The sneeches: “stars upon thars”

FAVOURITES – 20 June 2009 – Fans of Dr Seuss who have looked past the Cat in the Hat may be familiar with the story of the inept Sneetches and the competitive instincts aroused between those with “stars upon thars”  and those whose bellies are not so endowed.

I wonder whether the great and the good of the green building movement in Australia have been inspired by this story when developing the ubiquitous range of rating systems now in play.

Not for them the American Olympian scale – silver, gold (and platinum even), nor the quintessentially British “good”, “very good” and “excellent” (I rather prefer “exceedingly good” but Poms will know that this accolade has been requisitioned by Mr Kipling in praise of his cakes). No, in Australia stars are the thing.

No-one can doubt the extraordinary strides that the Green Building Council of Australia has made in moving the green building agenda forward apace and their Green Stars have undoubtedly aroused the competitive instincts of the country’s property industry.

So far, so good.

But what happens when the number of star rating systems available reaches a point that confuses all but the most dedicated ESD star gazer?

Consider the case of a hypothetical developer seeking to construct a major mixed use development  – commercial, residential and retail – in Sydney.

In a desire to do the right thing by the environment and win accolades for their progressive design credentials (not to mention garnering favour with the planning authorities) this developer wants to commit to getting a few stars under his belt. But what stars are we be talking about? And how many are enough?

Well the commercial element of the scheme would be covered by the Office Design Green Star rating tool (6 stars available), now Version 3, the Office As Built Green Star rating tool (6 stars), also Version 3, and the Office Interiors Version 1.1 (5 stars).

The developer may chose to make a NABERS Energy (formerly ABGR) commitment (5 stars) during design and achieve an operational rating once the building is in use (5 stars).

Similar NABERS ratings are available for Water, Indoor Environment Quality and Waste (5 stars each). OK, so that’s 42 stars up for grabs for the offices.

Now lets consider the residential component. The Multi Unit Residential Pilot Green Star tool promises the prospect of up to 6 stars when Version 1 is released.

The NSW planning authorities require our developer to further demonstrate the environmental credentials of the scheme by achieving the required BASIX score in the categories of water, thermal comfort and energy. Sadly no stars available but you do get a certificate which you can put on the wall.

Cunningly though, buried within the energy part of the BASIX assessment is the need to model the energy performance of each dwelling type.

We can use a tool called AccuRate to do this, which awards up to 10 stars per dwelling! Let’s not be greedy, we will just call that 10 stars. So the residential component of the development gains us up to a further 16 stars.

With the Green Star Retail Centre tool having just been released a further 6 stars are available for the shopping centre and the (pilot) Mixed Use Tool offers the opportunity for our developer to gain an overall rating for the development as a whole, giving up to 6 more stars.

In all I make that 70 stars available to our environmentally conscious developer.

With NABERS in the process of developing their own tools for multi-unit residential and retail centres (water and energy – 5 stars each) that’s another 20 stars in the pipeline and we’re rapidly approaching the 100 star mark. That seems like a target that is just too big to ignore!

Andrew Pettifer

It all amounts to work for the burgeoning ESD profession and who could say that’s not a good thing in these employment-hungry times? But I can’t help wondering whether we aren’t all going a bit “star crazy”.

Now the moral of the story for the Sneetches is that whether or not they have a star adorned belly is at the end of the day not relevant (although the guy selling stars, and star removals, does very well out of the whole exercise).

I suspect the same will end up being true of our buildings – when everyone is starred up and no-one knows any more what stars really mean (most don’t already) we will simply end up with good buildings and bad buildings, just as we always have.

Andrew Pettifer is principal, Arup