round table hosted by Cundall

Australia is outperforming on green buildings. Again. This time on net zero buildings. But as an industry round table hosted by Cundall heard, achieving the ambitions will be a challenge and require collaboration.

Australian companies are dominating signatories in World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment launched last year. From a total of 63 global signatories, 15 are from Australia, including – as of this week – one of the big four banks, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Others to join are Monash University, Multiplex and the City of Melbourne.

Existing Australian signatories include AMP Capital Wholesale Office Fund, CBUS Property, Cundall, the City of Sydney, Dexus, Frasers Property Australia, GPT Wholesale Office Fund, Local Government Super, Nightingale Housing, Stockland’s retirement living and logistics divisions and the Sydney Opera House.

In the past there’s been no consensus about what constitutes net zero and when it should happen, so the WorldGBC’s program has drawn a line in the sand for companies, cities, states and regions to get to net zero.

The ambitious target calls for zero operating emissions in a signatory’s portfolio by 2030, and to advocate for all buildings to be net zero in operations by 2050.

Signing on the dotted line is only the beginning say guests at Cundall roundtable

Although the list of companies committed to net zero is growing, that’s just the easy bit.

A group of signatories to the Net Zero Commitment at a Cundall-initiated roundtable meeting in Sydney on Wednesday all agreed that getting to net zero will be no walk in the park.

Gathered in the same room to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities involved in achieving the target, these leaders in the sustainable building industry recognise that knowledge sharing and collaboration will be necessary to meet the commitment.

The roundtable, attended by The Fifth Estate, included representatives from AMP Capital, City of Sydney, Cundall, Dexus Property Group, Multiplex, Stockland and the Green Building Council of Australia.

AMP Capital head of sustainability, real estate Chris Nunn talked about where the decarbonisation opportunities sit for the company, and says energy procurement is by far the biggest opportunity for the portfolio.

Dexus is a leader in the renewable power purchasing agreement (PPA) space and has worked with energy retailer Red Energy about next generation renewable energy supply through a PPA.

Its senior manager, group sustainability and energy, Rob Sims said that getting the arrangement to stack up commercially was essential. 

“We also wanted to do net zero commercially. It’s a great selling point for us. Because if you don’t do it commercially the people holding the purse strings switch off straight away, and your whole program comes to a halt. So it needs to be done in a cost sensitive way,” he said.

PPAs are a key component of the zero carbon pathway but energy efficiency and electrification are also important. Again, getting the business case right for these upgrades is critical.

Consensus on tackling operating emissions is a great achievement and it also opens the door for the next stages of decarbonisation in the building sector, including embodied carbon and other indirect emissions.

All eyes are on embodied carbon at the moment, which is the greenhouse gas emissions released when making building materials and during construction. This year’s World Green Building Week is all about raising awareness on this issue, with the WorldGBC releasing a new report earlier this week to guide the global building sector to net zero embodied carbon emissions by 2050.

Cundall director and partner David Clark described embodied carbon as a “sleeper issue” that will hopefully now start getting more attention in Australia.

Jeff Oatman, senior manage market engagement at the Green Build Council of Australia, said that raising awareness of the issue is exactly what the report released this week was intended to do.

“It’s a really big one, and we’ve got a lot of signatories who’ve said they support it which is great but it’s almost a similar commitment that we’re talking about today. We’re at the incubator, but-making-some-noise-about-it-stage and maybe in a year or two we’ll be in a different position and have more traction,” Mr Oatman said.

Another big challenge will be tenant emissions. Sensors and IoT will be useful but there’s also a major behavioural change piece, such as tenants dressing appropriately, so temperature control, requiring big loads on energy consumption, does not need to be extreme.

The GBCA’s Mr Oatman pointed out that it’s great that Australia’s major property companies are showing leadership but there’s still the rest of the industry to think about.

He said the learnings of the trailblazers need to be transferred to the rest of the industry and better regulation can also help some of those lagging behind to catch up.

Mr Sims from Dexus said one of the biggest challenges is the customer’s appetite for zero carbon buildings.

“If everyone is demanding zero carbon buildings, everything from A to Z grade buildings are going to need to get there. There is a conversation that society is having and we need to crystallise it into what it means for buildings,” he said.

City of Sydney’s manager carbon strategy Nik Midlam said, “there’s a good signal coming through this COAG [Council of Australian Governments] process of having a trajectory so at least industry can start to plan and customers can start to have expectations about how buildings need to look.”

“It needs improvement, it needs work, but it’s a start.”

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