When the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) launched Green Star, Australia’s first holistic environmental rating system for buildings, in 2003, the benchmarks for a 5 Star Green Star rating seemed outrageously high.
Yet a year later, 8 Brindabella Circuit in Canberra became the first Green Star-rated building in Australia, demonstrating that green building was achievable.
Today, the GBCA has certified more than 4.2 million square metres of Green Star space, we have more than 900 member companies and Australia has the second largest GBC of 89 around the world.
The Dow Jones Sustainability Index is overrun with Australian companies – with a third, or seven out of 21, being Australian.
A range of reports has confirmed that green buildings positively impact everything from operational costs to return on investment, and from reputational equity to productivity.
The most recent IPD Property Index has found that Green Star-rated buildings deliver a higher return on investment than non-Green Star buildings.
So, when we consider how far we’ve come in the nine years since the GBCA was established we can only assume that we will arrive at a point in the near future – perhaps in five years, perhaps ten – where we are no longer even talking about ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ buildings anymore.
Why? Because all buildings will be sustainable.
Just as we take it for granted that all our buildings will be constructed to high fire safety standards, and just as we take disability access for granted, sustainability will be ‘just the way we build’.
All the trends are pointing to green building becoming the norm.
A recent Jones Lang La Salle global corporate occupier survey found that 64 per cent of respondents believe that sustainability is a critical business issue.
A McGraw Hill Construction report has found that more than half of global construction firms expect to be fully committed to green building by 2013.
And the latest Davis Langdon 2011 Construction Sentiment survey found that sustainability was ranked the number one opportunity for the industry over the next five years and one of the major risks included failing to adapt to a carbon-constrained future.
So, what is the way forward for the built environment? Here are my top ten predictions:
1. The focus on existing buildings will intensify
In the US, the fastest growing rating tool in 2010 was the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Existing Buildings program. Closer to home, policies such as the Australian Government’s Commercial Building Disclosure scheme are already encouraging building owners to upgrade their existing stock. The Australian Financial Review recently said: “the retrofitting of older buildings is no longer an option for owners but a commercial imperative”. To help the industry green its existing stock, the GBCA is developing the Green Star – Performance rating tool, which will assess the operational performance of existing buildings against the nine current Green Star categories. We expect this tool to help revolutionise the industry.
2. Zero net energy designs will gain traction
There will be little room for buildings that aren’t carbon neutral, as well as energy, ecology and water positive. Many GBCA members are active in this space. Woods Bagot with Buro Happold have developed an interactive design platform which tracks energy and carbon footprints for design solutions, enabling designers to experiment with different options and start the design process with the question: ‘what can this building do for the environment?’
3. Building products and materials will become greener
The shift to green materials is being driven by lifecycle assessments of materials – that is, the impact of a material from the beginning to the end of its life. An emerging trend will be more emphasis on ‘cradle-to-cradle’ thinking, where material purchases are made based on both their first and second lives. Organisations such as InterfaceFLOR, which is recognised as the world’s most sustainable carpet manufacturer, has implemented a take-back and recycling program to ensure its products have a useful ‘second life’.
4. Affordable green will be the norm
Many people associate green with higher costs – but that’s changing. New business models, technologies and high performance materials are bringing green within reach. Colonial First State’s Rowan Griffin recently said that there was no longer a premium for green property. “We have already gone to the stage where it’s the norm to be green and energy-efficient, so people expect that out of premium buildings. So it’s more a discount of those that are not energy-efficient and not green” he said.
5. Energy sources will transform
We live in a country with more sunny days than anywhere else on the planet, yet we are lagging behind Asia, Europe and North America in installation of solar photovoltaic panels. Expect this to change, as we begin to see solar, wind and photovoltaics routinely integrated into buildings and used as a building material, rather than simply being installed on top. And many of these renewable energy sources won’t be large. Micro-turbines are already becoming popular in Asia, and we’ll see more Australian innovation in this area as we recognise the benefits of integrated small systems over one giant, geographically remote power source.
6. Building information modelling will become de rigeur
Expect a more sophisticated approach to building monitoring as building information modelling (BIM) systems become more comprehensive. BIM will enable cross-disciplinary teams to share knowledge and track data of complex building projects. The project team on 1 Bligh Street in Sydney, for example, employed 3D BIM technology during the design and construction phases. The BIM model brought together more than 30 individual discipline models and all sub-consultants were in part appointed on the basis of their BIM capability. The team found that 3D BIM saved costs, saved construction time, and supported better building performance and control. Furthermore, DEXUS believes BIM also has the capability to generate efficiencies throughout the life of 1 Bligh Street as all the building data is available on hand for the property managers.
7. Govt. focus on energy efficiency and sustainability will improve
Governments are stepping up their mandates for green buildings for both their own buildings and the private sector. The desire to reduce carbon emissions by going green will lead more government agencies to require green buildings. New schools and hospitals will be built to the highest environmental standards as community demands and government priorities shift towards sustainability. We currently have more than 100 education projects registered to achieve Green Star ratings – and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
8. Investors will demand greater action on climate change
When the GBCA first published The Dollars and Sense of Green Buildings in 2005, little attention was paid to the role of investors. Two years later, our revised version tracked an overwhelming change in attitude. Today, the Investor Group on Climate Change warns that investors are monitoring the approach of companies on climate change and carbon pricing, including what they say in the public realm. In fact, 75 per cent of fund managers believe organisations need to integrate climate change issues into business strategies and set policy commitments on climate change, while 57 per cent of super funds believe companies need to improve their reporting and disclosure on climate change.
9. Blue is the new green
It’s not all about energy. Building designers and managers are taking steps to reduce water consumption through the use of water saving fixtures, rainwater recovery systems and innovative new water technologies. Lot 12, TradeCoast Central, for instance, gained a Green Star innovation point for its shared, precinct non-potable water storage and distribution system. The system reduces potable water consumption by 80 per cent – the equivalent of more than 10,000 litres a day – and the only potable water used within the precinct is for kitchens, showers and hand basins.
10. The demand for green communities, cities and infrastructure will grow
Beyond the building envelope, we’re already seeing the conversation shifting – and we are looking at how to green our communities and cities. The penny has finally dropped: buildings are part of larger systems. In the future we will no longer view our buildings in isolation, but as interconnected pieces of a larger community. The GBCA’s Green Star – Communities project is helping to drive this shift. Currently, 28 projects from around Australia are BETA testing 35 draft credits. The Green Star – Communities rating tool will usher in a new era of sustainable development, one which looks beyond environmental efficiencies in the built environment and looks at how we build entire communities that are liveable and sustainable.