Sustainable Building Commission: Inadequate Laws

In a recent position paper (in German only), the Sustainable Building Commission of the Federal Environment Agency (Kommission Nachhaltiges Bauen am Umweltbundesamt (KNBau)) has criticized the lack of environmental criteria for sustainable building. As a result, the processing of construction materials at a building site or weathering during use releases too many hazardous materials into the environment. Building materials can include flame retardants, biocides, and plasticizers. When such materials are exposed to the elements, rain releases the hazardous elements and flushes them into the environment.

The fault for this anomaly, however, does not lie with the players immediately involved, the developers, architects, and consultants. The problem is a complete lack of mandatory regulations and legally binding minimum standards that the players can follow. For example, the Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) – the foundational data for ecological evaluation of a building – usually say nothing about the leaching of hazardous materials. According to members of the commission, even information that would encourage a voluntary relinquishment of hazardous substances in building materials is spread far too thin.

The informational deficit is clearly seen in the example of the herbicide mecoprop. Its use in asphalt roof sheeting to protect against root penetration is not labeled, and its leachability is not declared. Many developers do not know that the substance harms garden plants and façade plantings or that it pollutes surface water. According to KNBau, no regulations cover the use of mecoprop. The commission calls for closing the existing gaps between building codes and environment law as quickly as possible. Until that happens, however, authorities recommend making more information on the possible hazards of leaching and using the information as a criterion issuance of the Blue Angel, indicating certification as environmentally friendly.

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