KfW Bankengruppe’s Green Building, Green Loans, and Walking the Walk

KfW is a German development bank that was created in 1948 as part of the Marshall Plan to help fund post-war redevelopment of Germany. It’s a 100% government owned entity which makes it slightly unusual in the world of banking and subject to certain rules and restrictions. However, it also gives KfW the luxury of offering preferential interest rates for certain types of loans – namely renewable energy projects, water and other resource conservation projects, microlending around the world, and much more. The bank is, in fact, the world’s largest lender for renewable energy projects in developing countries. It’s an interesting testament to the priorities of the German government that such a bank can exist and thrive. A lot more information is available on its well designed corporate sustainability report.

It’s fitting then, that KfW’s soon to be completed Frankfurt headquarters be a showcase of ecological innovation – at least as good as Deutsche Bank’s towers down the street. We had a chance to visit the building as part of last week’s German green building trip, organized by the Ecologic Institute.

KfW’s new building is being built adjacent to its existing headquarters and immediately next to the Frankfurt botanical gardens – a fitting location for the organization that allows employees to walk out and enjoy the green space on nice days. It’s not LEED certified simply because, in the bank’s opinion, going through the certification expenses simply costs too much (an estimated €100,000) but its spokesperson reckoned the building was as shoe-in for platinum. We’ll have to take their word on that, but fiscal responsibility is certainly a component of sustainability, so take it for what it’s worth.

Like Deutsche Bank’s building, Kfw’s features a smart elevator system, passive solar energy collection, operable windows and a detailed data collection feature that allows granular analysis of resource usage. It even allows for easy-to-read displays to be installed in the elevators showing employees whether various energy goals are being met or not.

Particularly interesting is a sheath of glass that surrounds the building in such a way as to catch airflow. The air, naturally pressurized by the wind, can be directed to various parts of the building depending on ventilation needs. Operable office windows inside the sheath can be opened or closed to take advantage of the breeze as desired. All in all the building is meant to use about 1/3 or less of the energy that a tower of comparable floorspace would use, given traditional means of construction.

As with other high profile corporate green building projects, one’s hope is that employees and visitors to the building take away some real inspiration about what’s possible as well as a sense of satisfaction that their company is making a real effort toward doing the right thing. Whether it translates into “greener” business practices at large is always hard to tell, but given KfW’s established commitment to sustainability this seems like a great case where it may very well do so.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

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