The City of Melbourne declared a climate and biodiversity emergency and now it wants to put its money where its mouth is, mandating minimum sustainability standards. Other major city governments are going down the same path in varying degrees, and 18 years after formation, the Green Building Council is shifting its position and approves. We need to meet our Paris commitments, it says.
At last week’s Future Melbourne committee meeting, councillors unanimously voted on an amendment in its planning scheme to deliver more sustainable buildings.
The Sustainable Building Design Amendment C376 aims to introduce new environmentally sustainable design (ESD) standards into the planning scheme and is anticipated to be exhibited in the first half of 2021.
It involves extensive engagement with industry and the community, a phase-in period of at least 18 months, and covers ESD, energy efficiency and renewables, stormwater management, water efficiency and sustainable transport.
This will apply to all new buildings in the city, as well as retrofits that meet a certain size threshold (over 5000 square metres), and draws on industry-established tools such as Green Star, NatHERS, NABERs and BESS.
“Amendment C376 proposes to introduce new sustainable design standards to ensure buildings respond to the climate change and biodiversity emergency,” Cathy Oke, City of Melbourne’s environment portfolio chair, told The Fifth Estate.
“Zero emissions buildings can provide economic benefits of more than $4 billion by 2050, and Green Star-rated buildings produce 55 per cent fewer emissions and use 66 per cent less electricity than the average Australian building,” Cr Oke said.
C376 also implements the Green Factor tool – an online assessment tool that helps optimise the design of green infrastructure and external landscapes on buildings.
The tool provides built environment professionals with a score that takes into account the relative volume and efficacy of green elements, in comparison to the overall area of the site.
Details of a site’s location and its green infrastructure specifications are entered into the tool, then guidance is returned to help with elements such as the site’s urban heat island effect reduction, bio-diversity, stormwater reduction.
It’s a tool that is already receiving interest from other councils, including the City of Sydney, believing it can provide further certainty towards green outcomes and the flexibility needed for specific development projects.
“We’re particularly interested to see how it is implemented, especially in relation to binding third-party tools into the planning framework,” said Graham Jahn, City of Sydney director of city planning, development & transport.
“This includes the requirement for a NABERS rating two years after construction when planning is typically no longer involved. We’ve been in contact with them exchanging ideas.”
The City of Sydney, it implemented NABERs 5.5 Star requirement for buildings of more than 1000 sq m in 2018.
“The City is already developing a pathway to net zero buildings involving setting energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, and increasing them over time with advanced notice so industry can plan and adapt,” Mr Jahn said.
The City is also updating planning controls for water efficiency, biodiversity, tree canopy and solar panels, as well as developing a new Green Sydney strategy, which will have further actions to increase green in Sydney.
However, because the NSW government’s BASIX tool overrides local council planning controls for residential development, the council is restricted in what it can do with residential performance.
“The NSW government is party to the ABCB Inter-Governmental Agreement, which includes commitments to further limit local government interventions and discourages the setting of prescriptive standards for building and construction that override the performance requirements in the NCC,” Mr Jahn said.
And that’s caused the City some challenges in implementing energy efficiency planning controls for some projects because of this government agreement.
Brisbane City Council has also developed strategies and guidelines to ensure sustainable development, which includes its 2014 City Centre Master Plan, the 2017 Brisbane. Clean. Green. Sustainable document, and the 2018 Brisbane Future Blueprint strategy.
In September 2020, the council’s Green Building Incentive Policy was introduced to encourage well-designed, green and energy efficient buildings with positive impacts to the environment, the economy and the community.
“All these plans create a benchmark for architects, planners, developers, property professionals and the broader community,” a council spokesperson told The Fifth Estate.
“To encourage greener and more energy efficient buildings, Council will provide a financial payment equivalent to 50 per cent of infrastructure charges paid for buildings operating sustainably.
“Delivering sustainable buildings is the norm these days, and while there might be some greater upfront costs, the returns are made over the life of the building.”
The City of Adelaide recently announced it’s now powered 100 per cent by renewables, through a partnership with Melbourne-based energy retailer Flow Power.
Since July 2020, all of the City’s corporate and community buildings, council event infrastructure, EV chargers, Park Lands’ barbecues water pumps, street lighting and traffic lights are powered completely on renewables.
The switch is expected to reduce emissions by over 11,000 tonnes and save the City around 20 per cent on its energy costs.
Davina Rooney, Green Building Council Australia (GBCA) CEO, is excited to see all the development around the country and is actively supporting those exploring the use of Green Star in its own planning policies with technical advice and policy assistance.
“State and local governments have a shared responsibility for land use planning regulation, but we need greater consensus across the country on how best to use the system to embed sustainable development principles,” Ms Rooney said.
“When the GBCA was first formed and green buildings were in their early days we didn’t think that mandating was the correct path, however, 18 years on, we see the need to accelerate sustainability to meet the Paris Agreement.”
Rooney said although planning and regulation is critical to deliver sustainable cities, there remains significant opportunity to further reduce emissions through state planning aligned with a national trajectory towards the same goal.
“There is an opportunity to mandate minimum sustainability standards, like Green Star and NABERs, in planning requirements to deliver better outcomes,” Rooney continued.
“We also think green door policies and incentives to promote high performing buildings are particularly desirable.”