Green Star under review

27 May 2014 – Green Building Council of Australia co-founders Maria Atkinson and Ché Wall have lobbed into the debate on green buildings with some high-profile criticism this week of proposals to review a key Green Star rating tool.

Ms Atkinson and Mr Wall said the GBCA risked “watering down its role by extending the Green Star rating­ system to buildings that fall below the very top tier of sustainable practices and techniques”.

An article in The Australian Financial Review said the two raised the question of whether ratings systems could stay relevant and authoritative as they gained popularity, “or whether they should focus only on a specific niche.”

Spurring the comments was the review of the Green Star Design & As Built announced recently and closing for industry feedback on 31 July.

A media statement from the GBCA headlined: “You spoke, we listened” said industry input was sought on a proposal to review the rating tool.

Chief executive Romilly Madew said this “next generation” Green Star rating tool would be able to be applied to most building uses in Australia with the exception of single-unit dwellings. Mixed-use buildings would also be covered.

“This is the first time we have released an entire suite of draft credits for public comment. We have also released the set of submission templates that will accompany the rating tool to encourage industry feedback on the benchmarks, credit criteria and documentation requirements,” Ms Madew said.

Driving the changes were calls from the industry to reduce the cost of compliance and certification.

This is evidenced by a range of industry commentators who over the past several years have increasingly voiced concerns to The Fifth Estate that though they were happy to build and create fit-outs to Green Star “standards”, they were not prepared to pay for the cost of certification, preferring instead to invest the savings into more green features.

Ms Madew said the aim of the review was to address those concerns – and it would reduce the cost and compliance of certification and encourage innovation.

Among the changes were options to choose either a “deemed to satisfy” approach or a “modelled performance” approach.

“This will enable project teams to customise their Green Star submissions based on budgets and objectives and still demonstrate achievement of sustainable outcomes.”

The review also proposes changes to credits.

See the full list.

One change, for instance, applies to “sustainability impacts from transport” and “rewards projects for implementing design and operational measures to reduce the impacts from transport to and from the building, compared to a benchmark building”.

The credit comes with a transport calculator developed by Access by Public Transport.

Two paths are provided to project teams to demonstrate compliance:

  • Deemed to Satisfy: this approach rewards reduced car parking requirements, improved cyclist facilities, provision of car sharing, walkability, and access by public transport. Full points are only available through the modelled performance approach.
  • Modelled Performance: this approach compares transport impacts from traffic and increased use of active modes of transport.

However, change to another credit struck up some heat on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon – the credit relating to prime agricultural land, with the exclusion of projects built on “Prime Agricultural Land” requirement to be removed.  A GBCA reply tweet said some technical information would be sought to further explain the change and The Fifth Estate has also separately sought further information.

Mr Wall and Ms Atkinson said the changes to the rating tool would weaken the Green Star brand by making the rating available to majority of projects instead of the very best.

“It’s signalling that the GBC[A] are making a move to have what used to be the typical practices of the majority included in Green Star,” Ms Atkinson said in the article.

“There’s a question of how far you stretch your brand before it breaks,” Mr Wall said.

GBCA chief operating officer Robin Mellon was quoted in the newspaper report, saying Green Star needed to remain relevant and that barriers to certification be minimised.

“The market has changed dramatically since Ché and Maria were with the Green Building Council of Australia,” he said.

“Any industry changes over 12 years, and the property and construction industry is no different. We must continue to adapt Green Star so that it remains robust and relevant.”

Simon Wild says it’s time for another transformation

Chief executive officer of engineering company Cundall Simon Wild who is a strong industry advocate and commentator said there were several angles to this debate.

In an article he wrote on Tuesday for Spinifex, he said it was important to support the GBCA.

“We shouldn’t forget that Green Star has transformed the industry,” he said. But there were many additional tools now available to complement Green Star, such as materials ratings and life cycle assessments.

There was also a hunger from the industry that recognised the need for the next major transformation if it were to overcome the knowledge that green building, “even as 6 Green Stars”, would not be sustainable, “a growing recognition that we aren’t doing enough”.

“So, if green is just slightly less unsustainable rather than sustainable then what will drive us to being truly sustainable?”

Mr Wild said the industry was now set for the next wave of disruption.

What was not yet known was whether it would be the GBCA or some other organisation that would do this.

“I don’t know which one will happen but I personally believe we should be getting 100 per cent behind the GBCA to give them the support and permission to go out and create the next transformation in the market,” he said.

2 replies on “Green Star review stirs passion and calls for transformation”

  1. Green Star has, over the last decade, managed to become pervasive in the Australian commercial building market as demonstrated by the 2012 PCA guideline documents.

    I believe that Green Star is now becoming more mainstream, and the goals and objectives of improving the building standards in Australia are being achieved.

    The current strategy from the GBCA is a broadening of their market appeal and the ability to apply these improved standards to a greater selection of building types. This is I think a valiant approach and recognition of the ubiquitously poor minimum standards currently applicable.

    One of the key question for me is how we as an industry will continue to drive the standards forward in a way that demonstrates increased value. Is this something for the GBCA to take on? Perhaps. I like to think that the industry as a whole has been educated by the green building movement, and that features of value will continue to be developed as we move forward.

  2. Green Star sadly promotes itself as a “Star Chamber” institution.

    Major commercial interests now control the GBCA board instead of environmental ‘true believers’ and practioners sidelined by the sheer costs of complying with GBCA changing requirements.

    6 years after attaining my AP status, the process has become so diluted through many financially orientated dictums that it has no real value or meaning anymore. 2 stars to attend a womens business breakfast and 12 stars to attend a day long venture.

    I’m sure there will be further “there’s more” inducements. I’m now beyond steak knives, commercialisation and dilution of ‘Green’.

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