Defence Housing Australia’s AE2 project in Sydney. Photo courtesy of Defence Housing Australia.

18 March 2014 — As an entity that will in all likelihood maintain management of the majority of its property in perpetuity, increasing market value or attractiveness to commercial tenants is not what drives the Australian Defence Department’s sustainability agenda.

Rather, the baseline arguments of sustainability – operational efficiency, cost-effectiveness and responsible stewardship of resources – are the key drivers for the high green standards set across all Defence assets including operational bases, offices and the Defence Housing Australia portfolio.

Defence has undertaken a wide range of projects over the past five years, including completing the refurbishment of HMAS Creswell at Jervis Bay, the $1 billion multi-stage expansion and refurbishment of the Amberley Airbase, the $623.69 million Edinburgh Defence Precinct expansion and LEAP Stages 1 and 2 accommodation projects at bases in every mainland state.

Sustainability benchmarks have been set high for design, construction and operation. For example, the LEAP Stage 2 projects, which comprise 3015 studio-type units for single ADF personnel across 14 bases, have been built for a 50-year design life, with a 30 per cent improvement on water use throughout the life cycle and a 20 per cent improvement on the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Code of Australia.

At HMAS Creswell, recycled water is being used for all amenities flushing, low VOC paints and finishes were used throughout all office areas and accommodation areas, only recycled or FSC-certified timber products were used, rainwater harvesting has been installed, along with energy-efficient variable speed mechanical ventilation systems.

AE2. Photo courtesy of Defence Housing Australia.

As a baseline, Defence requires all its new and refurbished infrastructure facilities across Army, RAAF and Navy to meet industry best practice standards, through compliance with the Energy Efficiency in Government Operations Policy and Defence’s Building Energy Performance Manual for energy and water efficiency.

In the BEPM, lifecycle considerations, payback periods, ability to upgrade and burden of maintenance are included in addition to more standard energy and water considerations in determining the sustainability merits of any proposed capital item, building material, structural design, and mechanical, electrical or hydraulic systems.

An evidence-based approach is used to assess companies, suppliers and consultants in terms of their capabilities and compliance in delivering the required sustainability results on Defence projects. This is not a sector where attempts to greenwash are likely to escape notice, which also makes these valuable reference projects for the companies involved.

“Sustainability is embedded into Defence policy considerations. Defence only uses rating tools where appropriate as the main driver is to ensure that the facility meets capability requirements,” a Defence spokesman told The Fifth Estate.

“Defence does not require design or delivery contractors to hold third party credentials for sustainable design and construction. In all Commonwealth procurement activities we apply a robust and defendable assessment process that evaluates value for money solutions against our requirement.

“Environmentally Sustainable Development Policy is a requirement in our design and construction contracts. Demonstration of this compliance is provided throughout delivery of the project.

“ESD is addressed in the whole of life plans required to be submitted by contractors and design consultants. Defence is currently examining the implementation of Building Information Modelling and the ability to capture ESD data post-construction for the life of the facility.”

Current assessment methods of the effectiveness of sustainability measures are showing a clear bottom-line benefit for quantifiable elements such as operational costs and the qualitative elements of wellbeing.

“Projects built sustainably, as demonstrated by industry best practice, do drive nature resource efficiency, reduce operating costs and improve staff well being,” the Defence spokesman said.

“For example RAAF Richmond 36 and 37 Squadron Headquarters achieved 20 per cent better energy use (gas and electricity) than 5 star NABERS Energy for Offices benchmark (base building); and 1.5 megalitres per annum lower water use than a standard building.

“Defence has a program in place identifying and funding initiatives that drive natural resource efficiency and reduce operating costs.

“Examples of initiatives that have been funded include the National Lighting Program, which is a strategic lighting upgrade program. In 2013-14 Defence invested $700,000 on lighting projects with a forecasted saving of $200,000 per annum (a 3.5 year simple payback or 28.5 per cent return on investment).”

While none of the Defence infrastructure projects or office projects has sought a formal rating such as the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia ratings or Green Star ratings, Defence Housing Australia has obtained ratings for several residential development projects under the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s EnviroDevelopment tool.

To date three DHA projects have achieved a rating under the UDIA tool: Bluewattle in Townsville, a 98 hectare residential development; the 21.3 ha masterplanned AE2 community five kilometres east of Parramatta; and Breezes Muirhead in Darwin, a joint venture with Investa Land, which was the first residential community in the Northern Territory to achieve accreditation across all six areas of the UDIA rating system.

DHA is very active in development, construction, acquisition and leasing programs across both the residential housing and investment markets. In 2012-13 a total of 590 new houses/townhouses and 38 apartments were constructed or purchased.

As a residential land developer, DHA currently has more than $1 billion committed to projects in most capital cities and many regional centres. The sustainability agenda is focused on the key areas of energy consumption, water consumption, effective waste management, human wellbeing and biodiversity of local flora and fauna.

“DHA is committed to building efficient and liveable communities for Defence members and the broader community,” a DHA spokesman told The Fifth Estate.

“Since 1 July 2010, DHA has required all new housing to achieve a minimum six star energy efficiency rating (NatHERS). Where possible, DHA [also] requires new housing to comply with the Australian Government’s Livable Housing Design Guidelines – Silver Level.

“Certification programs, such as UDIA EnviroDevelopment and Green Star, are complementary to DHA’s focus on sustainability. They also provide a means of benchmarking our work against other developments and assisting in the promotion of DHA as a sustainable developer.”

Currently Defence is developing policy to further define the department’s requirements for sustainable infrastructure design and management across the Defence estate.

“The principal aims of this policy will be to continue to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the Defence estate, minimise costs on a whole-of-life basis, and minimise resource consumption.” the Defence spokesman said.