of those that seek to minimise the environmental impact of new construction and renovations on campus, but this aim is limited by the fact that the property owner, Akademiska Hus, has lower aspirations. And yet the real estate industry has much to gain from a stronger environmental effort, according to research from KTH.

Nils Brown, a PhD student at the Division of Environmental Strategies Research, has devoted part of his thesis to looking at what added value property owners and tenants derive from properties that are certified as meeting environmental standards.

“Building environmentally-certified housing means that there are lower energy costs when running the properties, but there are also other major benefits, including some which can help to attract tenants and buyers,” says Brown.

To achieve an environmental certification a building has to be constructed in a way that requires as little energy consumption as possible. As energy becomes greener, the choice of building materials is becoming increasingly important.

“Even more important than new construction is to renovate and reduce the energy demand of the buildings that are already there, since the existing buildings will form the largest part of the property portfolio for a long time to come,” says Brown.

Part of KTH’s strategy

At the KTH campus there are several renovations and alterations going on, including the construction of two new buildings that will be put into use this summer. The aim is always to build and renovate in as environmentally-friendly a way as possible, and to aim for the highest level of the most common environmental standard in Sweden, Green Building Gold.

“Sustainability is an important part of KTH's strategy, while we want to provide the best environment possible for those who use our facilities,” says Maria Granath, property manager at KTH's Department for Building and Environment.

KTH does not own the buildings on campus, but rents them from the property owner Akademiska Hus, which also has environmental ambitions, but is satisfied with obtaining a lower level of environmental certification: Green Building Silver.

According to Maria Granath, KTH really wants to convince Akademiska Hus to raise their target and aim to have the smallest possible environmental impact from its new construction and renovation projects.

“Ultimately, it is a question of money. A higher level of environmental certification could mean higher rents, and I do not think that our researchers are willing to pay more,” says Maria Granath.

Therefore, Granath is asking for more research on the cost impact of building and renovating in an environmentally-friendly way.

“It would be great to have more evidence to be able to substantiate the arguments for raising environmental targets, to show that when a building is constructed as climate-smart as possible we can recover that cost in various ways, including financially,” she says.

Lack of clarity around costs

According to Nils Brown, there is currently no consistent evidence if higher environmental targets in new construction and renovations also lead to increase costs. It is even unclear whether higher environmental ambitions are profitable in the long term. Brown is also calling for studies to focus on the cost relationship:

“International studies do show that there is an additional cost. At the same time, respondents in our study say that the additional cost was much lower than expected.”

However, property owners that Brown has been in contact with during his research did not given any indication that they see higher environmental standards as a reason for charging a higher rent.

“A few years ago a house with an environmental certification was so unusual that a property owner could send out a press release and gain from being an early adopter. Today it is much more common and eventually property owners will need to offer discounts for non-certified buildings,” says Nils Brown.

Text: Kristin Djerf

Facts about environmentally-friendly construction

  • The most common environmental standard for buildings in Sweden is ‘Sweden Green Building Council’s Environmental eco-building certification, which can be used for both new and existing buildings.
  • There are three levels of certification: gold, silver and bronze.
  • The assessment criteria consist of energy, types of energy, indoor environment and materials.
  • To reach the gold level requires a very low energy use and complete documentation that no dangerous materials have been built anywhere in the house.
  • Nearly 900 buildings have been certified by the Green Building Council, of which nearly 15 per cent achieved gold standard.
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