4 July 2013 — Warren Overton, who started in his new job as chief executive of the Australian Glass & Glazing Association on Monday, has a big job ahead of him.
Like everybody else in the development game the stats are down on turnover for his new industry. There’s been massive competition from cheap imports from Asia and there’s the matter that lots of glass is often considered bad for energy efficiency.
Overton won’t comment yet on the health or otherwise of the industry – after only three-and-a-half days in the job when we spoke to him – that’s understandable, but what he does say is that the combination of the drive for sustainability and technological advances could actually work in his favour.
Overton, a scientist, was previously managing director at sustainability consultancy Viridis E3, which he cofounded with Jonathan Dalton six years ago. He has also worked with Energetics and in policy development for sustainability programs with the federal government. So he brings a scientific and sustainability approach to his job and thinks this signals a positive step from his association.
He says people who study biophilia know that humans are “hardwired to interact with nature”.
Having views is an important way to do this. “It makes us happier, healthy and more productive,” he says.
He points to the work of Esther Sternberg, whom he heard at a Green Cities conference in 2011.
See our article Green Cities 2011 – revamped and revitalised
“She’s a neuroscientist; they’ve done the research that shows people heal better when they are near windows.”
And they work better as well, he says.
But still, glass lets in light which lets in heat; technology can only do so much, right?
There are now some very interesting glass products and treatments that mean many of those limitations “don’t hold true anymore”, he says.
“It’s the subtle skill of the designer to use it appropriately. We have floor to ceiling glass because we humans love it. So the question is to find the sweet spot that balances that desire with sustainable outcomes.”
A good start to more rational outcomes includes pricing lifecycle costs more correctly. A cheaper façade might save money now but requires a higher performance airconditioning system, for instance, he points out.
“People like light and views and it makes them happy. Sure, energy efficiency is a very important thing but if people don’t like the building it doesn’t matter how efficient it is; they will be unproductive and unhappy.”
He says there’s a few green buildings – well to be more precise some elements of green buildings – that don’t work as well as they could because the occupants don’t like them.
“Sustainability gets mixed up with short-term economics and sustainability always ends up in a compromise.”
A lot of things like double glazing come down to short-term economic efficiency, he says. People just look at the energy and they don’t necessarily look at comfort, health or wellbeing.
“If you’re looking at glazing it’s there for 50 years and hopefully it’s a 100-year investment.”
If people genuinely internalised the cost of worker satisfaction they would come up with different answers in their designs.
The question could be, he says, Do you spend your money on an advanced façade that reduces the heating and cooling loads and makes people more happy and productive? Or do you spend on mechanical services that will achieve the higher environmental rating but don’t last as long or deliver the same occupant satisfaction.
Overton recalls a building he worked on in Canberra that Viridis assessed for post-occupancy performance and which scored highly.
Trevor Pearcy House refurbished in 2007 showed the value of a good façade, he says.
For just $1700 a square metre the owners gutted the building, externally insulated the brick walls with rigid foam with render over the top and replaced single glazing with double glazing, “super insulated” the ceiling and roof and fixed external shading.
The mechanical systems were able to be pared back and used to balance passive ventilation. The end result was a 6 star Green Star – Office Design v2, massive energy savings and a very high level of occupant satisfaction.
But what do you do with the tall glass towers?
Ahh, that’s a tough question, Overton says.
It’s “ridiculously expensive” to retrofit these, he says. Not to mention the health and safety issues involved.
“We need to invest in the facades when we build so we don’t have such legacies.”