by Romilly Madew  –

3 July 2009 – In recent weeks, we’ve seen some criticism of the Australian Government’s $14.7 billion school infrastructure spending.

On 11 June, The Australian claimed Infrastructure Australia board member, Peter Newman, had suggested that school infrastructure projects were being pushed out too quickly, with new buildings and infrastructure based on standardised templates at the cost of sustainability and innovation.

Mr Newman later told The Fifth Estate that the newspaper misrepresented him. Professor Newman said that he blamed the states for evading their climate change responsibilities and for having no ready sustainable framework prepared for their schools development program.

Although the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has been concerned that the pressure on the states to approve “shovel ready” projects would lead them to ignore their own legislation, sustainability guidelines and environmental standards, we have been excited to see the state governments’ enthusiasm for the Green Star – Education v1 rating tool as follows:

· QLD: policy position is to achieve a minimum of 4 Star Green Star – Education v1 rating, or the industry best practice in ecologically sustainable development, for all new schools

· ACT: a 5 Star Green Star – Education v1 rating will be sought for all new school developments

· TAS: will specify as part of the Building Education Revolution the inclusion of energy efficiency measures in school projects and are pursuing a Green Star – Education v1 rating for their Kingston High School

· SA: the Department of Education and Children Services have referenced Green Star – Education v1 in determining its standards

· WA: targeting 4 Star Green Star – Education v1 ratings for all new projects.

The Australian Government’s spending package is a golden opportunity to go green, and we will continue to work with the federal and state governments to ensure sustainability is “front and centre” of any spending on schools, and that transparent reporting is mandatory.

There is now solid international research which confirms that green schools and universities can enhance student learning, create a better workplace for teachers and boost a school’s competitiveness – not to mention reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

The GBCA launched the Green Star – Education v1 rating tool late last year to assess the environmental potential and integrated fitout of schools and universities, as well as evaluating major refurbishments of existing facilities. The tool is freely available for self-assessment and can be downloaded from the GBCA website.

We are now undertaking a grass roots campaign to promote the benefits of green schools to teachers, parents, students and the broader community. Check out our ‘Green your school’ YouTube video, which encourages schools to think green.

We’d like to see “green thinkers” in our industry send this link on to people they know to help them understand what green schools actually mean to the teachers, students and community. We don’t want to preach to the converted. Instead, we want to engage the next generation of Australians in the benefits of green building – for their schools, their communities and, of course, for the planet.

Romilly Madew is the Chief Executive of the Green Building Council of Australia

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