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Deutsche Bank: The Payoff in Building Green

| Tuesday April 20th, 2010 | 3 Comments

Among the early highlights of last week’s German green building trip, organized by the Ecologic Institute, was a visit to Deutsche Bank’s renovated Frankfurt headquarters. With hard hats on, under a stiff spring breeze, we had a chance to hear Nils Noack, Deutsche Bank’s Green Building Manager, explain intricate details about the building, as well as why Deutsche Bank chose to go to the expense to make it “green.”

The so called ‘twin towers’ of Frankfurt are an epic love-it-or-hate it 1980s mirrored glass style that would fit in nicely in Dallas or most modern American cities. Though Americans are unlikely familiar with the buildings, they hold iconic status in Europe in the same way that the Transamerica Pyramid or the Citibank building do on our side of the pond.

Deutsche bank has spent upwards of €200 Million on a complete multi-year renovation project which will earn the company a LEED platinum rating for the million-plus square foot building–a rarity for a large skyscraper and arguably one of the “greenest” corporate headquarters in the world. We’re hardly the first of the fawning press to cover the building, but there’s more to the story that a simple architectural review.

Like most buildings that went up in the 80s, energy consumption and other “green” thinking weren’t especially high on the radar during design. So when new fire code requirements came into play in 2003, Deutsche Bank realized an opportunity to make bigger changes at the same time.

A few facts on the renovation:

+ The thermal concrete mass of the old building is re-used to collect and store heat. This is just the way it was done in ancient times (see your local adobe for more information).

+ Electrical usage will be cut by over 50%. Lighting only comes on when needed and a fascinating intelligent elevator system (the subject of another post) that optimizes routing keeps usage low.

+ Heating energy cut by 2/3. Triple paned windows and excellent insulation combined with a heat exchanger that allows the sun’s energy on the hot side of the building to be transferred to areas of the building that are in the shade. Not only that, but most water will be heated by solar thermal panels.

+ Water use cut by almost 75%. A full greywater system will be in place for the toilets as well as rain catchment.

+ The new building will be 100% hydro powered. (By an agreement with a utility in Austria.)

+ LCD readouts in the elevators will show progress of each floor on meeting goals of energy use. This is especially fun because it allows for poor performing departments to be “called out,” creating informal competition between ares of the bank to use the least resources.

+ Operable windows to charm a banker’s heart. Remember the days when office buildings had operable windows? They’re back. Not only that, but these can be automated from central control if carelessly left open.

+ CO2 reduction will be cut by almost 90%. At the end of the day, an astonishing reduction on CO2 emissions is realized.

As for the payback on the bank’s investment, Noack told us it was definitely sound, but spared us the details on exactly how long the payback might be. That got me thinking that the payback for such an investment is a lot more than purely financial.

Clearly the rest of the return is about image.

There’s a lot of brand value in Deutsche Bank’s twin towers. Selling them and moving – even though Noack mentioned it would have actually been much cheaper to do so – would have resulted in considerable loss to the company’s image and mystique. The company board also saw considerable value in the cachet of being the bank that people might point to and say, “That’s the bank with the green building.” Evidently the value more than justifies €200 Million.

But so what? At the end of the day, one of Germany’s major corporate icons is offering the entire green building movement a huge publicity boost on the back of their own. It represents a great investment in engineering firms, design firms, and construction firms who have now been exposed to greener practices. It’s a real savings of resources and energy, and legitimizes green building in the eyes of the traditionally conservative banking and corporate sectors. Finally, knowing the ego of banks, they’ve issued a challenge for others to follow suit. Will we see Chase and Citibank greening their towers next? Time will tell.

There’s no guarantee that an iconic green building filters down into the greater philosophy of the organization like magic, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. When bankers ride the intelligent elevators every day, looking at the successes and failings of their energy saving peers on the LCD readout, there’s hope that sustainable thinking starts to enter their consciousness on a more regular basis.


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