Stephen White

On Monday around 50 industry experts in housing from around the country will convene in Adelaide. Their job will be to find solutions and pathways for industry and government to  collaborate on decarbonising Australia’s housing stock.

The CRC for Low Carbon Living and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council have developed the forum and invited participants best able to cut through the various policy, regulation, technical, engineering, consumer and market barriers.

Dr Stephen White, from both the CSIRO and the CRC for Low Carbon Living, says that in addition to the National Energy Productivity Plan, which will look at the regulatory space and disclosure, industry and government will also need to work at engaging consumers in sustainable housing.

A  key step is to bridge the knowledge gap for consumers, to explain what a rating means in terms of the home’s sustainability, comfort and running costs, White says.

“From an energy and running costs perspective, what’s needed is a rating framework that can inform consumers on a home’s fixed appliances, renewable energy generation and storage capacity, as well as the thermal performance of the building fabric.

“In addition to running costs, the single most important thing is comfort,” White says.  “It’s fine when you go to an open house at midday and the sun is out and everything looks rosy, but it’s in the late afternoon, in the height of summer that you might find the house could be uncomfortable to live in.”

The opportunity is to demonstrate the capability of a house in a tangible, understandable way “at the point of sale or rent” will lead to much better disclosure and engagement, he says.

But tools and ratings can only go so far. White says is much other work under way in the sector focused on engagement from industry and consumers.

Engaging Consumers

The NSW government, for instance, has been working with the sustainable housing industry since 2014 on the Collaborative Sustainable Housing Initiative, which brings together people from different parts of the industry around a common agenda of “creating mainstream demand for sustainable housing”.

Through collective action, the initiative aims to do what can’t be done by any one player, he says.

A number of projects have come out of the initiative. Currently under development is a new social media platform, Build for Life, designed to provide information on products and services for sustainable home building and renovation for consumers. White says the idea borrows from Trip Advisor with peer to peer feedback and consumer reviews.

He says the platform potentially offers huge interest and upside by tapping the zeitgeist of the home renovation boom, and bringing a sense of understanding about comfort and sustainability to add to aesthetic interest.

Another engagement approach is the Liveability program that was developed by Cecille Weldon at LJ Hooker and recently acquired by CSIRO.

The program educates real estate agents on how to better understand and sell the sustainability benefits of housing and would be a powerful tool in consumer engagement at the point of buy or rent, says White who was instrumental in the CSIRO acquisition.

He says LJ Hooker had done a “fantastic job” to develop the program but under independent ownership its role would be much stronger.

Even so there are no silver bullets, White says. “Will any one thing get us to zero carbon or zero energy houses immediately all by itself? No.

“You need Build for Life, you need Liveability, you need Disclosure at point of sale, you need the construction code and a whole suite of policies and collective action.”

At Monday’s forum the idea will be to foster the cross platform collaboration rather than just focusing on regulations or policy.

“I guess the aim we’re looking for is to open up the holistic discussion, and show how the Low Carbon Living CRC’s research can help inform the debate”.

“So finding the glue to pull all the threads together” and collaboratively looking at a “whole suite of initiatives.”

A great time for the resi sector

Cecille Weldon, who is expected to manage Liveability, was also optimistic about the potential for the residential sector.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time in the sustainability industry,” she told The Fifth Estate on Thursday.

Weldon said it was too early to comment on the next iteration of Liveability, but she was certainly positive on the outlook.

Key was to build better communications between the sustainability sector and consumers.

Weldon believes some of the language around sustainability in the past had polarised people to some extent and the industry needed to communicate in a more meaningful way, “not about what you should do but what you want to do.”

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