The 6 Star Green Star Tyree building at UNSW, by Brookfield.

1 May 2014 — Construction firm Brookfield Multiplex and design and engineering consultancies HASSELL and AECOM have teamed up with the Cooperative Research Centre for Low-Carbon Living for an ambitious research project that aims to definitively make the case for high performing buildings.

The three-year project, Closing the Loop, will consolidate 25 years of research from journals and papers to create practical tools for the design and construction industries, with the aim to encourage buildings that have improved environmental performance as well as a positive impact on health, wellbeing and productivity.

The project also intends to make evidence of the benefits of high-performance buildings more accessible to key decision makers through better business case analysis, professional education, practical tools and guidelines.

  • UPDATE: 2 May 2014: the federal government’s Commission of Audit has recommended the CRCs be abolished, with funding rolled into the Australian Research Council Linkages program.

The project will be undertaken in four stages, which will involve reviewing existing literature and identifying gaps; researching business decision making; creating case studies; testing and trialling the findings and their operation in practice; and, finally, developing tools and strategies for the industry, including design guides, user manuals, performance measures and assessment tools.

Professor Deo Prasad

“Ultimately our focus is on creating long-term change that not only reduces the impact of our environmental footprint but leads to far-reaching and long lasting social and financial benefits to all,” Scientia Professor Deo Prasad, chief executive of the CRCLCL said.

He said the research partnership was a powerful example of “collaborating to innovate”, and that with their broad expertise the industry partners had the ability to influence the building process from design through to delivery and building management.

HASSELL chairman Ken Maher

HASSELL chairman Ken Maher, who is also professor at the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, told The Fifth Estate he had initiated the project following a conversation with Professor Prasad.

He said HASSELL had a strong and longterm commitment to sustainability. The firm, however, encountered clients with varied understandings of sustainability issues, and while with some clients sustainability was driven by passionate individuals, other companies had to deal with more corporate structures.

In these corporate scenarios, where there was a responsibility to maximise value for shareholders, Professor Maher said there needed to be “evidence beyond aspiration” for green building, and the project was attempting to create this solid evidence base.

While there were general articles, international research and a lot of different dimensions of the green building problem expressed in different ways, Professor Maher’s view is that they need to be pulled together into a more comprehensive package.

This is why the term “closing the loop” is used –while a lot of green building projects have occurred, and there is a lot of written material available, “it is still not being fully connected to the things we need to do to convince our clients to go down a particular path”, Professor Maher said.

“We really do need more well argued positions around this.

Those positions need to be based around physical and environmental issues, social issues of human performance, and economic value issues.”

Overlaid on top of this will be crucial behavioural aspects, in particular the decision making and management processes that occur to enable or hinder green building from occurring.

Well-argued positions need to be based around physical and environmental issues, social issues of human performance, and economic value issues.

The important part is to “integrate it into a comprehensive position”.

The project would be invaluable to HASSELL’s business operations, Professor Maher said.

“The value issue [of green building] comes up often [with clients], and I feel we don’t have enough tangible evidence or data to work off.

“For us [the project outcomes will become] an important tool or part of our arsenal in engaging with clients at the very early stages about the value proposition.

“The aim being that we’re committed to design that is informed, intelligent and drawing on evidence to inform the design.”

The project was attractive due to the high level of industry engagement, Professor Maher said, and the research was going to take a broad view on “the benefits of thinking holistically and thinking across various dimensions across design, implementation, project development and operations, and the cross-disciplinary thinking necessary to produce buildings that are responsible and responsive”.

AECOM global director advanced design and applied research building engineering Lester Partridge

Lester Partridge, global director advanced design and applied research building engineering at AECOM, said the project would help to sell the concept of green building outside the well-covered high-end Green Star commercial market.

“Quite often what you find is that if they’re not commercial buildings with Green Star ratings it’s very difficult to sell certain strategies and sell the concept of green building,” Mr Partridge told The Fifth Estate.

“What we’re trying to do here is quantify the benefits of green buildings. What is the evidence? How reliable is it? Does it cover all types of building?”

Mr Partridge noted there were a number of high-performing green buildings but, equally, there were a number of green buildings that had poor outcomes, and the research would attempt to tease out why this was so.

It would also help to quantify the benefits of green buildings that have been difficult to put a value on, such as daylight.

There are a number of high-performing green buildings but, equally, there are a number of green buildings that have poor outcomes, and the research will attempt to tease out why this is so.

“The bottom line is, what we’re trying to do is close the gaps and bring the literature together.”

Apart from developing industry relationships, Mr Partridge said the value for AECOM was to gain a body of knowledge that it could then take to its clients.

Working with industry and the CRCLCL added a significant level of strength to the project, Mr Partridge said.

There was the benefit of the industry leading the research and driving the direction of the project, which would create the needed focus and answer questions important to industry.

There was also the academic rigour of working with the CRCLCL, with the research needing to stand up to peer review.

Whether the answers were the ones the green building industry wanted to hear was yet to be determined, Mr Partridge said, but it would provide the “closure” industry needs.

Professor Dennis Else

Professor Dennis Else, Brookfield Multiplex group general manager sustainability and safety, told The Fifth Estate the project met a strategic need for the company.

“A few years back we really recognised that if you look – from a client’s perspective – at what they’re spending on the building itself, it’s a very small percentage of the total cost per square metre. If you take into account the salary, it’s 20-40 times the cost of the building.”

This means being getting productivity improvements out of energy – a staple of green building projects – holds nowhere near the same financial benefit as if you could get a small improvement out of the productivity of people, Professor Else said.

Consolidating the evidence base on green building for staff productivity is a key driver for Brookfield Multiplex.

“We identified this is an important aspect to us strategically to be able to engage with clients at the front end of a building job,” he said.

The key outcomes for a hospital could be based on healing time of patients, while for universities it might be research output.

The key outcomes clients wanted were different depending on the type of buildings, Professor Else said. For a hospital it could be based on healing time of patients, while for universities it might be research output, and for any type of built form there was an evidence base that the project would attempt to collate and make accessible.

He said it made sense to team up with “the HASELLs and AECOMs” for the project, and it would mean that architects, engineers and builders would be working collaboratively with the same sort of evidence base.

Professor Else said that senior management at Brookfield Multiplex had become convinced of the benefits of high-performance buildings following a visit from a neuroendocrinologist who had come to explain research about how the body, brain and endocrine system interacted, and why the physical environment in which someone is working can impact on their stress, health and productivity.

The benefits of good workplace environments were also clear after a major study was commissioned on Brookfield Multiplex’s high-performance One Shelley Street building, which was conducted by researchers from UNSW and the University of Technology Sydney.

The study measured productivity in the new workspaces at One Shelley Street compared with employees’ old locations, finding a marked improvement.

Based at UNSW, the CRCLCL is a national $100 million research collaboration comprising over 40 participants including universities, government agencies and companies within the construction industry.