Elham Monavari accepting NAWIC award

Last week, I was thinking a lot about windows. This was, in part, because I sat down with colleagues for a round table discussion on the future of double-glazed windows in Australian homes. Something that is standard practice in most parts of the world remains revolutionary here. 

But I was also thinking about windows as metaphors. They give us a framed version of the world, but also allow us to see an alternate view with clarity. And it is clarity that we need when it comes to tackling the sustainability of our homes.

Almost eight million of Australia’s 10.6 million existing homes are “past their use by date”, according to PowerHousing Australia’s 2022 Australian Affordable Housing Report. Consequently, they contribute up to 20 per cent of our nation’s emissions.

How can we possibly expect to tackle some of the biggest challenges that lie ahead – like embodied carbon – when we haven’t even overcome the first hurdle of energy efficiency?

This is a question that keeps me up at night. And looking for the answer drove me to work at the Green Building Council of Australia.

About three years ago I re-joined the GBCA, following a stint in government and time overseas, because I saw the potential for the Green Star Homes standard to bring climate action to everyday Australians. 

Elham Monavari

I, like every other person who cares deeply about sustainability and the future of our planet, saw successive elections won and lost on climate action. I could see that people wanted to take practical action, but this wasn’t being reflected at the ballot box. 

Why is this? There are many reasons, but I think the most obvious is that it is simply overwhelming. What size solar panels should I install? How much insulation do I need? How big should my battery be? How much will it all cost? Answering these questions is not easy for those who are not technically minded and have a lot of other life pressures to deal with. 

This led me to another question: How can we make a standard for green homes that is so simple and easy to understand that we achieve sustainability by stealth? 

This is how we’ve approached the task of creating the Green Star Homes standard. When Australians see the Green Star Homes certification mark, they will know their home is healthy, net zero in energy, fully electric, draught sealed, efficient and powered by renewables. They will know their home is well-ventilated, comfortable, water efficient and resilient to a changing climate.

Green Star Homes offers a positive message that can appeal to people’s heartstrings and, with time, their purse strings. We know affordability is an initial obstacle to overcome. We want this to be the norm for everyone. This is why we are so excited to have many of Australia’s largest volume builders as partners. We need scale to bring the costs of net zero homes down. But we will never bring the costs down if we can’t get the scale. 

Imminent upgrades to the National Construction Code have certainly directed builders to the table. This update, if adopted, will mean the residential sector faces its most substantial increase in stringency in the Code’s history. But many builders were already reimagining the way they design and construct homes. Together, we’ve approached the task of creating a new standard with a collaborative and pragmatic mindset. 

It is still early days for Green Star Homes, but Stockland, Mirvac, Metricon, Rawson Homes, Chatham Homes, Ingenia Communities, Passive House, Landcom and Development Victoria have piloted the draft standard. Some of our partners have design ratings in review, others are working towards their first ratings. We have a clear and unified purpose and we know, if we succeed, we will bring sustainability to everyday Australians.

Clarity of purpose was our first step. The next is to frame and sell our message to Australians via an upcoming mass media campaign. If we can get traction, Green Star Homes could drive down emissions by around 70,000 t/CO2eq over the next decade – the annual carbon emission of more than 8,400 homes.

There’s a lot happening in the world: a pandemic, the threat of nuclear war and devastating floods to name a few. But there is always a lot going on in the world and the clock continues to tick on climate change. While the task ahead is enormous, we have solutions within our grasp. We just need the scale. So, my message is as crystal clear as looking through a (double-glazed) window: get behind Green Star Homes.

Elham Monavari is the Senior Manager for Green Star Operations Transformation at the Green Building Council of Australia. 

She was recently presented with the CPB Award for Contribution to Sustainability at the 2022 NAWIC Awards for Excellence in Sydney.

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  1. What I find most compelling about the Green Star Homes standard is that it sets not just a standard for today, but a framework for ratcheting up standards in the future. It’s intelligently designed and our building codes should take inspiration from the reasoning behind it.