What just happened? NSW has shot to the head of the pack on sustainability. It’s a conservative government and it’s mandating strong outcomes for buildings. It’s read the tea leaves, that’s what.

NSW minister for planning and transport Rob Stokes will stop new homes being built with black roofs and he’s also dropped a raft of other hints as to how the state will achieve net zero. He’s singling out the built environment.

Under the Net Zero Cities Action Plan currently being developed by DPIE, NSW will increase BASIX energy efficiency requirements, advance the development of green concrete and steel, increase industry understanding of embodied carbon, as well as mandate lighter coloured roofs across the state.

In addition, under the soon to be finalised Design and Place state environmental planning policy (SEPP), all large commercial developments designed from 2022 will be asked to operate at net zero emissions from day one of their operational use. 

Speaking at a Committee for Sydney webinar, Mr Stokes emphasised, “we cannot effect strong climate outcomes without changing the way we build.” 

“Embodied energy in our built environment is the next great challenge in achieving net zero.”  

Proposed changes to BASIX under the plan would include raising the minimum NatHERS thermal energy rating for new residential dwellings from 5.5 to 7 stars. 

“This will mean better design, better insulation, more sunlight, more solar panels…and save another 150 thousand tonnes of carbon a year” Mr Stokes said. 

On requirements for net zero commercial buildings in the new SEPP, Stokes said this was an area where industry was already leading the way for government to follow, with major progress on net zero buildings also being carved out by the City of Sydney, the Green Building Council and NABERS.

For large offices, hotels and shopping centres in Greater Sydney, net zero operational emissions will be a requirement. 

All other commercial buildings, and those outside of Greater Sydney, will be asked for a net zero statement to “encourage developers to think early and ensure that buildings are designed to be capable of running at net zero in the future.”

The government will also aim to leverage more of its buying power on major infrastructure works to help develop the markets for green steel and concrete.

Helping improve industry knowledge on embodied carbon, the government will ask new developments to calculate the embodied carbon of their top five materials, with the data to be collected and collated via the new planning portal.

Meanwhile, for the residential construction sector, a new tool proposed in the Design and Place SEPP, will require buildings to meet modest embodied emissions standards, with the aim of encouraging reducing materials use or favouring those with lower embodied carbon. 

Mandating for lighter roofs

Under the new net zero plan, DPIE will pursue policy requiring all new homes to be built with light coloured roofs, of any desired shade, to reduce indoor and outdoor temperatures and cut energy consumption.

This follows a widely applauded directive earlier in the year that all new homes in the suburb of Wilton, on the periphery of Sydney, would need to be built with light coloured roofs to reduce urban heat island effects and for backyards of detached homes to have space for a tree.

Mr Stokes said while many welcomed the conditions, others were critical, calling it red tape and “nanny state thinking”. 

NSW government finally sees the light, ditches dark roofs

“It is quite incredible in a country as hot as Australia we’re still building homes with dark roofing and it’s equally incredible that we have to legislate for backyards in detached homes to be big enough for people to plant a tree,” he said. 

“There are no practical reasons why we shouldn’t be ditching dark roofing on new homes permanently…to ensure that future communities of Sydney’s west don’t experience the urban heat that many communities do now.”

Stokes added, on the road to net zero, he had directed DPIE to investigate ways of reducing the scope 1 and 2 emissions of major mining projects, which he said could be limited through more rigorous approval assessments and conditions. 

Don’t let technology distract from the basics

Mr Stokes made the point we shouldn’t let promising new technologies distract or override more lower tech, but effective, emissions reductions strategies — giving the examples of lighter coloured roofs and green spaces to reduce urban heat. 

“It’s important we don’t let these shiny new things distract us from the basics of good design and planning,” Stokes said. 

“Too often we see myopic technological solutions that reduce the environmental impacts on one aspect of an urban system, while reinforcing the underpinning dependencies.” 

“While airconditioning can be powered by renewables and e-glass can improve thermal comfort, such technologies can enable us to build structures that are not thoughtfully oriented or designed.” 

Stokes acknowledged the great challenge of sustainability which he noted, in itself, does not come with any specific calls to action.

“The challenge for policy makers is to put the operational content behind the lofty ideals,” Mr Stokes said. 

“Here in NSW we’ve become, we believe, Australia’s most progressive government when it comes to action on climate change.” 

See opinion, What just happened in NSW?

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  1. All good except – why leave housing behind – in the last handful of years that we MUST radically decarbonise we NEED to be MANDATING NET ZERO EMISSIONS NOW! If not now, When? The National Construction Code is being updated now after 11 years of no change. BASIX needs to mandate net zero now or sooner – no excuses, no procrastination, not kicking the ball into the long grass.
    AND get this – a net zero emission home is even more affordable on the day the new homeowner collects the keys because the energy cost savings are greater than the tiny increase in mortgage payments for the net zero additions. The only beneficiaries of delay are the fossil fuel gentailers big donors to both major parties.

  2. The NSW Government loves energy sustainability but refuses to consider basic accessibility in housing. They may lead on energy sustainability but they are last in the accessibility stakes.
    We are all going to age, but what point is there in having a cool home if you simply can’t get into it?
    It is time for the NSW Government to plan coherently for the built environment it wants for its citizens in the future; NSW homes need to be affordable, energy efficient AND accessible.