GBCA's Jonathan Cartledge introduces a session at Green Building Day 2017

You really need to get out of the office now and then.

Not just because the air inside could be bad for your health but because if you mingle with like-minded people you get a nice dose of susty vibe, which is always a boost to morale and often to your business insight as well.

Listening to the experts up on stage on Wednesday at the Green Building Day in Sydney, organised by the Green Building Council of Australia, was exactly that. It was also a bit of a  wake-up call on offices and indoor air that resonated not the least because we’ve just put the finishing touches to our Healthy Offices ebook, out soon.

Filtering through (forgive the pun) were some handy hints on how to manage the nasty tiny PM 2.5 particulates that even at very low levels, can make you sick or are just plain bad for you.

CETEC’s Adam Garnys said even our clothes bring in fine particulate matter we should not breathe in. We’re guessing he was referring to the oil base of many synthetic fabrics. Or is it perhaps the matter that settles on our clothes from car exhaust. Same.

Garnys said a good HEPA filtered vacuum could do a lot to remove most of the nasties, if used frequently. At least indoors.

This is especially important because Australians, you will see in the ebook, work some of the longest hours in the world.

Why, we’re not sure.

Some of us are still blaming Tony Abbott.

But while we’re holed up trying to impress the boss, the boss has commissioned sometimes fairly poor air filtration systems to “condition” the air.

Sometimes he, more rarely she, has sealed the windows so we can’t get fresh air no matter what we would like. For some people, it’s enough to feel like they’re in an enforced labour camp.

How people react to their daylight enclosures can be an interesting insight into psychology. Something Buildings Alive’s Craig Roussac will range through at his presentation for our next Mad Men for the Planet workshop in Melbourne on Wednesday (and yes, excited!).

At Green Building Day one of the delegates told us about a particular high profile building in Sydney fitted with mechanisms to allow full functionality of the blinds, that funnily enough, the boss doesn’t allow the staff to access.

But, and here’s the clincher, the fact that this empowering mechanism exists somehow appeases the staff and they don’t make a fuss. They’re not banding together to storm the Bastille, so to speak, (nor its equivalent corner suite), so they can run those blinds how they choose. Nope, just knowing the control is available is sufficient, apparently.

Funny how we humans are at times. Just a little bit of power snatched from the jaws of oppression can be enough to tide us over till next week.

It made us think this is why the wellness trend for offices is so powerful and shows no sign of abating. Wait till you read out book and see how far the industry has come since we first mentioned it here a couple of years ago, just ahead of the stampede to locally sourced apples, yoga rooms and chooks on the roof.

The argument about how clean the air needs to be and how much energy/carbon that would cost under the WELL standard was one of those “local variant” issues we heard were being worked out as US practice met local pragmatism. Someone on stage or in the audience on Wednesday referred again to the high-end nature of the standard and how it was not for everyone. Some people were meeting the parts of the standards they wanted but not getting their offices certified. A growing habit it seems, which raises the question of accountability and transparency.

Back on stage Cundall’s David Clarke fielded a question from the audience on why we would bother with openable windows at all when the outside air was so bad.

Especially with all the high end HVAC systems available these days to clean the air.

Clark said having the choice was the important thing.

But if you look at the mega trends on transport, he said, and clean transport such as EVs hopefully coming sooner than we think, why wouldn’t we be designing buildings now that are better adapted to that better cleaner future just around the corner?

We’ve actually built not just our cities around cars, but our buildings too, Clark pointed out.

Hmm: the more we look into the belly of that beast the more we see its pervasive pawprint.

Decarbonisation now the goal

As always at these sessions some of the best information is gleaned during the breaks and in conversations around the traps. Such as what the mood is like. From what we gathered it’s on the feisty side.

WT Consultancy’s Steve Hennessy said the air pressure testing being brought into Green Star was a great idea. Come to think of it the collaboration with Passive House and all the other standards around now is another good thing and evidence that this industry is getting the collaborative and interdependent nature we need to embrace to get progress on this job we’re on.

