Dr Shaila Divakarla

Good Environmental Choice Australia has appointed Dr Shaila Divakarla as standards and technical manager, as the organisation looks to expand its reach into infrastructure products and achieve greater global recognition of GECA certification

Dr Divakarla is a registered architect with a PhD in sustainable architecture who previously worked with firms including Claredon Homes, where she held a key role in the design team for the multi-award winning Ecoliving Display Village.

Also a Greensmart professional and an accredited NatHERS/BASIX assessor, Dr Divakarla told The Fifth Estate that having the experience of being on the receiving end of specifications and standards for so many years gives her a real insight into where the needs are in the industry and the importance of verifiable benchmarks in terms of products and materials.

“The biggest challenge as an architect is you see all these things saying what is the right thing to do, and then it can be difficult finding things that are suitable for the industry,” she said.

In terms of GECA standards, Dr Divakarla said there was a fine balance between setting benchmarks that are so hard “no one is coming to be certified”, while not setting them so low that “anyone can achieve them and no real environmental gains are made”. It is equally as problematic, she said, when there is only one product or manufacturer that can meet the certification standards, as without choice there can be issues around factors such as price and customer service.

“We need to get people in [to certification] and then gradually raise the bar,” Dr Divakarla said.

There are still gaps in the Australian market regarding eco-friendly choices for key products, for example, in the finishes used for timber window frames. When Dr Divakarla was working on the Ecoliving Village project, it was not possible for the window manufacturer to get a low VOC varnish.

Another part of her work with GECA will involve examining the number of standards available worldwide, and assessing which can be made suitable for Australia.

GECA is also currently in the process of expanding the products it certifies into the infrastructure arena, linking with the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia. Dr Divakarla said this will involve looking for sustainable options for items such as bitumen and other major infrastructure products.

The organisation is also increasing its mutual product recognition scheme. GECA is a member of the Global Ecolabelling Network, and products by offshore firms that carry GEN certification are already recognised under GECA. Now there is work underway to have Australian GECA-certified products also recognised by GEN and its member organisations.

“[Standards] are absolutely critical. As an architect you come across all these manufacturers who are claiming things are green, but how do you know? That’s where standards come in and set benchmarks,” Dr Divakarla said.

“It makes it so much easier on the procurement side, especially when there are so many other pressures on a project. My vision is to see more and more products registered with GECA.”

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