Sustainability in Shopping Malls – Is It Just an Empty Phrase?

In the planning and implementation of sustainable building, the objective of a balanced project to profit environment, people, and economy is in the foreground.


Whether shopping malls are really sustainable buildings is something we should view somewhat skeptically, in my opinion, if the expected space used, energy consumed, and volume of traffic are considered. The approach is to counter this by using renewable building materials and compensating for energy consumption through regenerative systems for power generation, like using groundwater, thermally active foundations, and thermal solar or photovoltaic systems with a resultant reduction of CO2 emissions.

In effect, sustainability in this sense means that responsibility begins in the planning phase and continues through commissioning and, of course, in operation, and is not just about environmental aspects. Relevant safety requirements and their implementation are essential criteria for sustainably operating a property often visited by people unfamiliar with it. I think massive criticism is justified in this regard. Experience shows that the issue of safety is often neglected!

It is unfortunately becoming increasingly common to discover during technical TDD tests, or when assisting in revitalization or expansion projects for shopping centers, that legally mandated tests and re-tests of safety and fire-protection facilities have been carried out improperly or not at all, or that issues found during such tests have not been addressed. What are the reasons? Are operators unaware of their responsibility? Perhaps it’s due to economic reasons or a lack of budgeting? Or maybe it’s the hope that nothing will happen, since nothing has happened for many years now?

A 1987 ruling by Münster’s Higher Administrative Court states that the fact that no fire had occurred in a building for decades was not evidence that there was no danger, but was instead a stroke of luck for those affected – one that could be expected to change for the worse at any time.[1] In addition, life experience shows that people should expect a fire to start at practically any time.[2]

What does this mean for the sustainable operation of shopping malls? German states’ building codes require first (using an example from the Bavarian Building Code) that buildings or structures are to be arranged, built, altered, and maintained in such a way that public safety and order, particularly life and health, and the natural basis of life are not endangered. They must permanently meet general requirements through proper maintenance and be usable without serious deficits.[3] Here we see the operator’s responsibility defined as regards “alterations” and “maintenance.”

The states’ inspection regulations also require that safety-related systems,[4] such as ventilation systems, CO warning systems, smoke and smoke extraction systems, fire extinguishing systems, fire detection and alarm systems, and emergency power supplies must be tested by an authorized inspection authority initially when the building enters operation and then again every three years. Any highlighted defects must of course be repaired immediately.

The legal situation is clear and the Basic Law, the Civil Code, and the Criminal Code could also all be cited.

The moral, my dear owners and operators? Take your responsibility seriously, put your obligation into action immediately, and consider the repair, maintenance, and testing of safety-related systems at your next budget meeting. Finally, make the examination reports from those tests part of your required reading.

After all, “sustainability” is also about “responsibility,” and that is not limited to the building’s carbon footprint.

[1] Supreme Administrative Court, Münster (10A 363/86 from 11/12/1987)
[2] Administrative Court Gelsenkirchen (5K 1012/85 from 14/11/1985)
[3] Bavarian Building Code, Art. 3
[4] Regulation on testing of safety systems and equipment (safety systems-test regulation – SPrüpfV), building regulations in Bavaria


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