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Can Green Builders Become Mainstream?

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While most builders in Australia have the capability to deliver sustainable projects, it is still rare for a company to position itself as only building green.

However, there are a few things an eco-builder does differently, according to Daniel Wurm, Managing Director of the Green Building Institute. They apply the principles of building science in terms of utilising passive solar, natural ventilation and thermal mass. Moreover, they focus on energy-efficiency; select non-toxic and low-carbon materials; and have waste management plans that reduce waste to landfill.

Sydney-based company Code Green provides design, consultancy and construction management services across residential, commercial, hospitality and public buildings.

Value of Sustainable Building

The company’s Managing Director Chris Knierim tells Jobsite ANZ that for Code Green, environmentally sustainable building is its “message and ethos.”

“The most substantial differences between building green or choosing another method of construction is the overall performance of the structure.

“If you choose not to build green, it will end up costing the customer more in the long run via running costs and will mean higher utility bills,” he says.

He also believes “People must understand that you get what you pay for when it comes to building.”

Nevertheless, he doesn’t find it challenging to convince clients of the value of sustainable building. “We are fortunate in that clients contact us because of our well-established Green credentials and our proven track record,” he said.

At the same time, he doesn’t think the market has a good understanding of what distinguishes a sustainable building from a business-as-usual one.

“I feel that more emphasis should be placed on training professionals regarding the comprehension of sustainable principles and how to incorporate these into the building process,” he explains. “If more professionals understood how to design and build using sustainable principles, the consumer would naturally be more aware of the benefits of living in efficient houses.

“They would see green buildings covering the vast expanse of their neighbourhoods and cities, experiencing first-hand the magic of sustainability.”

Knierim said that although focusing on sustainability limits the company’s market, it attracts clients wanting to live in better performing and more energy-efficient homes.

One of the projects he is most proud of is the multi-award winning Forest Lodge Eco House. It won 13 international and national design and construction awards, including GreenSmart Australian Home of the Year, Master Builders Energy Efficiency Award, Australian Sustainable Project of the Year, Australian Designer of the Year, as well as four international design prizes.

Green Building Niche

Green builders are not only found in Australia’s capital cities, though. Sustainabylt, for example, are Environmental Master Builders based in the regional twin cities of Albury-Wodonga on the New South Wales and Victorian border.

The company is owned and directed by third-generation registered builder and registered plumber Alex Stravakos and his wife Sharelle Stravakos, a qualified carpenter and roof plumber. It is succeeding in a highly competitive and cost-conscious market while holding the line on only delivering sustainable projects.

Sharelle Stravakos tells Jobsite ANZ that sustainability is not an add-on for clients. Quite the opposite, it is inbuilt from the earliest design stages of the residential, commercial and retail buildings Sustainabylt delivers. She believes to have “found a real niche.”

The company aims to achieve a project delivery process that is ethical, sustainable and responsible. Thee expected results, meanwhile, are buildings with lower operating costs in terms of energy bills for the occupants.

It’s a concept that makes sense to clients, she says. No-one wants to be stressed by high bills.

The company is “always looking for innovative products that reduce energy use in their manufacturing and in construction,” says Sharelle Stravakos.

Some of the basic principles the company follows include the use of natural, low-carbon, and low- or no-VOC materials. What’s more, certification is fundamental for materials like timber—the company only uses FSC and Chain of Custody certified wood.

The company also aims at reducing the carbon footprint of hardware items by purchasing around 90 per cent of its needs from Dahlsens, a local, family-owned and operated hardware supplier in Albury. According to Stravakos, this is an ethical supply choice, supporting a local enterprise and, therefore, the local economy.

Carbon Neutral Option

The carbon footprint is something of a focus. A “carbon neutral” option is being considered for customers. They will be able to pay a small levy to have the carbon emissions associated with waste from their new building offset via a certified offset provider, such as a tree planting program.

In terms of waste, the company looks to re-use and recycle as much material as possible. As many of its projects involve de-fits or demolition, anything useable is reclaimed. When it comes to materials procurement, Stravakos says, the company also makes use of local recycled building materials suppliers.

Even waste also gets turned into a resource for one of the company’s community initiatives—an innovative hands-on learning program for young people facing challenges with education.

The program delivers training in constructing sheds, garden beds, and other small projects. Sustainabylt supplies them with “loads of stuff.”

Some clients will come to the company after having already done some research into green building approaches. Others just want to have their building completed as soon as possible within budget.

Overall, Stravakos says they take a “realistic approach” to green building; clients are shown the alternatives available to them and how they can be cost-effective.

That might mean having to “strip costs out” from one part of the early design ideas to ensure appropriate energy efficiency elements can be implemented.

“We try not to sacrifice anything [the client wants].”

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