OPINION: The news that Victoria may cave to housing industry pressure to further delay the implementation of 7 star NatHERS relating to energy efficiency in housing and that New South Wales might also cave is bad news for humanity.

The Fifth Estate was alive with angry comment on the likely delays to implementing 7 stars NatHERS in the National Construction Code V2. Personally, I wasn’t remotely surprised or even angry – barely, even disappointed – just same old, same old!

I am now dulled to Australia’s serial failure on anything and everything to do with the existential threat of the climate emergency. What I need for my sanity is to see a real, significant and sustained success to make me believe that we are not psychopaths and actually have the will to change for a survivable future for our kids and grandkids. 

The mounting evidence of the climate collapsing around our ears still hasn’t shaken us out of our complacency – never mind our kids, perhaps it won’t even be survivable for us.

7 stars NatHERS was never a real and significant change – it was trivial and a cowardly cave in to vested interests and Luddite Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Australia lobbying, with our spineless governments and institutions – brilliant at wringing their hands and making excuses, but totally incapable of showing any determined leadership for a survivable future. 

7 stars hasn’t even been sustained for the year needed between agreement (ha!) to implementation [Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia have delayed for three years], so we look set to be stuck with 6 stars for many more years (already 13). So, from my perspective, almost nothing is lost.  

But every failure can also be an opportunity. So, here’s my provocative question: are the people expressing their anger this time around ready to actually do something about it, or are they just grandstanding again, to look good for a news cycle and then go back to sleep?

If the angry are serious this time, then let’s turn the tables on the HIA and MBA and say – OK we’re taking 7 stars off the table now and we’re going back to what we wanted originally – we’re now demanding Net Zero emissions NOW.

So, what would be the consequences of making such a demand?

  • We would accelerate emissions reductions from all houses four times faster than 7 stars would have achieved (56 per cent by 2050)
  • We would ensure that almost all new house roofs had solar PV installed from new – contributing significantly to our renewable energy targets
  • We would make all new houses significantly more affordable from day 1 when the new owner picks up the keys – their energy cost savings over a net zero house would be up to eight times greater than the additional mortgage payments for the solar panels on the roofs (five times in NSW climate zones; though these ratios may be changed as the result of mortgage rate and energy cost rises since September 2022)
  • Homebuilders would be forced to build solar onto new properties from new (start clutching those pearls homebuilders), but in very little time, homebuilders will realise that this is a fantastic opportunity for value add (oversizing of solar arrays in readiness for the electric vehicle, vehicle charging points, home batteries, electrifying and avoiding the need for gas connections, premium appliances etcetera). Homebuilders will quickly reach agreements with (or employ) solar installers to bring build costs down – it’s obviously much cheaper to install solar from new than retrofit for net zero

How might we go about it?

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Well, we could reboot the net zero for national Construction Code V2 campaign. We should expect all those expressing their anger to very publicly join this campaign and to bring their networks and organisations with them.

We can demand that the 100 organisations that spruiked 7 stars as some sort of glorious achievement instead of an embarrassing cave to vested interests to now stand up for real change with all the benefits listed above. We can agitate with state and federal governments for this to happen fast since the NCC update process has collapsed ignominiously. We can hold them to account.

If you’re angry and up for this challenge, please email me at nigelphoward@gmail.com – if I get enough replies I’ll organise a meeting. I will be looking for a high profile, charismatic leader who is well connected and committed to this process to lead it, because my failure to gain traction first time around proves that this is not me and I really don’t mind! Succeeding matters not my ego.

Nigel Howard, Clarity Environment

Nigel Howard founded the Edge Environment Consultancy in Manly and is now sole trading as Clarity Environment. More by Nigel Howard, Clarity Environment

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  1. Thanks for all the great comments and to the few of you that emailed me willing to support further action. The overwhelming response from my call to action was – naah, can’t be bothered, so I will not be attempting to reboot the Net Zero for National Construction Code Campaign. I just can’t do it alone and without very significant support from individuals and engaged institutions. So, the conclusion has to be that the huffing and puffing about delays to 7* was nothing more than grandstanding as I feared. We get what we deserve!!

  2. Nigel, the delay is actually our only chance to act and put pressure on ABCB and/or the states to fix the real issue which is the VURB loophole for NCC2022 which is going to allow single-glazing and reduced insulation in Melbourne, worse than 6-stars. Wild west.

  3. Nigel – good to see you calling out the HIA and MBA for what they are – lobbyists for the sake of it. Forever bleating to politicians about their so-called problems that they have no creative flair for overcoming. Maintaining status quo on regulation is their declared remit – it’s an ideology. If only other advocacy groups had the same access to politicians – all the rest of us can do is give them the well-researched economic evidence for cost benefit analysis, but they respond to the unsupported tales of woe from lobbyist. I sometimes wonder if they actually do represent the broader industry or just the big players.

