A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change

A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change

Imagine 31 years down the track – it’s 2050, and the time has arrived that Australia must be at (or near) net-zero emissions to avoid the most detrimental impacts of climate change. Would we have achieved it?

Buildings produce 25% of Australia’s emissions, which is why now is a crucial time to bring about greater accountability when it comes to greening our buildings. Thanks to environmental organisations such as Green Building Council Australia (GBCA) we now have a better chance of drastically reducing our country’s built environment embodied carbon rates, as more new builds and retrofits are being constructed to the GBCA’s Green Star Rating standards.

The team at Green Building Council Australia shared some insight into what the future of sustainability in Australia could look like, and how Green Star Ratings work.  

Urban.com.au: According to the Sustainable Development Goals index, Australia has some of the world’s highest carbon emissions per capita – what measures can current homeowners, as well as developers take to help reduce this and prevent future emissions?

Green Building Council Australia: We can all support sustainability by being conscious of our energy-consumption choices at home. There are opportunities for homeowners and developers to make a difference by retrofitting sustainability features such as solar panels and more efficient hot-water systems to improve the sustainability of an individual home. Removing drafts by sealing doors and windows, insulation and ceiling fans can make a massive difference – estimates suggest these measures alone could save homeowners up to $150 a year. This has the added benefit of reducing ongoing operation costs for residents.

U: Are there any areas of the National Construction Code that you feel could be amended to promote greater environmental sustainability?

GBCA: Energy standards in the National Construction Code need to be upgraded in order for new buildings to be fit for a zero-carbon future. All of the buildings being constructed today will be there in 2050 when we need to be at or near net-zero emissions.

We are supportive of the improvements to the 2019 National Construction Code, in particular, the changes to strengthen energy performance in commercial buildings. However, to meet the Code’s full potential, Australia needs a long-term plan with targets and a clear, regulated and transparent process for Code updates out to 2030, starting with a step-change for residential standards in 2022.

Last year, we supported the delivery of two major reports by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and ClimateWorks Australia which strongly influenced a government commitment to set future energy targets in the Code. ASBEC’s work identified that implementing these opportunities across projected new buildings and renovations could deliver an estimated 10.8 million tonnes of cumulative emissions reductions to 2050, approximately equivalent to the annual emissions of the Loy Yang B coal power station and mine! Just three years delay in improvements to the National Construction Code could lock in an estimated $1.1 billion in wasted energy bills from homes alone out to 2050, and 3 million tonnes of additional emissions. Implementation details are still being worked out, but we're very pleased with the progress to date and looking forward to working across government to deliver change in the coming months.

U: What are some of the most creative environmentally conscious designs you’ve audited to date?

GBCA: Australia and New Zealand’s real estate industry has ranked best in the world for sustainability for eight years in a row, according to the investor-driven GRESB global benchmark. More than 2350 projects across Australia are Green Star-rated, including more than one-third of office space and shopping centres that attract about 1.3 million people daily. There are so many creative and sustainable projects, including:


A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
West Village. Credit: Sekisui House
A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
West Village. Credit: Sekisui House

Sekisui House’s $1 billion residential and mixed-use development, West Village, is changing its local area through its innovative and sustainable design. Awarded a 6-Green Star Communities rating, the Brisbane development is targeting strong environmental, economic and social impacts with features such as rainwater and greywater recycling for the gardens and public realm, a zero food waste to landfill target, LED lighting, solar energy generation, 10,000 plants, a car-share programme and 1600 bicycle parks. The development, which spans 2.6 hectares in inner-city West End, will also offset 100 per cent of its energy use.


A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
Aura. Credit: Stockland
A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
Aura. Credit: Stockland

Stockland’s Sunshine Coast master-planned development has achieved a 6-Green Star Communities rating, a significant achievement for Australia’s biggest precinct under single ownership. Water use and quality is being preserved and monitored annually, with advanced water treatment and recycling. More than 700 hectares of land will be rehabilitated from its former forestry use into a conservation area. Community-building elements including affordable housing, social infrastructure and education and skills development were also built into the project from the early stages of development. It is a model for the development of future communities in Australia.

U: From the establishment of the Green Star Rating system in 2003 to today, how have your regulations evolved, and what new considerations have you had to consider in recent years?

GBCA: Technological and social advances have spurred significant changes to Green Star, with more to come. Green Star is a holistic rating tool that takes into account not just environmental sustainability, but also social and economic benefits, too. The introduction of Green Star – Performance has driven the ratings of vast portfolios of buildings in operation, and Green Star – Communities has seen our impact extend to master-planned communities around Australia that will be home to more than half a million people. Today and in the coming years, we are continuing to ensure our rating tools support leadership through our Future Focus program. We want to maintain the transformative impact and integrity of Green Star in the fast-changing world. Specifically, the GBCA is focusing on carbon emissions as we move to a net-zero carbon future for our built environment. So from mid-2020, future 6-Green Star rated buildings will have to use 100 per cent renewable energy sources to qualify the rating. later, getting five stars will require the same achievement.  

