Still from a presentation on “Nishi”, and a sustainable precinct at New Acton, Canberra

There’s good news and there’s bad news: Green value shifts downmarket; tropical designs and the WorldGBCA; carbon tax and tough love parenting; US and rampant teenagers.

4 August 2011 – In Australia academic Nils Kok arrived from the US to do a couple of important things. One was to turn musty property research into a kind of fun, vibrant thing, with his animated presentation and evidence that green is not so much good for the bottom line as bad for the bottom line if you don’t have it. Another was to drop provocative comments such as that there are plenty of B and C grade building owners who don’t know what NABERS is.

The last bit is relevant because Kok is quickly losing interest in the premium end of the market. The real action, he says, is down a bit on the scale, where there is a far more impressive upside to taking a building from a 1 NABERS Energy star rating to 4 or higher.

Kok isn’t alone in working out there is a motza to be made from this neglected sector of the market. There is a slowly forming army of property services people, engineers, analysts and consultants starting to put together some compelling cases for a makeover.

An interesting aside is a recent report in The Australian Financial Review on Gerard Lighting Group, a company with 30 per cent of the commercial lighting market in Australia and New Zealand. The group, says the report, “aims to double its earnings from energy-efficient lighting products in the next five years to take advantage of a ‘revolution’ in the industry.

“Rising electricity prices and a raft of sustainable building standards were forcing consumers and builders to consider their lighting options,” Gerard chief executive Simon Gerard is quoted as saying.

“The whole lighting industry is going through nothing short of a revolution when it comes to new energy- saving technology.

“Power prices are set double in the next two or three years if they haven’t doubled already or gone up significantly. Every building owner, building manager and everyone else consuming power is looking for savings.”

“There’s a huge opportunity to relight Australia using energy-efficient lighting.”
Ditto all the other bits of a building’s energy use and overall sustainability.

Gillard a Go Go
We asked for a strong leader. Someone who would do the right thing no matter what the pain. Who would think long term and get the job done. Now we have one.

The nastier people get about Julia Gillard and the carbon tax, the more hysterical is the opposition and the more the shock jocks call for vigilante violence, the more people will realise she is standing her ground on a difficult but hugely important cause. It feels good, like someone is at last in charge, in a world that is spinning sideways. A bit like an out of control teenager who has finally found some boundaries.

Americans turn back the clock on green buildings
Speaking of immaturity, what are the Americans doing to themselves?

Right now they look like self-harming adolescents, caught in that dangerous zone when the massive human brain computer is recalibrating itself for adulthood and can’t quite cope with all the power it’s got.

Not only are they screaming at President Obama: “You’re not my real father and you have no right to tell us what to do,” (empowerment of the kiddies needs to have a limit) but they’re bent on throwing out some really great measures in green buildings, just because they can, it seems.

In dreadful news recently in from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating ?and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill that bans the Department of Defense from creating energy efficient buildings and sustainable design unless they pass a cost benefit analysis, and as long as it costs no more. Never mind that obtaining a LEEDS sustainability rating of gold or platinum costs more simply because there are fees attached.

Here’s the article:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (H.R. 1540) by a vote of 322-96. . . .

The bill would also require a cost-benefit analysis and return on investment for energy efficiency attributes and sustainable design achieved through DoD funds used to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold or Platinum certification.
But here’s the real kicker in the legislation:
“The bill would prohibit FY 2012 DoD funds from being used to achieve a LEED Gold or Platinum certification, however these certifications could be obtained if they impose no additional cost to DoD.” Read the full article

GBCA on tropical climates and good design

The Green Building Council of Australia’s Robin Mellon, who is executive director, advocacy and international, spent a few days in the Northern Territory late last month.

Partly it was to moderate a session on sustainability for the Property Council of Australia Congress on 24-26 July in Darwin, and partly to teach some sustainability courses and undertake talks with local authorities who are currently working on sustainability guidelines for the Department of Infrastructure and the Department of Health.

Mellon was especially keen to use some of the government talks to prepare for the  Singapore Green Building Council Conference and the World GBC Asia Pacific Network Workshop happening in the same week as the APEC-ASEAN meetings starting 12 September, all at Suntec Singapore.

Darwin, with its extremes of temperature and humidity has a lot of similarities with many Asian countries in terms of climate and the challenges of sustainable building, he says.

In terms of design, Mellon has a soft spot for great building concepts used in tropical climates until about 40 or 50 years ago. They made so much sense.

“Two sides of the house would be louvred and the internal walls built to three quarter height so the air could flow through.

“What’s interesting is that those houses with that type of construction can be naturally ventilated for nine or 10 months of the year and then with the wet season and the humidity, it’s less the temperature than the air movement [that makes a difference to comfort].”

A rotating fan, he says can keep the air in constant flow which will help the body cool itself naturally.

The modern “concrete box” now typical in new buildings in Darwin as well as the Asia Pacific mean these buildings need mechanical cooling.

Part of this is to do with technology but also with expectations, Mellon says. Defence personnel take up contracts and they and their families expect to live in houses that have temperatures of 23 or 24 degrees, while in the past the expectations were that “you were in the tropics and therefore you would experience hotter temperatures.”

Other examples of modern inappropriate influences are paint colours with popular dark colours adding several degrees to building temperatures.

“A lot of the issues in Darwin and Cairns are also being experienced around Asia Pacific,” Mellon says.

“Many of the countries in Asia have said that it’s extraordinary that offices and homes are airconditioned boxes…people don’t enjoy it and they do it as a form of prestige. Realistically people prefer to build a two storey building in traditional materials.

“We hear that now from a number of different countries.”

Mellon says the conferences are very important in terms of the WorldGBC especially when government representatives from each country can see first hand that this movement is part of a wider network.

“It’s about stepping up the dialogue and trying to improve the relationships between governments and the GBCs. It’s important for the governments of those countries to see this is part of a wider network.”

In this regard, he says Australia is “seen with some respect and some good standing.”

Property Council of Australia Congress.
On the PCA Congress session on sustainability, Mellon was pleased to report he believed it was the popular session of the day.

Speaking were Deborah Dearing from Stockland with a view of the macro issues of developing large communities, Rosemary Kirkby from GPT Group on the medium scale precincts and AMP Capital’s Emlyn Keane on the micro scale of individual buildings.

A key theme that emerged was the divergence between the idea of economic growth and the consumption of more resources that this implies.

Better for growth to be in the areas of efficiencies and waste management, it was thought.

Key among questions was on the carbon price. Each of the market segments represented on the panel had the view that there would be winners and losers but that overall it would have a good outcome because it would stimulate better designed buildings and more efficient systems and technologies.

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum