Jacinta Ardern

There’s good news on the way in New Zealand for green buildings and housing in particular if the new government can help it, NZ Green Building Council chief executive Andrew Eagles says.

It was Labour Day in New Zealand on Monday – maybe fittingly so. Labour’s brand new prime minister Jacinta Ardern had spent the weekend in media briefings laying down the new political landscape for New Zealand. One that slightly shellshocked observers worldwide were guessing could be as scene stealing as when NZ declared it would be nuclear free.

The initial raft of promises from Ardern in a coalition of Labour, New Zealand First and The Greens includes great news on the environment, with a commitment to go net zero carbon by 2050 and another to lift the quality of the country’s notoriously poor housing stock.

Better minimum wages were also on the cards as was the possibility that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement could be broken if it were the only way to stem the purchase of NZ housing by foreigners, believed to be pushing up prices.

Ardern, New Zealand style, didn’t mince words. Capitalism had failed the people of New Zealand, she said.

“If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure. What else could you describe it as?”

In another report she said, “There is no point gloating about the economic growth of a nation if you have some of the highest rates of homelessness in the developed world.”

Her plan also included dealing with water pollution and improving rates of child poverty.

And no, none of this meant the end of the world as we know it. She was sure business and government could work together to get better outcomes.

Andrew Eagles

Unaware it was a holiday The Fifth Estate called the New Zealand Green Building Council to see what our closest cousins over the ditch thought of all this.

Chief executive of the New Zealand Andrew Eagles answered the phone straight away – himself.

It reminded us of the story also doing the rounds on Monday morning of a “stunned” ABC Radio journalist in Australia who called the New Zealand PM’s office to check the pronunciation of the Ardern’s name only to have the PM herself pick up the call and explain, it’s “AH-durn”.

“It was no trouble at all,” she told The New Zealand Herald.

Certainly for The Fifth Estate it felt like a lucky break to get straight to the source, on a public holiday.

“Ardern is good on a number of fronts,” Eagles said.

“The Nationals have had nine years [it was time for a change] and she’s a woman. And she’s more supportive on climate change, which is a positive. It’s quite an interesting outcome.”

Eagles said the indications for property and housing in particular were good.

His team had been working away for quite a while on discussions with the government around improving building standards and especially in the nation’s poor quality housing sector.

“We’ve been having some really good conversations around this prior to the election,” he said.

“Forty per cent of homes are damp and mouldy so we should be building better homes to higher standards and it would have huge positive health benefits.”

On energy bills alone it was estimated New Zealander households could save NZ$1000 (AU$893) a year with six star Homestar ratings and with insulation.

It’s about lower carbon emissions, he said, but also about better, healthier outcomes.

“We have 20,000 homes confirmed for Homestar and we expect that to rise significantly under the new government.”

Eagles said there was an expectation that if the government increased standards it would influence the industry since the government was the biggest house builder in the country.

Recent discussions have also included the possibility of tighter regulations in building standards.

“We’ve been campaigning to set a trajectory to improve the buildings sector.” The OECD and the International Energy Agency had both said standards were behind those of countries with similar climates. This translated to standards twice as bad as Australia’s and three times worse than the UK’s, he said.

“Maybe by 2020 we move to a better insulation standard and better ventilation, and by 2023 we’re moving to blower testing and thermal bridging.”

It’s these kinds of actions that are needed to meet a trajectory to zero carbon by mid century, Eagles said.

“This government will probably lead on housing. The housing minister, Phil Twyford, has committed to 100,000 homes in 10 years. And he will be a member of cabinet.

“This is signalling the importance Labour has put on housing.”

In the commercial space Eagles said there had been good take up of Green Star ratings in offices, and he hoped this would now extend to defence and education buildings.

“We think there will be more Green Star take up in buildings from this government and a more rapid uptake of Green Star Performance,” he said.

The NZGBC is also launching a carbon neutral standard next year.

“When we say we need to get to net zero carbon by 2050, we can’t do it without this,” Eagles said.

Another piece of positive news was that Greens Leader James Shaw was in line to be minister for climate.

So how will Australia react to such dramatic changes so close to home?

We know our Feds are more likely to take their cues from the noisy folk across the Pacific than from across the ditch, but at least it will be interesting that our decision makers will observe at close quarters that serious action on climate and housing and well, social sustainability, could be made to happen without, we’ll bet, the sky falling in.

Maybe they’ll even feel a pinprick of conscience … or envy.