U: What do you believe is the main motivation for developers to opt into the voluntary Green Star Rating system?

GBCA: Green Star-rated buildings make business sense. They help meet increasing investor, tenant and employee demand for buildings and assets that are demonstrably sustainable. This leads to improved returns and savings from these buildings in operation. All in all these buildings save money, create healthier and happier environments for people, minimise carbon and energy emissions, and build a better future for us all.

U: What are some of the main challenges in retro-fitting heritage buildings to raise their sustainability credentials?

GBCA: There are challenges in retrofitting heritage properties to comply with Green Star ratings, but there are many examples where it has been achieved.

Old Perth Boys’ School

A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
Old Perth Boys’ School. Credit: Curtin.edu.au


A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
Old Perth Boys’ School. Credit: Jasmine Ann Gardiner


Curtin University and The National Trust of WA successfully overhauled the interior of the 1854-built Old Perth Boys’ School to a 6-Green Star standard. Total greenhouse gas emissions reduced by more than half (55 per cent reduction), energy for lighting dropped 80 per cent, and power for air-conditioning fell 65 per cent throughout the limestone building. Water use also declined by 35 per cent through efficient fixtures and fittings. Engineered timber was used for its low whole-of-life environmental impact. The outcome was facilitated while protecting and enhancing its heritage value and creating a contemporary space that is well used.

Sydney Opera House

A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
The Sydney Opera House. Credit: Lonely Planet
A greener future: Green Building Council Australia discusses climate change
Concert Hall. Credit: Sydney Opera House

A World Heritage-listed icon and a busy performance space, the Sydney Opera House has also achieved 4-Green Star rating for its sustainability. Lighting upgrades installed efficient centrally-controlled LEDs that cut the power usage in the Concert Hall 75 per cent. Innovative solutions for cleaning – including the use of olive oil and bicarbonate of soda instead of harsh chemicals – also assist to maintain air quality.

U: Which companies are currently striving to attain Volume Certification across their properties? 

GBCA: In Australia, we are fortunate to have so many companies leading internationally using Green Star across their portfolios. Our members are world leaders. There are many examples on our website, for example Vicinity Centres, Dexus Group, Charter Hall, Frasers Property are all notable examples of very large portfolios being rated Green Star.

For volume certifications, recently, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia boosted the sustainability of its branches and reduced its energy emissions almost 54 per cent from its 2009 levels, through volume certification. In keeping with its long-term sustainability strategy, 20 branches achieved 5-Green Star or 6-Green Star ratings in two years. Volume certification enabled shared features across the branches to be rated once, then repeated across the network.

U: Which international environmental movements have impacted your rating framework, and what has been the public and political response to your policies?

GBCA: Green Star recognises and responds to global and domestic movements and initiatives influencing our industry and the built environment. Some of the drivers which are impacting on Green Star and helping to influence the development of the next iteration of Green Star tools include the United Nationals Sustainable Development Goals, Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees, the Task-Force for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures and the National Cities Performance Framework.

We have been working with all levels of government to support more sustainable, energy-efficient buildings as a way to cut costs for consumers and businesses and reduce Australia’s carbon emissions. Our policies resonate with both government and communities because healthy, productive and resilient buildings and communities are the foundation of a strong society. Having the conditions to foster these places should be a priority for all governments. Future Focus will encompass social and economic factors to ensure Green Star remains a holistic rating tool.

U: As the Green Star Rating system continues to modify its standards, will buildings that have gained certification need to reapply to meet new standards?

GBCA: While some of the criteria and benchmarks for Green Star ratings will change, our philosophy at the GBCA will not. Our goal is still to create healthy, resilient and positive places for people to work, live and play. We believe we can achieve this through the sustainable transformation of Australia’s buildings, cities and communities. Existing Green Star-rated properties will not lose their certification but new buildings, communities and fit-outs will have to meet the contemporary standards. Green Star-rated buildings will retain their competitive advantage in the crowded commercial and residential property markets and Green Star-rated buildings will continue to save money, create healthier environments and improve the nation’s environmental sustainability – one building, or community, or fit-out at a time.

U: What are the 3 key sustainable rules you suggest we should live by?

GBCA: At the GBCA, we believe that everyone is responsible for working towards sustainability, not only in the built environment but in all areas of our lives. The GBCA is supportive of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. We think everyone should jump on the UN’s Sustainable Development website and have a read of The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.  We are all part of the solution, and luckily there are some easy things that we can all adopt into our routines which can make a big difference.

Lead image: Curtin University's 2015 Master-plan was the first to receive a 5 Star Green Star Rating in Australia. Credit: Curtin University. 

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

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

Climate change Australia Green Building Council Australia Green Star Ratings


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