5 October 2012 – For World Green Building week 2012 Cundall held two workshops in Melbourne and Sydney to ask over 100 people the question,  Green Ratings: what’s the point?

With concern that the current negativity in the industry about green rating systems is overshadowing the positive benefits that rating systems can create, we decided to run a workshop to open up people’s thinking about the positive changes that green ratings systems have created and what they could create in the future. Participants were from a wide range of stakeholders in the construction industry, including developers, contractors, architects, suppliers, engineers, ESD consultants and project managers.

The scene was set with a snapshot of the evolution of green buildings in Australia, from the early days of the green Olympics to the mandatory disclosure of energy performance driving the regeneration of the existing building stock.

  • Photo: Simon Wild conducting a Cool Wall debate

Using Cundall’s Cool Wall facilitation process, the participants were asked to vote for what they thought the top five changes that green rating systems had created over the last 10 years, the time frame that some of the key green rating systems have been in operation mainly, Green Star and NABERS.

Participants were then asked to consider what changes they would like green rating systems to create over the next 10 years; and they were asked to be aspirational, forward thinking and ready for change.

The groups also prioritised their choices.

What changes have rating systems created in the last 10 years?

The results for the Melbourne workshop and the Sydney workshop are shown below – the Sydney results are the combination of the two voting walls. The votes from both Melbourne and Sydney have also been combined for comparison.

MelbourneSydneyCombined VotesCombined vote percentage
1Indoor Environmental QualityOccupant ExpectationsOccupant Expectations15 per cent
2Occupant ExpectationsMaterial and ProductsMaterial and Products14 per cent
3Building ValueIndoor Environmental QualityIndoor Environmental Quality12 per cent
4Material and ProductsGreen JobsInnovation10 per cent
5InnovationInnovationBuilding Value9 per cent

The top five changes received about 60 per cent of the votes, showing that there is a level of consistency in what participants viewed as key changes brought by the ratings systems in the past 10 years.

Most consistent in the votes related to greater expectations, in particular from office occupants, for items such as as bike spaces, recycling areas, daylight and views.

The second most voted change was that green rating systems had created a reduced impact of materials, products and services. This was of particular note for Green Star where the certification of a product with green credentials is necessary.

The third most popular change was that green rating systems had increased the indoor environmental quality of our buildings, not just through daylight and fresh air but also through the selection of products that off-gas lower levels of volatile organic compounds.

What changes do you want rating systems to create in the next 10 years?

The table below shows the ranking based on voting on the left and the ranking after prioritising the changes by significance for Melbourne.

Voted RankingVotesAfter Prioritising
1Innovation11 per centInnovation
1Future Proofed Buildings11 per centTransport Infrastructure
3Total Impact9 per centTotal Impact
4Regulation replaces ratings7 per centRegulation replaces ratings
4Social Cohesion7 per centSocial Cohesion
4Individual responsibility7 per centIndividual responsibility

Prioritising of the changes did not significantly alter the ranking, however it is important to note that Transport Infrastructure moved from ranking eight under the votes to second on prioritising.

Public Transport is a topical subject at the moment and a lot of the conversation was around how green rating systems can create change in the area of public transport. It was generally noted that connectivity of communities, accessibility and resilience against gridlock were key “external” issues that need to be picked and driven by rating systems, just as much as bicycle parking is at present.

It is also interesting to note that Future Proofed Buildings went from joint first place in the voting to seventh place after prioritising. It was felt that if the other changes were prioritised then our buildings would inherently be future proofed.

There was also considerable debate on exactly how a rating system could capture Future Proofing and design for adaptation, or if other drivers would be better placed to deliver it. A post workshop note is that the Green Building Council of Australia states that Future Proofing is one of the benefits of Green Star, but this did not appear in the voted changes of the last 10 years and ranked low for the next 10 years.

Innovation won top vote and stayed at the top after prioritising. It was considered one of issues best driven by ratings tool over the last 10 years and strongly supported as something to continue into the next 10.  It was considered a fundamental requirement of the continuing drive to a greener built environment and also fed into the most passionate debate of the day on the topic of “Regulation versus Innovation” (around the Regulation Replaces Ratings topic).

There were strong opinions about the role of regulation in driving change from the bottom up, versus the need for industry to have the freedom and incentive to innovate its way to better performance.

