“Whole sustainable building” concept is rapidly growing

By Andre Veneman, director of Sustainability at AkzoNobel.

The AkzoNobel global headquarters in Amsterdam has been designed and built to meet very high sustainability standards – part of the rapidly growing trend towards “whole sustainable building” which considers sustainability through the entire design, construction and facilities process.

I am very proud to say that the AkzoNobel global headquarters in Amsterdam, where I work, has been designed and built to meet very high sustainability standards. It’s carbon neutral, and has been awarded the international BREEAM Excellent certificate. Even more encouraging is that buildings like this are becoming the norm as part of the rapidly growing trend towards “whole sustainable building”.

According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) Vision 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, and 95% of new building stock will use zero net energy by 2050. The proportion of buildings heated by fossil fuels will also fall below 6%. Furthermore, issues like indoor air quality will also have an increasing impact on sustainable product and service demand.

It’s clear that the way we build and develop our cities will determine the future economic, social and territorial development of the world. Europe, one of the most urbanized continents in the world, currently houses two thirds of its population in urban areas, and that share is only growing. That means cities are increasingly playing a crucial role: as engines of the economy, as places of connectivity, creativity and innovation, and as service centers. From a sustainability standpoint, we recognize cities offer great potential for energy savings and the shift towards a carbon-neutral economy.

Sustainability in construction has become much more comprehensive over the years. In the first instance, it was just about energy consumption linked to financial models. Then use of materials and water consumption were added. Now, we are dealing with sustainability in all its aspects, with high quality, flexibility and social sustainability all playing a part as well. This means that sustainability is considered during the entire process from the design and construction of a building right up to the facility stage – what we mean when we talk about “whole sustainable building”.

Thermal storage plant

To bring this concept back to my own workplace, one of the key sustainability facilities in AkzoNobel’s Amsterdam headquarters is the thermal storage plant. It enables underground storage of excess heat in the summer, so that it can be used in the winter to heat the building. Likewise, cold can be stored over the winter for cooling the building in the summer. We are able to limit use of the obligatory district heating to only supplementary heating on extremely cold days.

The AkzoNobel building also has an intelligent double façade, guaranteeing ample daylight and views from every floor of the building, while at the same time providing high energy efficiency. Heat rises and can be released between the two façade layers, helping to heat the building during winter and cool it during summer.

Attention has also been paid to smart installations. For instance, rooms with varying occupancy have been equipped with a carbon sensor which will automatically switch on the mechanical ventilation if required. And other facilities include, of course, solar cells on the roof.

Although we are very proud of our headquarters, as a company we also view our sustainability responsibilities in a broader way than just the buildings we inhabit. We know we have many opportunities to contribute to a better world. A set of goals devised by the United Nations, called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), have been adopted by countries around the world, aiming to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. At AkzoNobel, we feel proud to be part of this effort in all the ways we can. That includes our sustainability focus, right down to the products we make, many of which are used in building and construction.

Improve air quality

For example, we manufacture a complete line of paints and coatings that are sustainable for the environment and meet the needs of our customers. Our Forest Breath range of indoor decorative paints meets a growing demand for more sustainable paint products in China. Not only coloring and protecting indoor walls, the technology behind Forest Breath also helps improve indoor air quality. Because it is water-based, it is low in the volatile organic carbons (VOCs) which contribute to global warming. It is also able to capture and purify pollutants such as formaldehyde and benzene, resists mold and uses natural tea tree oil extracts to kill germs and bacteria. It’s a paint that essentially cleans the air, and it’s the kind of product that could factor into sustainable building in the future.

From office towers to home interiors, the move to sustainable building is only gaining steam. With the right mindset – sustainability from every angle – we can contribute to the concept of “whole sustainable building” and the Sustainable Development Goals, making life in our cities more liveable and sustainable for everyone.


Andre Veneman