By Matthew Jessup

3 September 2010 – Greening the built environment and sustainability are intrinsically linked and very similar. They are, however, not the same thing even though the lines between the two are at times blurred.  It is important not to confuse the two ideals.  If you were to prioritise one too heavily you might miss out on great opportunities presented by the other. Indeed, it is definitely possible to make a project so green it becomes unsustainable and there are plenty of “sustainable projects” that are not very green.

Similar to when you join a frequent flyer scheme and you get to earn both points and status, frequent flyer points are like greening and status credits like sustainability. In the frequent flyer scheme you can earn plenty of points and never achieve any kind of status. Alternatively once you achieve the highest status level you still keep on earning points. Sustainability and greening aren’t the same. Being sustainable isn’t the end, there are always opportunities to be even greener.

In Australian property, green has been a key focus for many newer buildings and a number of major refurbishments. Our green architecture and green engineering, hand in hand with tenants, developers and builders, is world beating. For a large part this has been a focus on “Greening towards being sustainable”.  What is clear is that there is a need to start focusing on greening beyond being sustainable.

So what does green beyond sustainable look like?  Some of the Clinton Climate Initiative “Climate Positive” scheme, a major commitment by Barangaroo, enters this space.  Similarly the Living Building Challenge out of the North West of the USA has major green elements in the beyond sustainable space.

The most interesting thing about all this is that the opportunity for greening beyond sustainability is largely undefined with no set solutions.  This scenario is much like 10 or so years ago when sustainability was also largely undefined in the property space and this created expanding opportunities.  With the level of understanding for sustainability now reasonably well established the opportunities within this space are largely converging. An unattributed quote showed up on twitter recently…. “Green Star is only actually voluntary for a very small number of people”.

Why would anyone ever step into the green beyond sustainable space?  A main driver must be the expanding opportunities. Projects like Erina Fair and 30 the Bond saw the expanding opportunities provided by sustainability 10 years ago and achieved outstanding results beyond just being green.

You could even argue that the success of the Australian property industry in delivering green buildings has been because the focus has been on expanding opportunities in the absence, until recently, of the distraction presented by government regulation.

Capturing the expanding opportunities for social, environmental and economic sustainability beyond just being sustainable is the next big opportunity.

Interestingly we are rapidly seeing a lot of similarities between the environmental and economic spaces:

  • both continue to come under tighter government regulation
  • the point where sustainability is achieved is well understood
  • there are dedicated specialists who deal specifically with both of the above

Imagine however if the same effort was applied to beyond sustainable green as it is to economic factors, the environmental equivalent of an economist. The next generation environmental-ist will look very different to the last one and will focus purely on beyond sustainability green.

The real danger is that to be truly sustainable the social agenda needs to be properly addressed otherwise it will be left behind.  It is also the most difficult and really the one that needs the most government intervention. In many ways, the property sector has helped lead this push through collaborating to create the GBCA’s new communities tool.

The challenging part is what comes next. The social agenda is beyond the sole control of the property sector and needs to be owned by communities, councils, other NGO groups and supported by government.  It’s the only area of sustainability that relies on the support of the government. We need a next generation of social-ist.

When the economists, socialists and environmentalists all come together at the point of sustainability it will be exciting.  It’s nearly happened a couple of times in the property space… maybe it happens every day in others.
Matthew Jessup has been responsible for the environmental and sustainable design on a number of benchmark projects over the last 10 years including 1 Shelley St, the Melbourne Convention Centre, Southern Cross Station,  30 The Bond and 111 Eagle St. Having led WSP Lincolne Scotts Built Ecology for the last 5 years Matthew is currently providing independent private consulting services.