Examples ranged from protection of human health by bans on tobacco advertising to the innovations currently underway to improve existing buildings, stimulated by government funding initiatives (rather than regulation). Ultimately, it was agreed that both were needed to simultaneously pull the best of the market forward while closing out the worst performers with regulation – its middle ranking reflects the diversity of opinion on its role in rating systems.

The table below shows the ranking based on voting on the left and the ranking after prioritising the changes by significance for Sydney.

Voted RankingVotesAfter Prioritising
1Utility Infrastructure11 per centTotal Impact
2Innovation11 per centInnovation
2Collaborative consumption11 per centCollaborative consumption
4Transport Infrastructure9 per centSocial Cohesion
5Social Cohesion8 per centRegulation replaces ratings

The most significant change from voted ranking to prioritising was the movement of Total Environmental Impact from sixth place in voting to first  place after prioritising. The discussion centred around the ability to measure and quantify total environmental impact and how it would drive significant change within the property industry.

The prioritising of Total Environmental Impact swapped places with Innovation several times where there was some heated discussion about whether Innovation would drive the measurement of Total Environmental Impact or whether the measurement of Total Environmental Impact would drive Innovation.

Another significant change was the movement of Utility Infrastructure, which received most votes to seventh after prioritising, and Transport Infrastructure which moved from fourth to eighth after prioritising. The discussion around this revolved around the significance of the changes. It was felt that if infrastructure was prioritised we wouldn’t see changes in other areas, however, if Innovation and Total Environmental Impact were prioritised then these would drive changes in our infrastructure.

It is also worth noting that social influences were prioritised over some of the more hardware options such as infrastructure and design. The discussions around Social Cohesion saw it move from being placed high on significance because if we could prioritise Social Cohesion we would drive collaborative consumption and innovation, to voted lower in significance with design and measurement being preferred drivers of change.

The final note would be on Regulation Replaces Rating. A lot of discussion was held about how regulation can drive innovation, the fact that Green Star is seen as quasi regulation (minimum compliance) and that the whole industry needs to change. It was felt that this change could be quite significant for the majority of the industry rather than just the leaders and innovators.

Comparison of last 10 years to the next 10 years

In comparing the ranking of the changes in the last 10 years to the next 10 years the greatest contrasts are Occupant Expectations, which went from first place to 20th place and Indoor Environmental Quality which went from third to last place. To a certain degree this represents a maturity of the industry and acknowledgement of the significant changes that green rating systems have had in these two areas. It also highlights a possibility that green rating systems, and maybe even our design professionals, don’t need to focus on improving these beyond what changes and best practice standards have been created already. An interesting note based on the recent media coverage around IEQ and green buildings.

The last difference to note from the last 10 years is that Building Value was voted lower in the list for the next 10 years (15th) compared to fifth for the last 10 years. This gives some indication that the participants view the need for justification of increased building value as a lower priority over the next 10 years, possibly due to the recent data indicating that buildings with green ratings have an increased value over those that don’t.

The top voted changes for the next 10 years compared to the last 10 years also draws some interesting conclusions.

It can be seen from the voting that green rating systems do not appear to have had significant impact on our infrastructure (outside of individual buildings) in the past 10 years but that the participants indicated that they want green rating systems to have an impact outside of the individual buildings in to our wider infrastructure. Although the hardware changes were less prioritised in discussion it is worth noting that there is a desire for rating systems to influence infrastructure beyond buildings.

As a final comparison voting for the software side of things (social) indicates that green rating systems, whether or not their focus has been on design during the last 10 years, have not had a significant impact on Social Cohesion and the like, but that the participants wanted a greater focus on Social Cohesion and Collaborative Consumption over the next 10 years. Green Star Communities may go some way to addressing this but by its nature it will be top down driven and not by the community.

Past 10 years Ranking

Next 10 years  RankingFuture 10 years RankingLast 10 years  Ranking
1Ocupancy Expectations201Innovation4
2Material and Products92Utility Infrastructure18
3Indoor Environmental Quality24=3Transport Infrastructure24
4Innovation1=3Future Proofed Buildings13
5Building Value15=3Social Cohesion22
6Green Jobs12=6Total Impact12
=6Collaborative consumption18

Simon Wild is director and chief executive officer, Cundall