What are we here for? Where are we going?
Why are there so many rating tools? And why is there so much questioning of the tools and of just about everything that’s happening in the green building movement?
Lynne Blundell’s lead story in this issue reveals a list of 57 national and international rating tools for sustainable development, in a list collated and analysed by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects.
The list does not include recent arrivals from Lend Lease and WSP Digital, nor the ratings systems for green products provided by Good Environmental Choice and ecospecifier.
While you might think it’s a case of the more the merrier, some of the tools are coming under tough scrutiny. Questions are being asked about how truly independent they are, and how much influence stakeholders have in shaping crucial elements, such as the criteria used in their conception.
In the line of fire is the Green Building Council of Australia since it started to revise its tools and continues to develop new ones. (See our recent stories).
Is the council responding to market pressures? (Yes, in the case of timber.) Or is it responding to market intelligence? (Perhaps, in the case of supposedly erstwhile toxic materials such as PVC now touted as acceptable if production meets “best practice”, which begs the question: is “best practice” good enough?) Who is driving the agenda with the GBCA’s new community tool?
But such scrutiny is all part of the maturation process.
The GBCA started as a heroic organisation, transforming – voluntarily – an entire industry and, some people say, the international green-building movement.
But it’s been a while since that inception. The sustainable property industry is now sophisticated; it has attracted interest from many disciplines and the community at large. And, like any transforming movement, it is now asking the tough questions, and no more so than of the GBCA, which has set so much of the agenda.
Scrutiny is healthy, and so long as it’s transparent, it will make the whole industry more resilient.
Another reason that the voices of disquiet are getting noisier is the drive for progress.
What’s next for green buildings?
Simon Wild of Cundall mused over coffee this week that leaders in the green building movement are searching for the “what’s next?”
It was a key topic of debate at the recent Optimising Sustainability Performance conference in Sydney, (see our reports).
It’s as if the race to build the greenest buildings and to outstrip market expectations has been achieved and now the feisty people at the top of the summit are looking for the next mountain to climb.
Wild suggested it could explain why so much attention is broadening from individual buildings to a precinct or communities-based approach. His reasoning is interesting.
The industry is familiar with the McKinsey & Company’s energy efficiency cost curve that shows that picking the low-hanging fruit of energy efficiency comes at a negative cost – that is, a profit – but what’s not so clear is that to push beyond a certain level of sustainable building is not really “best bang for your buck” as Wild puts it.
For instance if you install a black-water recycling system or a green transformer in your building it will cost you much more than if you invested in a share of those systems at a precinct level, because of the efficiencies of large scale systems.
Think about it in the quite radical way of limiting how green to make your building; the “green-enough” building?
Wild estimates that the cut-off point for efficiencies in buildings measured in terms of greenhouse gas reductions is about 70 per cent on 1990 levels. But he stresses that while this works for multi-storey offices, “resi[dential] is different and retail is different”.
Where else do people want to push the boundaries?
Wild can see a greater role for planners – in fact greater integration of all the disparate elements that go to create our cities – the architects, engineers, planners and developers, groups that in the past barely exchanged glances, let alone meaningful conversations.
That’s what the Built Environment Meets Parliament conference in Canberra next month is meant to be about, while adding the other vital connection — politicians.
Another change is the shift to a broader definition of sustainability and we know some of the industry’s biggest companies are re-writing their sustainability agendas for a greater focus on social outcomes.
But what about a really powerful shift – mandating energy performance instead of simple energy disclosure for buildings whose owners are nowhere near the 70 per cent cut off for energy efficiency or water efficiency – the laggards in the industry?
In Cundall’s “cool wall” focus sessions which it regularly holds with various stakeholders Wild says the issue invariably comes up as near the top of the “good ideas” list but at down at the bottom of the “likely” list.
The reason, he says, is that this industry has been built on market drivers and voluntary actions and everyone is pretty keen to keep it that way.
TFE is not so sure that thisrelaxed and comfortable approach can or should continue. It seems so last century, when the world was fab and our prospects unlimited.
Inconceivably. expect a huge fight from the coal companies on even voluntary energy efficiency measures.
This unbelievable platform was revealed in documents “leaked” on the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency website (we’re not sure how an inadvertent placement on a website constitutes a leak).
See our story which was quickly sourced and sent to us by the sprightly Total Environment Centre. Here’s the astounding quote: that International Power (the owner of Hazelwood) will not accept any policy that requires the National Electricity Market to support energy efficiency because it has “the potential to destroy the value of existing investments in the generation sector.”
Oh yes, we keep forgetting: it’s the shareholders International Power that we are all here to support. So easy to forget sometimes…
The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum
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