22 January 2014 — Last year The Fifth Estate profiled Sid Thoo, a Western Australia-based architect and educator with strong views on sustainability and where the movement needs to head.
Since we spoke to Sid last, he has been appointed chair of the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors, and has also moved his architectural practice under the banner of Ecotect Architects, a firm established by famed architect Garry Baverstock, who was awarded an Order of Australia in 2006 for his work in the eco-architecture field.
We caught up again with Sid to see what’s in store for his chairmanship of ABSA, and his vision for sustainability in 2014.
“The ABSA story goes back to the middle of the year,” Thoo says.
He has been a member since 2010, though said he had initially played “quite a passive role” – reading the newsletter or occasionally sending an email to the chief executive.
However, Thoo says there have been some challenging issues faced by the industry over the last few years, particularly in Western Australia, where inconsistent and sometimes erroneous energy ratings have been issued on houses that do not actually meet the six star NatHERS rating.
“As a member of ABSA I thought I needed to make a contribution,” he says, and when the board nominations were announced he decided to throw his hat in the ring.
Thoo says his intent wasn’t initially to become chair but when that option was put on the table he thought it would be a great way to make a positive contribution to the sustainability discussions occurring.
Thoo has some pretty strong views on sustainability, and his election to chair of ABSA could signal a change in how the body engages with industry, government and the public.
In our last encounter, Thoo said there was a lot of green wash in sustainability, and that there was a long way to go before we started employing “genuine sustainability”, a theme that has already been running hot on the pages of The Fifth Estate this year.
See our articles:
He was particularly critical of what he saw as a “tick the box” approach to sustainability in the green building industry.
- See our article Sid Thoo: real sustainability in buildings a long way off
However, Thoo told The Fifth Estate he had “mellowed” a bit since speaking with us last year.
“I don’t want to denigrate what has been done [by the industry] because it’s all very valuable,” he says.
And how does he see the contribution of ABSA?
“I think ABSA is a great organisation started with some really good intentions with a member base that genuinely wants to improve sustainability,” he says.
However, Thoo is worried this genuine desire has devolved into a “lowest common denominator” approach, where the organisation just focuses on performing NatHERS ratings (it is one of only two accredited assessor associations along with the Building Designers Association of Victoria).
“NatHERS has an important role, but it’s not the only thing we should focus on,” Thoo says. And while it is very worthwhile to have minimum standards, he says, we must continue to have a conversation on top of this.
“It’s very important that we don’t rest on our laurels.”
ABSA is a member organisation with people of like-minded values, he says, and that as chair he wants to push the organisation to have more of an advocacy role, garnering media attention, promoting best practice and working more closely with state and federal governments to develop policy.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be vocal.”
However, Thoo says ABSA isn’t about creating enemies, and the organisation was not about denigrating others working in the ratings space. He says organisations like the Green Building Council of Australia were doing good work, and that having a multiplicity of voices and approaches in the field was beneficial.
Thoo has high hopes that sustainability will be able to tie together the competing priorities of those in the built environment, and lead to better outcomes environmentally and economically.
For this to happen, though, sustainability needs to become more intrinsic, rather than an optional extra, he says.
Will 2014’s high property confidence help move forward sustainability?
“I believe that awareness of sustainability and energy efficiency is ever increasing in the property market,” Thoo says.
“I’ve seen surveys that rank rising energy costs of being a major concern of householders. As confidence in the property market increases, I think those properties with reliable energy efficiency and sustainability credentials will attract greater interest from prospective buyers, and may be a key point of difference that helps to close the sale.
“There is also evidence from local and international studies that suggests more energy efficient houses attract better sales prices.”
What are the key issues to tackle for 2014?
“With the recent change in federal government, sustainability and dealing with carbon and climate change have taken a back seat,” Thoo says.
He would, however, like to see sustainability in the built environment become seen as apolitical.
“A key role for ABSA and others working in sustainability is getting people to understand that whatever your political persuasion, sustainability makes sense,” he says.
“We really need to advocate that whether you believe in climate change or not, why would you be against efficiency and improving value in housing?”
The other thing is being honest about the strengths and limitations of NatHERS.
“We need to start moving beyond NatHERS,” he says.
“Star ratings are very important and help to ensure minimum thermal performance requirements, but we now need to start implementing other opportunities to improve building sustainability.”