Peter Salveson, chief executive officer of national construction firm Hansen Yuncken. Image: Hansen Yuncken

Different clients are calling for different sustainability ratings systems and the pressure on builders is growing, even to the extent that they are periodically brought back to assess building performance, according to long-time builder Hansen Yuncken.

Builders hold an important role in driving sustainability during the construction stage into the building operations, ensuring that design is met during the construction phase and even into the operational phase, with sustainable materials used and energy and waste minimised. 

For Peter Salveson, chief executive officer of national construction firm Hansen Yuncken, sustainable construction is starting to become part of “business as usual” for construction companies. 

“The demand for sustainability is always increasing. Government has led the way in many cases but private developments are now well and truly embracing sustainability. As general awareness has increased, many sustainability initiatives have become ‘business as usual’.”

The company is seeing a move towards electrification of buildings in SA.

“There are rising trends in thinking long term about emissions and energy efficiency,” Salveson says. 

The Australia-wide company’s Adelaide office opened in 1939 and has since gone on to complete numerous landmark projects in the city including the Airport, Eos by SkyCity, Bicentennial Conservatory within Adelaide Botanic Garden, the University of SA City West Campus, Commonwealth Law Courts, SA Water Building and Telstra House.

A client-driven, whole of life approach

“We’re seeing more and more demand for sustainability outcomes for buildings and building sites,” Hansen Yuncken’s SA construction manager Scott Brumfield says.

“A lot is client driven. A lot of the projects are completely or partially funded by sustainable funding sources, which have conditions attached.”

Following environmental management plans are “essentially core procedures”, as many clients now demand a “whole of life” approach to their assets and designers work closely with construction companies to minimise life cycle impacts. 

“All clients want efficient buildings to drive down costs, which is perfectly aligned with meeting sustainability targets”

It’s a case of “aligning clients’ needs with sustainability goals”, Salveson says. 

“I believe every client does target sustainability outcomes – even when it may not be front of mind. All clients want efficient buildings to drive down costs, which is perfectly aligned with meeting sustainability targets.”`

Adelaide’s first 6 star Green Star building

The company has completed several major sustainability-focused projects, including the South Australia Water fitout (also occupied by the Environmental Protection Agency), designed by Architectus. 

The building replaced outdated laboratories and commercial office accommodation across Adelaide, consolidating key SA Water functions in a customer service centre, education centre, 5600 square metres of laboratories and 12,000 square metres of corporate offices, featuring around 980 work points. 

As Adelaide’s first 6 star Green Star building, the $42 million space also includes a 6 star Green Star interior fitout.

Salveson says the company has a range of projects on the horizon, within the defence, health, hospitality and retail sectors. 

“It is an exciting time with both government and private sector projects in the pipeline – we look forward to sharing news of these publicly over coming months.”

The 6 Green Star South Australia Water fitout in Adelaide. Image: Architectus

One benchmark does not fit all 

Mr Brumfield says that different clients are calling for different sustainability ratings systems. This presents a challenge when it comes to sourcing the right partners and subcontractors, and ensuring the design input is properly thought out. 

The health sector in SA asks for a bespoke in-house green rating tool called IGRAT. The tool is used on all SA Health projects to establish key performance indicators and a method of verification of sustainable outcomes on capital works projects. 

For example, the health sector in SA asks for a bespoke in-house green rating tool called IGRAT. The tool is used on all SA Health projects to establish key performance indicators and a method of verification of sustainable outcomes on capital works projects. 

“This presents challenges because there are various schemes in the market – but at the end of the day it all comes up with similar outcomes. 

Privately funded projects on the other hand often do not seek ratings at all, but seek high levels of energy efficiency. 

For example, the Sky City Adelaide Casino Expansion project completed in 2020 incorporates triple-glazed low-solar-gain low-e glass for a high energy performance facade.

The Sky City Adelaide Casino Expansion project by Hansen Yuncken and Buchan Group. Image: Hansen Yuncken.

This type of glass reduces solar heat gain during summer, and is normally used in hot climates. The thermal analysis was certified by the Berkeley lab in California, according to Brumfield. There was also a focus on tuning the HVAC systems, and even after handover the builder was required to come back periodically to assess performance. 

“The performancewas exceptionally high, but there are no ratings on the building,” Mr Brumfield says.  

The $300 million building with architects Buchan Group included upgrades to heritage site the Adelaide Railway Station Building.

Biggest challenges not yet abated

Labour shortages and the rising price of materials is still hitting the industry hard, even after the borders have opened. 

As of November 2021, the construction industry employed more than one million people which makes up around one in nine of all workers –  but business in this field are currently most at risk of shortages.

Infrastructure Australia warned in October last year that labour shortages may peak “at a likely shortfall of 93,000 workers in early 2023 or 48 per cent higher than projected supply”.

For SA construction manager Scott Brumfield, this is a problem. 

“The main challenge at the moment is sourcing labour. We see real labour shortages in most industries. In a labour intensive industry with a lot of work happening on site means that Covid has hit us pretty hard. 

“It’s hit smaller [companies] more than larger [companies], so if we have a smaller carpentry gang it can hit them hard. But in large companies it doesn’t hurt so hard. So managing that has been really difficult.” 

Salveson, however, predicts that the peak of labour shortages is coming to an end. 

“There have been short term issues due to COVID-19 but we are seeing those coming to an end.” 

For the challenge of materials shortages brought on by pandemic supply chain disruptions and the situation in Eastern Europe, Brumfield says the only way to keep costs low is to “lock away that risk by purchasing as early as we can in the project”. 

Salveson agrees, stating: “It’s no secret that rising prices are unfortunately being reflected with increased construction costs overall. We try to minimise the impact by locking in costs early and sourcing alternative products where viable.” 

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