Speakers (L-R): Mary O’Neill, Vanessa Pearson, Shay Singh, Thomas Fehon

Nicky Morrison, co-director of Urban Transformations Research Centre engaged four leaders in discussions around finding solutions to achieving sustainable homes, just ahead of the release of the revised NSW Sustainable Buildings SEPP. Thomas Fehon, project director, Stockland; Vanessa Pearson, chief executive, Diversified Property Group; Shay Singh, senior manager, Green Building Council Australia; and Mary O’Neill, BASIX team leader, NSW Department Planning and Environment. Following are some highlights she took away from the discussion.

Explaining financial benefits of sustainable homes

Vanessa and Thomas both considered the biggest challenge in delivering sustainable homes rests with the difficulties that the homebuilders and consumers face in absorbing increases to total build cost of new homes. And particularly with the new BASIX regulations coming into play. How can this be justified in an affordability crisis?

Yet Mary and Shay sought to demonstrate how savings on energy costs would outpace initial upfront costs. Owners of green homes are not only financially better off from day one, but the long term financial benefits would grow over time.

Everyone agreed that greater awareness was needed around these financials and the full array of thermal comfort and health benefits that environmentally housing can offer.

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Ways to achieve widespread adoption

Each speaker showed how their organisation was driving change in the housing sector and ideas about how to get widespread adoption of sustainable design features into our homes. 

Vanessa’s family run business was an inspiring early adopter, integrating sustainability features into its Bel Air project, back in 2012. The company took the risk, demonstrating the proof of concept, and the market rewarded them it pushing the boundaries. 

This speculative property developers’ point of difference lay in having a build-out subsidiary arm. It does not sell lots to homebuilders thereby losing control on what actually gets built.  

As Vanessa said “we can build exactly what we design. And can make sure the exact same sustainability inclusions are in each home”. 

She also shared how UDIA NSW Legends and Legacy Program that she established, can help towards bringing about change in the housing sector.

Tom explained how Stockland as a large developer could take a whole precinct approach and raise the bar on residential developments. 

The use of design covenants means the company can control what gets built on the lots sold to homebuilders. If it stipulates in these covenantslight coloured roofs, for example, these must be delivered.

It can also offer residents discounted solar packages through partnerships with solar providers and support the community’s transition to EVs.

Tom shared some of these  initiatives, as it  partnered with Western Sydney University in redeveloping Werrington campus into Penrith Sustainable Innovation Community and how it is harnessing UTRC’s research expertise and international collaboration opportunities.

Shay outlined how GBCA’s dedication, working closely with government and development industry, pays dividends. 

From individual buildings to entire communities the Green star ratings tool was transforming the way our built environment is designed, constructed and operated, with Green star certified buildings proven to use 66 per cent less electricity than the average Australian building. 

And although Green Star is not a compulsory scheme, Shay highlighted how many councils now include Green Star in their consent conditions.  

Government taking the lead

Everyone agreed, however, that the biggest factor to drive change in the housing sector was through greater government regulation and standard setting.

Mary explained the way the NSW Department of Planning and Environment has ramped up its ambitions, revising the Sustainable Buildings State Environmental Planning Policy and raising the energy and thermal comfort standards on all new homes.  

Stricter requirements for insulating glazing, ventilation, energy-efficient appliances and lighting, and water saving measures will not only reduce the environmental impact of new homes but also improve the health and comfort for the residents.

It was agreed that this was an important step forward, and critical that everyone embraces these changes.

Research and education play a key role

Tom Longden, UTRC Senior Research Fellow, summarised this discussion by suggesting how we have many of the building blocks for constructing a sustainable home, but often do not put these building blocks together.

The barrier of upfront cost is real, and it is also part of the debate for solar panels, energy efficiency, electric vehicles. Despite the inertia, sustainable homes can be a point of difference.

Those who search for the difference can find developers who are aligned. But that isn’t the norm, yet. Government must play a role, including introducing sustainability standards and providing support for change.

Transdisciplinary research, education, and learnings are equally vital. Greater understanding of how the upfront costs is compensated for by the lifetime costs needs to be better disseminated, especially when there is opposition to change.  

WSU Urban Transformations Research Centre’s is committed to breaking down perceived barriers and finding shared solutions to achieving sustainable homes, and enabling communities and infrastructure to be sustainable, equitable and resilient.

Nicky Morrison, Western Sydney University

Professor Nicky Morrison is the Professor of Planning and Director of the Urban Transformations Research Centre at Western Sydney University. Nicky is a leading authority on delivering healthy, sustainable, and resilient communities and securing affordable housing through the planning system. She is the University’s academic lead in delivering Penrith Sustainable Innovation Community. More by Nicky Morrison, Western Sydney University

Tom Longden, Western Sydney University

Dr Tom Longden is a Senior Research Fellow at the Urban Transformations Research Centre at Western Sydney University More by Tom Longden, Western Sydney University

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