Is sustainable becoming the new normal?

The word sustainability has been ubiquitous in recent years. No description, no look at the future or advertising message seems to go without it. It’s high time to take a closer look at the term. And there’s nowhere better to do it than in the area which we know best – the construction industry. 

A problem with a long history

Our resources are limited. Mining administrator Hanno Carl von Carlowitz was already aware of this in 1711. With their smelting furnaces consuming so much timber, the silver mines in Saxony were facing an acute scarcity of raw materials and Carlowitz was looking for solutions. He summarised his solutions in a book on forestry called “Sylvanicultura oeconomica”, demanding careful management of the environment for the sake of continuing production and future generations. His conclusion was to live from the yield without destroying the resources.

The three pillars of sustainability

The discussion about sustainability has long since arrived in our industry. When we talk about sustainable construction, we mean the conscious use of resources, minimising energy consumption and protecting the environment. Globally, the concept of sustainability is based on implementing what is known as the three-pillar model. Building projects can only be sustainable if economic, environmental and sociocultural standards are integrated into the planning and then implemented. Depending on the type, use or location of the building, this results in different planning requirements.


Sustainability is more than just saving energy. It means striking a careful balance between different requirements.

When implementing economic goals, buildings have to be planned in a way that makes economic sense throughout their life cycle. This means we have to consider every phase, from construction and operation to demolition and recycling. 

The same is true on an environmental level. Can we minimise transport distances? How can we keep energy consumption low? Can we use recycled materials? These are just some of the questions to which we have to keep finding new answers. In the sociocultural area, too, we have to find solutions that always put people at the centre. It’s about heating and cooling, about space and tranquillity. It’s about safe mobility and urban spaces for living and working in. Above all, it’s about one thing: quality of life. 

The paradigm shift in the construction industry involves a considerable effort. But it’s an effort that’s worthwhile. We are convinced of this. It takes the quality of planning to a new level. Our core competence lies in specialising of different disciplines, and this is precisely where we practise innovation.



New uses for old raw materials

The recycling of building materials is hugely important in the resource-hungry construction industry. “Cradle to cradle” is a term from the consumer economy that describes the idea of generating and using raw materials in a way that they no longer have a limited life cycle. They retain their value and always start again at the “cradle”. “Urban mining” is based on using the city as a source of raw materials. It’s about extracting material where it occurs – in the city. Concrete, bricks and masonry from demolished buildings are the obvious example. This saves resources and reduces transport distances.

Navigating the journey into the future

Sustainable building is one of the major fields of development in which KREBS+KIEFER is passionately engaged. We don’t view sustainability as an immovable factor, but as a guiding principle for innovation and further development. It’s not a fixed destination but a long-term and living process. It’s a navigation concept for the future.

In conversation

Jan Akkermann plans and researches the construction of buildings and civil engineering structures. His focus is on resource efficiency and maintenance management. His responsibilities at KREBS+KIEFER include earthquake-resistant large-scale projects, assembly venues and sustainable waterway engineering structures. 

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Akkermann

Managing partner
VBI consulting engineer
Professor at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences

  • Degree in civil engineering
  • Research assistant at the University of Karlsruhe
  • Project manager at KREBS+KIEFER since 2000
  • Managing partner since 2007
  • Professor of construction engineering in infrastructure maintenance since 2012

To the interview