  4. Good article Nigel. Very true. As an Electrical Engineer working the space of Energy Reduction for 26 years I know how frustrated you feel. To further support your arguments did you know that certain climate zones in NSW (BASIX) are actually a lower standard than before. Lismore, Yamba, Tweed all remain in the 4.3 star area. Very hard to understand the Government approach.

    1. Yes, I did know this and not just in BASIX. In fact I produced a graph of regulated energy use per m2 vs heating and cooling degree days for each of our 96 climate zones when it was based on 5* energy efficiency. The results were a disturbing scatter diagram with no discernible trend/correlation between the regulated standard and the prevailing climate and the utter dysfunction of the code. I haven’t done the same for 6* but I’m told it is somewhat better now.

  5. Great overview of the building industry Nigel – thank you. A sorry tale that urgently needs the next chapter!
    It reminded me that in the not-so-distant past, the building industry showed phenomenal leadership by voluntarily taking up green star to stay ahead of ‘the curve’. They could and should be the heroes of the next chapter – 2023!
    The following exemplifies the sophistication and willingness of the building industry back in 2011.
    As was referred to by Ray Brown, Director of Architectus, the architects tasked with delivering 1 Bligh Street to the developer, Sydney’s first six-star green rated building in 2011, ‘the curve’ in this context is climate change. At the time, Brown believed we might as well be in front of it and really all the industry wanted was more certainty and direction from the government.
    Working on 1 Bligh Street meant there was a common language to discuss issues which did not exist before. So the tenant, a builder, a designer, and a landlord could all converse through the language of green star or NABERS and know what they mean where in the past that was impossible as there was no benchmark.
    Next chapter – Benchmark 2023?
    Find your leader, bring the building industry together, consider / request solutions for a new benchmark to monitor emissions; identify financial incentives.

    Margaret Page

    1. As a pioneer contributor to BREEAM 1990, inspired by Stanhope developers (Stuart Lipton and Ron German) and a former Director of UK CSC responsible for BREEAM 1998 and EcoHomes (later mandated as the Code for Sustainable Homes until the Tories scrapped it) and as former VP for USGBC responsible for developing and implementing 6 versions of LEED accross US, Canada and India (2001-2006), with Green Star launched in 2003 as a meld of BREEAM and LEED, its hard for me to see Green Star as showing “phenomenal leadership”! However, I agree with your main point about some of the industries willingness to innovate for a sustainable future – poles apart from lobbying for no change in NCC mandated performance in the last decade when we MUST get to net zero for a survivable future. Housing has ALWAYS been a harder nut to crack.

      1. Many thanks Nigel. Appreciate the back history and the extensive knowledge you bring.
        In reference to the 2011 project where the uptake of green star by the Australian building industry was completely voluntary – not mandatory, suggests to me an extraordinary phenomenon! Having a tool such as green star – where all involved could speak one language- that produced 1 Bligh Street, Sydney’s first six-star green rated building in 2011 – that having the will to do something differently, shows leadership! The will is all after all! Better said …
        “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new” -Socrates

  6. Passive design has enabled me to avoid any energy use for heating and cooling, irrespective of star rating. Of course, this may only be achievable in the sub-tropics (Brisbane in my case), underlining the fact that one size does not fit all. A zero emissions design for South Australia may be totally inappropriate for Queensland.

    1. Thanks Wally and I am certainly not suggesting that one size does not fit all or that the regulation should be based on infinitely gameable star ratings. If we set the mandated performance as net zero then in all situations/climate zones appropriate designs combined with solar PV should be able to meet this requirement and in especially challenged situations we should question whether building is appropriate in the location or whether contracted renewable power is the only solution.

  7. Hi Nigel, Its not just the quality of housing we also have to regulate locations where they can be built. At present it seems likely that some homes will be built on flood plains or on good quality farmland that should be used for food production. We should be able to protect old-growth forests and the native animals that depend on them. I live in Lake Macquarie where 11,600 trees get the chop every year ( 75,000 in Adelaide) and every little bit of open space is targeted for infill development.

    1. I agree, but this is a separate issue – the emissions caused by our houses contribute to the threat of climate change (and its ecological consequences). This is potentially an existential threat which makes all other issues moot – economic, social, flooding etc. Most folk badly overestimate the extent to which nature (forestry) can mitigate our emissions. Recent research reveals that even if we maxed out ALL potential drawdown from forestry, carbon drawdown agriculture, restoration of mangroves, peat bogs, prairies, sea grasses etc. it would only reduce atmospheric CO2 by ~30ppm in a CENTURY, but our emissions add 30ppm each DECADE. The natural drawdown just isn’t feasible – we REALLY do HAVE to reduce actual emissions (with no bogus offsets).

  8. Hi Nigel, good article! I live in Western Australia. Who are the elected officials/positions in local government that we could raise our concerns to and hold accountable?

    1. Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University is the main WA contact for the Net Zero for National Construction Code V2 campaign. I haven’t yet updated the list of Federal and State ministers etc. to lobby since the camapign collapsed in September last year. If there’s enough interest I will rebott it all.