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Q+A with the Green Building Council of Australia

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In 2002 when the Green Building Council of Australia was founded, sustainability was still an optional extra for many architects, engineers and builders. The past 17 years have seen enormous change as the wider property industry recognised green building is good for business. Jobsite spoke with Jamie Wallis, Senior Manager in the Market Engagement team at GBCA, to gain some insights into how the industry has evolved—and what’s next on the GBCA agenda.

WA: In the past 17 years, how has the wider property, investment and regulatory framework changed in relation to the emphasis on sustainability?

JW: The Green Building Council is proud to lead the sustainable transformation of Australia’s built environment. Since we started in 2002, more than 2,350 buildings, cities and communities have been certified Green Star. Australia’s property industry is now a global leader in sustainability.

WA: What have been some of the benefits for the early adopters?

JW: Sustainable offices, homes and communities that are more efficient, healthier and more productive. Adoption makes sense not only from a sustainability perspective but from a business perspective as well. Green Star buildings emit 62 per cent less greenhouse gases than average Australian buildings, use only one-third of the electricity, and consume just over half the amount of potable water average building do.

WA: What are the key drivers for uptake of GBCA tools, and how are these likely to change in future?

JW: We are continuing to evolve Green Star with new categories and targets. The Green Star Future Focus will further drive carbon reductions and rate buildings holistically on their whole-of-life sustainability, from the materials used to the construction and operation.

We see from our members the increasing need to respond to local and international drivers. They require disclosure of sustainability performance, including the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Green Star is helping our members address these requirements through third-party assurance to make sure they are managing their developments and existing assets responsibly. 

WA: Are there any specific sectors, building typologies or practitioner categories where progress is especially slow?

JW: The GBCA is still working on its Future Homes strategy to bring the benefits of Green Star to the residential sector. Green homes will be healthier, more efficient and more resilient.

WA: What is next for the GBCA and its sustainability toolkits?

JW: The GBCA is focused on some policy areas to continue to drive sustainability across the built environment. We have released our Carbon Positive Roadmap, which offers opportunities to increase efficiency in construction and the building supply chain for major developments. We continue to advocate for more ambitious carbon targets under the National Construction Code.

The Green Star for New Buildings rating tool is expected to be released mid-2020. 

WA: Compliance and quality are major issues in the industry, are there ways Green Star tools can help builders ensure projects are fit-for-purpose and also future-proofed for regulatory shifts?

JW: The GBCA is focused on setting ambitious targets on sustainability. In the Green Star – Future Focus consultation with industry, which is still underway, the majority of respondents agreed the GBCA should promote best practice. 

WA: What type of feedback has GBCA received from the industry regarding the commitment to achieve net-zero carbon buildings? Has there been any resistance, and if so, what are the pain points?

JW: Australia’s world-leading property industry is responding to the challenge of net-zero carbon buildings – and our further challenge under the Carbon Positive Roadmap. When conducting consultation for Green Star – Future Focus, every single one of the 600 respondents agreed Green Star buildings should meet the Paris Agreement target to limit the warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Australia has some of the world’s leading property companies on sustainability. Twenty companies and organisations immediately endorsed the WorldGBC call to limit embodied carbon in October 2019, for instance.

The challenge remains to reduce our buildings’ reliance on fossil fuels while continuing to drive highly efficient buildings. Under the Green Star Future Focus tools, world-leading buildings will be highly efficient, fully powered by renewable energy, and have considered both operational emissions and upfront emissions.

WA: How can technology help advance or accelerate the achievement of the GBCA’s goals and mission?

JW: Technological advancements are driving carbon reductions across the built environment supply chain. This is one of the reasons why we are ambitious in our Green Star Future Focus as we wish to maintain ambitious targets for Green Star.

Technology will play a critical role in ensuring that our buildings are designed and constructed to minimise upfront emissions, as well as ongoing operational emissions.

WA: How is the GBCA working to bring the wider industry on the journey?

JW: The GBCA has more than 600 member organisations, ranging from schools and universities to major ASX-listed companies and government departments. Through their input and consultation on GBCA strategies and future programs, our members are leading the sustainable transformation of our built environment.

WA: What will success look like—what could the built environment of the future look like if green, net-zero buildings become business as usual?

JW: Transforming the built environment for sustainability will lock in significant emissions reductions into the future. With the total floor area of (all) buildings expected to increase by 50 per cent in the next 20 years, the time to act for sustainability is now.

Buildings are currently responsible for 39 per cent of global carbon emissions. Minimising and reversing that carbon release will definitely have a major impact globally.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBookswebinars, and case studies you may enjoy:

The Future of Green Building

Planning Sustainable Infrastructure

Q Construction Study

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