LOCAL GOVERNMENT: If you want to build a house or building in certain Victorian locations, you may soon be obliged to meet mandatory net zero targets, thanks to the dedicated work of an alliance of councils in the state.
For years, the Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE) that now has a huge membership of 38 municipalities – covering the most significant population densities in the state and not just progressive councils – has been waving the flag for green buildings and infrastructure in Australia’s second most populated state.
Sitting within the Municipal Association of Victoria the tightly resourced organisation has been at the centre of some impressive projects.
Not least is the creation of BESS (the Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard), which is an online tool used at the planning permit level to assess whether developments align with the council’s sustainable design objectives.
Executive officer Natasha Palich says at the top of CASBE’s agenda now, is to raise the bar for ESD (Environmentally Sustainable Development) in new construction.
The project is driven by the wave of climate emergency declarations made by councils and involves the investigation of what a zero carbon buildings target would look like if it was embedded into existing local ESD policies.
Called the “elevating ESD targets” project and backed by 29 councils, the objective is to see if zero carbon targets are viable from a technical, financial, and planning regulation perspective.
If the revised ESD policies pass these tests, the plan is to enshrine zero carbon targets and other elevated sustainability benchmarks into the ESD policy objectives and standards adopted by the 29 councils.
Zero carbon, regenerative and resilient buildings (hopefully)
Palich says zero carbon represents the biggest jump in ambition, but the proposed ESD policy objectives and standards will also ramp up expectations on other environmental issues, including managing water and waste and increasing greening and biodiversity.
This reflects the growing awareness that reducing emissions is no longer enough and that buildings must be prepared to survive the worst weather events that a changing climate will bring.
“…a climate resilient building exhibits a combination of mitigation and adaption.”
Also to better reflect the harsh reality of our damaged natural world, Palich expects see a regenerative, “positive” development approach to feature in the updated ESD policy.
The project is an “extraordinary undertaking”, she says, and is enthused to have attracted the high number of participating 29 councils – and additional funding – to deliver better buildings across the state.
Start with sustainable subdivisions
The other project that’s attracted an encouraging level of interest is the development of Sustainable Subdivision Framework, which looks at ways planners can influence the design of greenfield subdivision to get the most sustainable outcomes possible, such as orienting lots to efficiently generate solar energy.
Other interventions possible at the planning stage include facilitating water sensitive design, keeping mature trees for biodiversity purposes and creating walkable neighbourhoods.
Councils started trialling the framework in October 2020, with the pilot period expected to last until March 2022.
Sharing and collaboration – the piggyback effect
According Palich, the “truly grassroots” organisation knits together the best sustainable planning ideas across member councils and produces standards and guidelines that reflect true best practice.
For smaller councils that often have thinly resourced sustainability teams, piggy backing off the knowledge gathered by other councils unlocks sustainability outcomes that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
The development community also benefits from a more consistent and standardised planning system.
The organisation is run on the principles of “openness and collaboration” where the group of member councils have signed a memorandum of understanding to fund CASBE’s operations as a collective. Palich says that often, when a person from a participating council starts a new job at another council, they tend to sign the new organisation up straight away.