This Sunday is World Environment Day, which the United Nations calls its “principal vehicle” for encouraging awareness and action for the environment. It’s clear that it’s important for the world to work together in many ways to ensure a sustainable future. Aviation, buildings and food are three key areas in which our future planet will be defined as population grows. For this reason, I could think of no better way to celebrate World Environment Day than with a guest blog by Romilly Madew, CEO of the Green Building Council in Australia. Her passion for building sustainable buildings, cities and communities is truly inspiring. She shares her thoughts below.
A decade can seem like a long time or not long enough. When you look at green buildings a decade ago, sustainability was considered a disruptive force in the global property industry.
However, the latest Smart Market World Green Building Trends report finds that green building activity continues to double every year, and that 60 per cent of projects will be green by 2018, so sustainability is now no longer considered disruptive.
What is now driving our industry?
Zero in on net zero
With almost 200 nations signing up to the Paris climate agreement in December, the pledge to ensure global warming remains below the critical two degrees Celsius mark must be followed with real-world action.
Our buildings present some of the cheapest and fastest opportunities to reduce our emissions – and we can do this with proven and readily-available technologies.
The property and construction industry understands how to deliver low-carbon buildings – in Australia alone 30 per cent of our CBD office space is now Green Star certified. Our next challenge is to move beyond ‘low carbon’ to ‘no carbon’.
The Green Building Council of Australia will introduce a new ‘net zero’ label later in 2016, which will recognise buildings, fitouts and communities that are energy, carbon or water neutral. The label will also reward those projects that go beyond net zero and make positive contributions to, for example, generating more renewable energy than consumed.
Alongside this label, we are working on an advanced curriculum to educate professionals on how to deliver net zero buildings and drive the uptake of net zero construction worldwide.
Place healthy buildings in the headlights
It’s no longer just about energy, but as one of our members says “finding the balance between people and planet”. A number of Australian companies are using the WELL Building Standard, which takes the focus on healthy building to a new level.
The WELL Building Standard, established in the United States by the International WELL Building Institute, uses evidence-based medical and scientific research to harness the built environment as a vehicle to enhance human health. While Green Star (LEED equivalent in Australia) is centered on the health of the building, WELL is focused on the people within the building.
The system looks at the impact of everything from the food served in the café to how the lighting affects the circadian rhythms of staff.
More than two million square metres of space has gained WELL certification in 12 countries.
In a nation where two thirds of us are overweight or obese, where depression and mental illness are on the rise, and where stress is a big killer, investing in healthy interventions will enable companies to cut costs, boost productivity, enhance their brands and demonstrate their long-term commitment to their greatest asset – their people.
Ramp up the resilience factor
While our conversation around “resilience” has previously been centred on climate change impact, rising sea levels, heat waves and so forth, this is changing.
The industry is beginning to understand that resilience has many layers. Adapting to climate change without addressing other resilience factors – such as ensuring access to food and fresh water, limiting urban sprawl, creating diverse employment and economic opportunity and fostering social equity – is a recipe for disaster.
In Australia, the annual cost of congestion is expected to climb to $53 billion by 2031 unless we take action now. As our four largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth double in size within the next 15 years, congestion and potential productivity loss, not to mention our quality of life and environmental sustainability, will be severely tested.
Melbourne and Sydney already have chief resilience officers – positions enabled through the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network.
And we have more than 40 precinct-scale projects working with the Green Star – Communities (equivalent to LEED ND) rating tool. These projects – some which will be home to 50,000 people – are creating local jobs, ensuring people of all incomes can live in the same community, promoting social inclusion, and encouraging healthy and active living. These are all factors that make a resilient community.
Move beyond the traditional renewables
Australia’s property and construction industry is taking to battery storage with gusto. Morgan & Stanley predict more than one million households in Australia will be using battery storage by 2020.
A pioneering community-level battery storage program in Perth, on Australia’s West Coast, could change the way that residential communities source energy. The pilot project at Australia’s first 6 Star Green Star – Communities project will include 1.1MWh of lithium ion battery storage that will service more than 100 homes with rooftop solar panels. The project, being funded by the state and federal governments, will help households store excess powers from their solar panels – a mandatory feature within the Alkimos community – and withdraw them at night.
Green up our infrastructure
More than 50 organisations across the built environment sector have come together to create the Living Cities Alliance – a new platform established by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects to advance green infrastructure.
But if you think this is just about trees, think again. It’s about addressing climate change, boosting biodiversity, enhancing the public domain, improving water management practices and building healthier, more resilient cities.
So this year, cutting-edge companies will be looking at bringing these trends together to create buildings, communities and cities that are healthy, resilient, equitable and, of course, sustainable.