Marina One, Singapore, image: Artist’s impression
Marina One, Singapore, image: Artist’s impression

The Green Building Council of Australia wants the building sector to start thinking about biodiversity and ecology the same way it does about climate change and energy.

According to GBCA head of market transformation Jorge Chapa, while no one in the industry blinks an eye at moves to go zero carbon or net energy positive, that same level of “dramatic change” is not being seen around biodiversity and ecology.

“In principle everyone looks at nature in and around buildings and understands it’s important, but we haven’t put it at the forefront like other things,” Mr Chapa told The Fifth Estate.

In order to signal to the market that it’s time to rethink how nature is integrated and strengthened in and around projects, the council has released a discussion paper on changes to Green Star’s biodiversity and ecology credits.

“Cities depend on healthy ecosystems to sustain long-term conditions for life, health and ongoing prosperity, but the economic value of ecosystems and biodiversity is usually not adequately accounted for in conventional economic accounting,” Mr Chapa said.

“We need to do more to change the equation and Green Star is a proven tool we can adapt and use to drive change.”

The Building With Nature discussion paper envisages Green Star projects increasing the amount of green space in cities, improving biodiversity, ensuring connectivity of nature and promoting restoration.

“Urbanisation and biodiversity don’t have to be mutually exclusive propositions.”

The changes are part of the GBCA’s “Green Star Future Focus” program, which is aiming to reshape the Green Star rating system to “ensure the sustainable built environment delivers what it needs to, whilst also responding to global megatrends and emerging challenges”.

The paper proposes changes to Green Star that would provide credits to projects for:

  • choosing sites within current urban boundaries or with limited initial ecological value
  • protecting, enhancing or creating ecological value
  • providing facilities and programs that encourage people to connect with nature
  • creating habitats and ecosystem services on-site and across the landscape that increase city resilience
  • engaging with state and local governments early to promote aligned responses that increase urban biodiversity
  • using ecological offsets to further promote land or ecosystem restoration

Ratings would continue to be denied to projects that are built on areas for high ecological value or that impact on sites of national significance.

“Central to the revision of the category is a need to ensure that connectivity (at habitat and broader landscape scale) is considered during assessments, development of plans and implementation of action,” the discussion paper says.

“Over time, it is envisaged that the long-term biodiversity planning will result in an increase of biodiversity and improve future decision making on ecological values for the local and regional area.”

The paper has identified five principles with which a new approach to biodiversity and ecology would be based:

  1. Protect ecological value, by encouraging development on land of limited value
  2. Minimise ecological impact, by reducing the impact on on-site ecology and biodiversity during and after construction.
  3. Enhance ecological value and biodiversity, by improving the site as a first priority, and only then should off-site ecology be considered
  4. Connect ecological networks, by linking or maintaining connections between native or built landscape corridors
  5. Create and manage on-site and off-site natural spaces, by constructing new natural environments within the built environment and encouraging the maintenance of enhancements on-site and off-site

Mr Chapa said everything was up for discussion, and feedback would be taken on the paper over the next six months, and consultations and workshops will also be held.

“The key goal is to inform and signal to industry what we’re thinking,” he said.

“The paper helps frame an ongoing discussion, and hopefully works as a catalyst to the property industry to look at this topic with fresh eyes.”

The GBCA expects new requirements to be adopted from 2020.

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  1. While three are some excellent goals here for biodiversity a very important one is clearly missing. That is, the sourcing of building materials. What effects are the quarrying, mining, logging, production and processing of building materials having on ecology and biodiversity? whether that is overseas or in Australia. Until this is fully and transparently included many of the most severe impacts on threatened species, rainforests, old growth forest and high value habitat will be ignored.