Green Star under fire, Barangaroo Boo Hoo, and mandatory disclosure
By Tina Perinotto

25 March 2010 – In a major brickbat in this issue – ours actually – we take a look at what seems to be a backward step in the reviews under way by the Green Building Council of Australia of its Green Star rating system. While the GBCA expands its range of Green Star tools, the value of the tools could well be being diluted.

Lynne Blundell’s article on the matter is another of her thorough and penetrating examinations of a critical industry sector.

After her scoop on the timber industry late last year on how the forestry unions and Government backers succeeded in bullying the GBCA into softening its stance on sustainable timber, it seems the other product manufacturers have gathered their battering rams for a powerful assault for the ratings tool to do likewise for their products.

Poor GBCA. It has battled the odds and pioneered a brave path into an industry where a decade ago the mere word “environment” was considered near heresy.

Thanks largely to its incredible efforts, the council has been the key driver to transform the property industry in Australia into one of the world’s leading lights in sustainable development (we’re not including the rest of the economy here). And now, perhaps because it has been so successful, the suppliers and product people want a slice of the pie and to enjoy the branding of a Green Star tint.

But are the manufacturers making genuine efforts or are they hoodwinking us and future generations?

The materials being re-examined include timber, steel, brick and now even PVC. The argument is that manufacturers are doing their “best” to extract toxins and, if this is not feasible (or economic?) they promise to “minimise” them. Is that good enough?

In Europe PVC is banned because in a fire the toxins it releases within the first few minutes are far deadlier than smoke or direct fire and has killed too many firemen.

In Australia, already a high fire zone, we’re told that there are plenty of other toxins in building materials, so why should PVC be singled out?

In the US, the vinyl and PVC lobbies forced the USGreen Building Council to allow its materials to be included or face threat of very lengthy and very expensive court battles under the US anti trust laws – effectively a competition policy.

Why can’t rules that defend the economy and business vitality “get it” that the interests of the economy, business and physical world are the same in the long run.

You can extract profit from the environment but if the strategy is not long-term the profits are not either. The thing that you get rich on dies. Ask the fishermen of Eden on the NSW coast, who fought tooth and nail to save their unsustainable fishing “industry” and “fishing jobs.” Today: no fish; no jobs. They won! (their Phyrric victory.)

Of course business runs on managed risk. A certain percentage of people who get sick from toxins, air-borne pollutants, or firemen or others who die in toxic fires can be managed or paid for through industry funds – hmmmm, such as the Hardies’ asbestos funds – or, better still, Medicare provisions from the public purse. (In the US there is a growing number of lawsuits arising from sick building syndrome.) And the companies that push these products will probably survive and prosper for at least one or two shareholder lifetimes.

But what about the rest of us? Australia’s leading property companies are the best in the world – it’s a proven research fact. Are we going to let that proud mantle slip?

Barangaroo – Boo Hoo

On the subject of spoiling, our very own Bathurst Burr, Michael Mobbs, has done a wonderful job of capturing the problem with the proposals for Barangaroo major redevelopment project on the edge of the Sydney CBD.

In his typical everyman way, he has nailed what it is that is so disquieting about the idea of a massive hotel construction in the middle of the harbour.

At the start of the design competition several years ago there was horror expressed at the idea that a suitable project on the northern tip of the site might be a large “iconic” building, to be a sort of twin to the majestic Opera House.

“No” and “no”, thumped Paul Keating, former Prime Minister and latter-day defender of the urban domain. Nothing but a natural (of sorts) headland would do. Makes sense, it seemed. Instead what he proposes now (well, it’s Keating that has become the arch proponent of this scheme) is not a twin, but a massive overbearing hotel in the middle of the water Hardly a respectful integration of the built environment with the natural. More like a doppelganger lurking in the inner shadows of the bay, ready to lurch into the foreground and destroy the equanimity of the harbour’s tranquil waters, the single thing that, despite all of the city’s failings and feral town planning, manages to save Sydney from itself.

Mandatory Disclosure – first step

At the end of one of TFE’s strategy meetings last week, our young and highly talented web designer Christina Skord of asked if we had any insights into why her energy bills would soon rise by 60 per cent or more.

It’s the pivotal consumer question. For property it’s the same. The issues around which The Fifth Estate is built are starting to hit home base.

This week was energy: Strike 1. We brought you Australia’s first look into the proposed details of the mandatory disclosure legislation, the brickbat that is about to bring home to the average private investor and syndicate why their world is about to change. (At the top end of the market the world’s been transforming to a lower energy profile for some time.)

We heard whispers that the bill would contain penalties for non-compliance – and it does. Up to $100,000 in fines. And the proposal is not just for a NABERS energy rating but for a lighting report and an efficiency plan for the building. The rules would kick in when offices of 2000 square metres or more are leased and sold.

You need to wonder, though, why owners and tenants need convincing to cut their energy bills if the bills are about to shoot upwards.

According to the comprehensive examination of the commercial property market contained in the bill’s explanatory memorandum, it’s because energy is such a low component of the cost of doing business. It is, however, a big cost to the environment, and potentially to other sectors of the economy.

Using figures from the famed McKinsey & Company research, the regulation impact statement shows that energy savings from buildings can be had for a negative cost – that is, a profit.

So if property doesn’t reap its low-hanging fruit for carbon abatement, then some other parts of the economy will have to pay much more for the same savings, the RIS argues.

So there are no apologies for going tough on property owners. If you want to see “tough”, read about Option 3, which proposed mandatory energy savings … and breathe a sigh of relief that it was rejected.

We have yet to source industry reaction to the bill. We figured there is a load of material to sift through. But The Fifth Estate welcomes your feedback or contributions to the debate by way of articles.

Respondents consulted for the regulation impact statement for the Buidling Enegy Efficiency Disclosure Bill 2010

· Association of Consulting Engineers Australia
· Australian Institute of Architects
· Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air-Conditioning and Heating
· Australasian Energy Performance Contracting Association
· Big Switch Projects Ltd
· Brisbane Airport Corporation Ltd
· Brookfield Multiplex Ltd
· Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers
· City of Sydney
· City of Ipswich
· Connell Wagner Ltd (now Aurecon)
· D & E Air-Conditioning Ltd
· Davis Langdon Australia Ltd
· Dynalite Intelligent Light Ltd
· Ecolateral Pty Ltd
· Energy Conservation Systems Ltd
· Eureka Funds Management Ltd
· Exergy Australia Ltd
· Facilities Management Association of Australia
· George Floth Ltd
· Goodman Ltd
· Green Building Council of Australia
· Industry Superannuation Property Trust Ltd
· JG Service Pty Ltd
· Kingspan Insulated Panels Ltd
Lend Lease Corporation,
Lincolne Scott, Advanced Environmental Ltd
· Louise Rhodes
· Macquarie Asset Services Ltd
· Michael Shaw
· Mirvac Ltd
· Napier & Blakeley Ltd
· Nett Zero Pty Ltd
· Northorp Consulting Engineers Ltd
· Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
· Property Council of Australia
· The GPT Group Ltd
· Stockland Corporation Ltd
· Szencorp Group
· University of Queensland
· Urban Taskforce Australia
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