By Robin Mellon, executive director, advocacy and international, Green Building Council of Australia

29 September 2010 – The Green Building Council of Australia is often asked whether new technologies and systems have the most potential to help with climate change, or if it”s the green buildings themselves.

While we tend to look at buildings as simple, single and solitary structures, in fact buildings are a collection of parts.

A building – especially a green building – is a “system”, as defined in the dictionary as “an assemblage or combination of things or parts forming a complex or unitary whole”.

The envelope, the structure, the orientation, the design and the façade – these are all but parts of the “complex or unitary whole”, as are the people who use the building, the flora and fauna and surroundings of the building, the local economies and social connections.

The word “Passivhaus” has emerged as a common term in the green media recently, as an example of how buildings alone can overcome the burdens and demands placed upon them.

But the building is simply one element within a whole range of complex parts that  provide and connect services – the people, the blinds, the lighting, the blackwater treatment plant, the water meters, the cyclist facilities and showers, the ventilation. Even a Passivhaus needs active components – active people, active technology, active strategies – to raise the blinds, process the waste, turn on and off the lights, fine-tune the buildings.

The work of the GBCA – and the detail of the Green Star rating tools – is all about rewarding and encouraging this systems approach which integrates buildings as part of a complex human and technological system.

Green Star encourages project teams to look beyond the building – just as, within the building, we encourage them to look beyond energy efficiency to the indoor environment quality, the management, the emissions and how they all interact.

Of course, the Green Star Communities project is taking the natural next step, with the development of a consistent, common language for sustainable communities and a set of benchmarks that determine best practice.

That said, we have no plans to change our organisation’s name to the “Green Systems Council of Australia”. Buildings really are one of the most complex, and yet increasingly well-integrated systems, with which we interact every day.

And these systems – the built environment and the way in which we design and built it, assess it and interact with it – are evolving so fast that last year’s boundaries are fast becoming this year’s benchmarks.

Buildings are the answer – but only as part of intelligent systems.

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