Astute home buyers could be the driving force behind environmental change in off-the-plan building practices

Astute home buyers could be the driving force behind environmental change in off-the-plan building practices
Olivia RoundMarch 17, 2020

As a certified BCorp and signatory to Architects Declare, ClarkeHopkinsClarke spoke with recently about the practicalities of going carbon neutral in response to the climate emergency. We invited Partner Toby Lauchlan and Senior Architect Janice Tan to discuss changing demands in the Multi-Residential sector and the role for developers, designers and buyers in creating high impact, resilient development.

Over recent months we’ve seen a positive impact emerge from the global climate emergency and Australia’s bushfire crisis: increased interest in better Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD), homes with higher energy star-ratings and carbon-neutral development. As more of us experience the climate emergency personally and recognise the ecological, financial and social costs of policy inaction, we’re looking for better ways to build and live.

Property buyers are savvier and better informed. They know building and construction accounts for nearly 40% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions globally. They understand our cities are growing rapidly and putting our natural habitats under unsustainable pressure. They want to feel like they’re part of the solution, not the problem, by buying homes and living lives that feel – and are – far more sustainable environmentally, socially and financially.

This interest is creating a demand for higher energy star-ratings. Where 6-star homes are mandatory and 7-star homes desirable, we’re seeing increased demand for developments of 7-8-stars and more. That’s on top of now-standard expectations for refined communal spaces and expansive roof gardens. Much currently rests on higher star ratings, but their nuances aren’t well understood by buyers and they don’t tell the whole ESD story. Some developments offer a host of great ESD features that aren’t actually captured by star ratings. So it’s hard for buyers to assess their worth and compare apples with apples. 

There’s an important role for architects, developers and builders in helping buyers understand what star ratings like Green Star, NatHERS and BESS do and don’t measure and the practical impact of various ESD features and materials. Choosing durable materials right down to internal linings, for example, is an important way of ensuring lower replacement costs and less waste over the life of a building.

As an industry, we need a better process for giving buyers and building users more holistic and meaningful user manuals. Currently, builders supply manuals and they tend to focus on operating appliances. Designers and developers need to contribute too and broaden the focus to include clear explanations of ESD in practice and how and when to use features like thermal chimneys, external shading and passive heating, making it easier for people to operate their homes to their full potential. And of course, building owners and users need to apply the same scrutiny to their habits within their home and neighbourhood, too. An 8-star, fossil-fuel-free home is a great start on a low-impact lifestyle. But social and environmental sustainably also means considering things like our transport use, waste management, shopping and eating habits and social connectivity. 

Designers can build on the growing demand for better ESD by making it more convenient and much more visible. That means clearly expressing water tanks and solar panels. Making shared facilities visible from the street, from veggie patches and composting to bike storage and electric and solar car charging. 

Involving residents in the management of their physical environment so they’re more invested in using it efficiently is central to our mission. At a new fossil-fuel-free development in Brunswick East, we’re planning to place building management panels just inside front entrances to show residents precisely how much energy they’re currently using and how they can reduce it. Ultimately, we believe, it’s this kind of visibility and emotional investment that’ll make better ESD more desirable and drive demand for architecture with social impact that’s plain to see.

Obviously, there’s an upfront cost associated with higher star-ratings and more ambitious ESD initiatives but there is multiple time and cost savings too. Clients tell us better ESD and higher ratings help sell properties more quickly, saving them substantial time and money. Councils tend to support developments with good ESD because they align with their broader vision, create better outcomes for residents and impact less on existing infrastructure. A smoother path through planning represents time and cost savings too. 

Ultimately, clients, builders and architects are becoming more conscious of their legacy on the built environment and looking for ways to create a more positive impact. That’s true of others in industry too, like the financial institutions now distancing themselves from fossil fuel-based projects and offering home loan incentives to buyers of carbon-neutral and high-ESD homes. The industry as a whole is under increased media scrutiny, and we know we’ll be held to account for our social and environmental impact. More ambitious ESD and more inclusive, better-connected communities offer the best path forward. Why wouldn’t we take it?

Lead image: Bourke Road, Credit: ClarkeHopkinsClarke.

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

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