31 May 2010 – Australia may understand green buildings, but China is building greener cities.

I’ve just returned from a week in China, after taking part in the Australian Urban Systems and Austrade delegation to the Shanghai Expo, and then Beijing for the Australia China Sustainable Building and Design Forum.

The 2010 World Expo will be the biggest in history, with 192 national pavilions. Seventy million visitors are expected during its six months of operation. Bovis Lend Lease, Bluescope Steel and Aurecon (all members of the GBCA) were involved in the design, project management, construction and materials for the Australian Pavilion. The Australian Pavilion represents

Australia’s largest ever commitment to a World Expo – and it showcases some of Australia’s green innovations to an audience of millions.

Just some of the green features include 40 square metres of solar panels supplying hot water for the kitchen and wash areas; a rainwater harvest system; high-efficiency sensor fans and smart lighting.  Weathering steel supplied by BlueScope Steel has been used on the façade.  This not only gives a rich, red colour to the building’s exterior but can be more easily recycled than traditional cladding, which is composite and needs to be separated into elements before it can be recycled.  Clever design by Bovis Lend Lease and Aurecon include hidden gutter systems to ensure water run-off is kept away from the building’s façade.

The Green Building Council of Australia was created to capitalise on the knowledge gained creating the ”Green Olympics” in Sydney in 2000.  A similar transformation has occurred in China, with the Beijing Olympic Development Authority being created to drive lessons from greening the 2008 Olympics.

The Chinese are well aware that their cities are unsustainable and that they face many challenges, especially around resource use, pollution, congestion, social issues, access to green building education and much more. However, they are positive that they can transform their cities.

One of the speakers at the Austrade forum in Shanghai was Mr Zhang Jianfei, Mayor of Changsha from Hunan Province. Changsha has a 3000 year history and an annual growth rate of 14.7 per cent.  More than a thousand new cars are registered each day and 150,000 people migrate to Changsha each year.

When Mayor Jianfei started speaking, the Australians in the session stopped and listened.  Changsha is addressing its challenges by taking a ”resource saving” approach, with initiatives such as tax incentives and disincentives (the more land you have, the more you are taxed), a “just say no” campaign to reduce use of disposable items, and a focus on energy efficiency in buildings – just some of many policies making a measurable difference.  Power demand management has alone saved 20 per cent of the city’s energy use, and a $1.6 billion fund for green initiatives over three years means a lot can be done.  In fact, as Mayor Jianfei told the room, while “a lot can be done – we are trying to do more.”

Later, while visiting China’s most famous landmark, I found myself saying: “If they can install recycling bins along the length of the Great Wall of China, we can do the same in Australia.”  Such a powerful symbol of the transition to sustainability should be a motivator for Australia to “do more”.

Romilly Madew is chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia

Pictured above, left to right:Tony McCormick, Hassell; Tony Arnel, Victorian Building Commission, Green Building Council of Australia Chairman; Romilly Madew, chief executive GBCA; David Parken, Australian Institute of Architects; Melinda Dodson, GHD and AIA past president, at rear; plus Marion Lau OAM; Nicholas Dalabiras; James Dalabiras, all from International Planning for Aged Care and Health.