Another bit of good news from Hennessy and consultant John Goddard was that the industry is moving very quickly on decarbonising. Even by the end of the year. Say what? Yep. “It’s the big fat dream and now everyone’s taling about it and implementing it by the end of the year,” Hennessy said. At least moving on the trajectory to do so with a roadmap, because NABERS will recongnise a carbon offset standard and there is a pathway, he explained. “It’s not just about buying a load of offsets and ‘my job is done’ it’s about a whole lot of other things we’ll have to do.” 

Feds’ Climate Review

Submissions are trickling into the Feds climate change review and one up for public perusal now, on its own site, is the Property Council’s.

We’re hoping Willow’s recent expose of how the Feds are are failing to follow their own policy on energy for their offices and how that could be costing the taxpayer $20 million a year might have helped in item 6 of the agenda list.

It’s  “Commit to achieve net zero emissions across all Commonwealth services and operations by 2030. Strengthened requirements for government tenancies present the next significant opportunity for the Commonwealth to drive broader market transformation.”

Here’s the full set of agenda items:

  1. Establish a national target of net zero emissions by 2050 and a sector plan for net zero emissions buildings by 2050 with interim targets and a process for review.
  2. Commit to a single national energy efficiency trading scheme with interim support to harmonise existing state schemes and establish schemes in other jurisdictions
  3. Review and strengthen the RET to support a target of net zero emissions by 2050. Interim targets should be established out to 2050 to ensure the appropriate mix of generation technologies that provide affordable and reliable supply, and boost investor confidence
  4. Establish a mechanism to identify and pass on to distributed generators the fair value of distributed electricity exported to the electricity grid
  5. Establish a process for COAG Energy Council and the Building Ministers Forum to agree and implement a trajectory for future upgrades to minimum energy performance requirements in the National Construction Code. The trajectory should have broad industry support and be aligned with the long-term goal of a net zero emissions economy by 2050,
  6. Commit to achieve net zero emissions across all Commonwealth services and operations by 2030. Strengthened requirements for government tenancies present the next significant opportunity for the Commonwealth to drive broader market transformation.

Most are pretty good. We’re not entirely sure about the “appropriate mix of generation technologies” with energy. We’re hoping they mean a mix of solar and wind with a bit of biofuels thrown in as long as they’re sourced from waste and not crops grown on arable land.


ASBEC’s big focus for now is on raising the building design provisions with energy efficiency, Section J and so on, but what is starting to come out more and more, especially with the scandal in the UK on energy modelling, is that people are waking up to the vast difference between energy efficiency of a building and how it actually performs.

 You can have a 10-star house but a two star occupants, as we wrote too many moons ago. It’s like the eternal misconnect between NatHERS and BASIX, one measures the quality of the building fabric, the other actual consumption.

Guess what Mother Nature thinks? She gives not two hoots for trying, no points for turning up. It’s do or die in her world/our world.

When we have 100 per cent clean energy with no offsets needed then we can have this conversation again.

In the meantime NABERS is about to be mandated for sale or lease of offices of 1000 square metres. But what then?

The tenancies get the rating so they can dress up for sale or lease and then…nothing.

In smart parts of the world they mandate regular performance checks.

Why can’t Australia say you need to demonstrate your NABERS energy performance rating every year, or every two years. Put the sign at the front entrance to the building, right at eye level of the staff coming in to spend the best part of the day in the building, and right at eye level of the CEO – see if they’re happy to keep seeing a two star performance.

It’s not Oi Oi Oi Aussie Aussie Aussie; it should be ohhh ohhh ohhh Australia, get it together…for goodness sake.

Don’t forget to come to our Mad Men event in Melbourne and get your company to win the $10,000 prize for how to best promote a building’s NABERS rating. In the tenancy as well, why not?

Soon, hopefully that will be something that will need refreshing every year.

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