By Monique Alfris

13 October 2010 – So often at the early stage of projects, we (as property ESD consultants) get caught up in it all.

We want to solve sustainability in one fell (building) swoop. We want the trifecta of replicability across industry, a building which is restorative to its environment and a project which demonstrates technologies to come. All star NABERS, beyond 6 star Green Star and innovation, if you will.

Whilst I am prone to (perhaps more than) my fair share of giddiness, I have started to wonder whether this trinity is truly possible on any project. (1) And whether it means that demonstrative initiatives get value managed out too often – due to a lack of demonstrated value in the market.

Would we be better off with a more honest approach? Beginning, as Covey would say, with the true end in mind?  Could we distil high calibre projects into their potential contributions and allow each project to provide its best possible contribution?

Perhaps this approach would allow projects with more of a demonstration spirit to gain credibility, without getting caught up in the need to solely deliver a high level of environmental performance. Instead, the industry would look to these projects for results – with a scientific eye, grateful for any result, good or bad.

Conversations and reflections on experience led me, rightly or wrongly, to the following three contributions.

The “Highest Environmental ROI” Building

Projects which are seeking the best environmental return on investment usually know what they seek, without being told.

These projects are those which ask for the “dollars per point” break downs. They seek the best possible environmental outcome for the lowest possible price.

These projects are characterised by no-nonsense sustainability initiatives, government incentives, and an overt avoidance of green “bling”. They are not interested in unproven measures of green buildings – such as productivity benefits, or the elusive higher rentals. (2)

These are the 5 star buildings, often without building scale water treatment (above the elegance of a simple rainwater system) or on-site power generation. Instead they focus on the simple – investing in proven, well understood technology – guaranteed to achieve a high level of environmental performance.

The contribution of these projects is the ease in which their solutions to sustainability can be replicated.

The Restorative Building

Restorative buildings are projects that we all strive to be a part of. These buildings are part of the “healthier, wealthier” future touted by Elena Bondareva and the KnowChange crew.

They are sustainable, bar all costs. They do not seek a hard return on their investment. They only seek to “live within the means of their lot”. (3)

Characterised by leaders such as Dockside Green in Canada and Lifestyle Working in Sydney’s backyard, they are projects driven by a desire to move beyond a “do no harm” approach, to truly “restore” the environment in which they are placed, and it is this uncompromising ethos that they contribute to the industry.

The “Demonstration” Building

The final contributor, often described as the “Bleeding Edge”, is the Demonstration building. In addition to the environmental aspirations of the previous two classes of buildings, these projects also have an entrepreneurial spark – a desire to trial new technologies, new methods of financing and new marketing tools to capitalise on being green.

Often it is these projects that cause the most anguish – not only because they are an experiment  – but because they also often aim for the highest levels of recognition with ideas which are simply unproven.

And too often budgetary constraints mean the demonstration component gets left behind.

In Defence of Demonstration

We need these demonstration projects. They are the Biosphere 2, New Coke, Apollo 13 missions of our industry. Not every project can be a demonstration project – nor should even most be. But these unique projects have an important role. They tell an important story. They tell us about things that we may never have found out otherwise; where we were only interested in ideas that were proven, deliverable, cost effective. They tell us what provides a better environmental return on investment; what is truly restorative. But more importantly, they take away the barrier of failure – without which we could never move forward.

And just because these projects cannot achieve the highest accolades our industry has to offer does not mean they are not worthy of our highest regard.

Footnotes

(1) With no desire to build a tourist industry around construction!

(2) So often scoffed at by a property executive I know well. “Show me the money!” he insists to me. (Show me the money, is my (unappreciated) witty retort).

(3) Stolen, graciously, from my colleague Ross Harding in London.

For those of you keen to continue the conversation – find us on Twitter @BuiltEcology.

Monique Alfris

Monique Alfris is team leader of the Sydney based Built Ecology team, a specialist environmental service of WSP Lincolne Scott. WSP Lincolne Scott is a building services company which has delivered projects such as the new 6 star Green Star Macquarie Bank building in Sydney and City Central Tower 1 in Adelaide – the first project to be awarded 5 star NABERS Energy Base Building, 5 star Green Star Office Design and 5 star Green Star Office As Built.