Policy makers within the Northern Territory are failing residents and the building industry by neglecting to introduce policies to promote environmentally sustainable practices in architecture, building and construction, an industry lobby group says.
In the lead-up to the Territory’s election on August 25, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has called on leaders to commit to more efficient, productive and sustainable buildings and communities.
In an assessment of government performance against five key priorities, however, the GBCA says although the Territory’s Land Development Corporation is doing a good job of incorporating sustainable principles into communities and cities and the Territory has some notable green building successes such as Darwin’s Jacana House, current efforts on the part of policy makers are lacking in a number of key areas.
Whereas there are 50 Green Star-rated schools in other states across Australia, the GBCA says, the NT has none, nor does the Territory have mandated minimum Green Star standards for public office accommodation.
“While the Northern Territory government and opposition have both voiced their commitment to sustainability, the Territory risks being left behind if it does not implement policies and programs which support sustainable buildings and communities,” the GBCA’s executive director of advocacy Robin Mellon says.
Five Point Plan for Success
Five key priorities the GBCA says the NT government must adopt in order to maximise its potential regarding environmentally friendly buildings are as follows:
1) Provide leadership.
At the moment, one of the most crucial areas where efforts are failing revolves around the provision of leadership on the part of the government by promoting Green Star standards for public sector buildings.
Whereas governments in Victoria and Queensland have mandated minimum Green Star standards for their office accommodation, Mellon says, the Northern Territory has yet to make such a commitment.
2) Retrofit existing buildings.
Mellon says that while embedding sustainable building and design in new buildings is one thing, improving the environmental performance of existing stock is another challenge altogether.
He says state governments throughout the country have been introducing incentives with regard to existing buildings to improve energy efficiency, reduce water use, widen the range of sustainable building materials used and reduce construction and demolition waste.
With this in mind, the GBCA says it would like to see all sides of politics in the NT recognise the importance of this area, with the government undertaking an audit of its own buildings to identify opportunities for incremental improvement.
3) Green education and healthcare buildings
Arguably, this is the area where the government is failing the most – and one in which it has an enormous opportunity for improvement.
Mellon says the past few years have seen the Tasmanian government promise that all new building works for schools, hospitals and community health care centres will meet 5 Star Green Star benchmarks; the Queensland and ACT governments achieve Green Star ratings for a number of education projects; and South Australia commit to achieving Green Star benchmarks on a number of new projects, including the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Yet whereas more than 50 schools and education facilities throughout Australia are Green Star rated, not one of them is in the Northern Territory.
“This presents a real opportunity for NT to capitalise on the benefits of green schools and healthcare facilities, and learning outcomes from across the country,” Mellon says. “The people of NT have a right to more healthy and productive school and hospital buildings”.
4) Green cities and communities – not just green buildings
One area in which the Territory is doing well, courtesy of efforts on the part of the Land Development Corporation in sponsoring the Green Star – Communities rating tool, revolves around the design and creation not just of sustainable buildings but also sustainable cities.
“We applaud the NT’s Land Development Corporation for sponsoring the development of the Green Star – Communities rating tool, and the NT Government for demonstrating green leadership in this area,” Mellon says. “We look forward to working with NT communities, such as the City of Weddell, City of Palmerston and City of Darwin, to achieve Green Star – Communities ratings which will help create more affordable, liveable and sustainable cities in the NT region.”
5) Train workers for green skills
Last, but not least, in order to capitalise on opportunities before it, the GBCA says the Territory needs to cultivate the necessary skills within its workforce to succeed.
“In much the same way that OH&S has become an integrated part of industry training, green skills must be embedded into the NT curriculum to ensure we develop better, safer, greener buildings and provide people with job opportunities and skills in a low-carbon economy,” Mellon says.
Above all, the GBCA says, the challenge is before both leadership contenders to commit to a more sustainable future in building and construction.
“We look forward to hearing both Chief Minister Henderson and Leader of the Opposition Terry Mills outline commitments to a better built environment between now and the election on 25 August,” Mellon says.