Rating systems rate the wrong things.
If you asked me, “What’s the best thing I can do to cut climate change for my kids?” I would answer, grow your own food and buy from local farmers. I would not say, build a sustainable house or office.
The climate impacts of the Australian food system are more than three times those of the housing and construction sector.
Food takes over 50 per cent of Australia’s water, and housing just 11 per cent.
At least 23 per cent of Australia’s climate pollution comes from its food system.
It’s more effective to have a sustainability target for food than it is for the water and energy used in houses and offices.
Even if every new or renovated building scores 100 out of 100 points or the maximum number of stars the amount of energy and water saved and the impact on climate change pollution is so minor as to be insignificant compared to that used to make the food eaten in those buildings.
What good is it if we cut 10 per cent or 11 per cent of the climate change problem and ignore the 50 per cent problem caused by food – the growing, eating, transport and waste of it, and all the energy and water it uses?
I’m not saying we need to get rid of BASIX, First Rate, Nathers, Nabers, Greenstar. But it’s time to grow up with these rating schemes, time to get past the starry eyed absorption with them and ask; how do we make substantial cuts to our climate change pollution?
It may be said, well councils and governments can control development but they can’t tell people what to eat, so at least governments are doing what they can.
Not so. These fat controllers can just as easily apply to themselves the same rules they apply to the private sector.
Every week councils build black roads instead of pale ones. Every day councils plant decorative instead of edible trees. Each time it rains in our cities the water is wasted instead of being stored in tanks in roads to feed trees or absorbed by leaky drains to feed trees. It’s time councils met rating standards for their own project.
If they don’t grow food or harvest water on roads and at their buildings they shouldn’t be allowed to build or operate them, and they shouldn’t be allowed to require the private sector to meet sustainability rules until they do.
If the state road agencies grow up and accept responsibility for how their black roads unnecessarily cook our cities and wrongly plant decorative trees instead of productive ones they can begin to make up for the climate change pollution caused by their roads. By heating up our cities these road agencies increase the use of air con and the amount of dirty coal fired power used to cool the cities.
Workers in a highly rated building will use 10 to 30 times the amount of energy and water consumption from the food they eat there than will be saved by the building’s sustainable design. Those office workers get several chances a day to choose to buy or eat or reuse waste food. Do the sustainability rating schemes allow for, require or promote decisions which cut energy and water use from food? No.
Why is this?
Easy. The folks who draw up the ratings schemes are ignorant about the impacts of food. They swoon about this or that new air con system while they eat food that’s travelled 20 thousand Ks and used many times more energy than the air con system has saved. They don’t know that a water efficient shower head saves far less water than does growing local food in the street outside the sustainable building. That’s why ratings schemes are more about fashion than they are about cutting climate change.*Michael Mobbs is a sustainability coach who works with developers, governments and communities to design and obtain approvals for houses, units and subdivisions. He is based in the inner Sydney suburb of Chippendale, where in 1996 he pioneered the conversion of his inner city terrace into a sustainable house, which has now been disconnected to mains water and sewerage and is powered by solar energy.