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The New Green Toolkit — What You Need to Know

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Alongside the usual toolkits found on a work site, there’s a whole new set of intellectual tools around sustainable and green building. All of which are having a major impact on how projects are designed, delivered, and commissioned.

So how do you know which tools you might need and what they mean in practical terms for your next project?

Robin Mellon, Chief Executive Officer of the Supply Chain Sustainability School, tells Jobsite that everyone in the building and construction process needs a basic understanding of what a project is trying to achieve by using a particular rating tool, and how it affects their role.

In terms of choosing tools for projects, Mellon says some may not be appropriate for simpler or smaller budget projects, simply because of their complexity and the specific knowledge needed for them.

Higher Level Tools

Examples of higher-level tools would include Green Star, administered by the Green Building Council of Australia; One Planet Living, administered by Bioregional Australia; the Living Building Challenge from the Living Future Institute; and the WELL Building Standard  by the WELL Building Institute in the USA — a very different system to the perhaps more familiar Australian Government WELS water efficiency rating system for appliances and plumbing fixtures.  

These tools may require the use of specialist consultants or other enablers for a project to manage the necessary documentation to demonstrate its sustainability outcomes, Mellon says.

“It is like choosing a pair of shoes,” Mellon says. “You need to know, 'are you planning to run in them, or are they just going to be worn for a special occasion?'”

Tools, such as the GBCA’s Green Star or ISCA’s IS, have become almost essential for projects involving international finance, but they are not used for home-extension projects, for instance.

Mellon says another thing to keep in mind when choosing between sustainability-rating tools, or working on a project trying to achieve a rating, is how the intent of the tool can shape project requirements. Some tools or ratings are focused on energy efficiency, others — on health and wellbeing outcomes, the environmental impact of materials, or a broad range of issues.

All of the tools have evolved considerably over the past decade, he says. The National Australian Built Environment Rating Scheme (NABERS), for example, started as an optional energy-rating verification tool for commercial buildings in New South Wales. By now, it has become a nationally-mandated measurement for energy performance at the point of sale or lease of commercial office space over 1,000 square metres in lettable area. 

There are also versions of NABERS for hotels, retail centres, and most recently, multi-residential apartments. These are, however, optional performance verification tools. Other optional ratings include NABERS assessments of performance in relation to water consumption and waste management.

Assessing Tools is Key

The three things to remember when assessing tools and their effect on project delivery are the scale of the project, its budget, and the purpose of obtaining a rating.

Mellon says that for any subcontractor working on a project aiming for a rating, it is vital they understand the intent of the rating and how it affects their role. That is not to say a detailed understanding of the credits, points, and benchmarks for everything is not necessary for everyone.

For example, a subcontractor coming to install cable trays into a residential ceiling does not need to know all the ins and outs of the NatHERS or NABERS rating calculations. However, they do need to know if the client has a goal to build a sustainable home, an energy-efficient home, a healthy home, or a comfortable home — or all of the above

That is because, according to Mellon, how they do their job can have an immense impact on whether those intents are achieved.

“Everyone needs to understand they are not just ‘putting up a building.’ The intent is to put up a healthy, comfortable, efficient building — perhaps even a WELL building."

If the goal is to have an energy-efficient or thermally-comfortable home, then the cable tray installer can affect the outcomes greatly. If they shift the insulation aside to install cable trays but do not put it back in place afterwards, the final performance of that insulation could be an expensive let down for the owner.

The link between the subcontractor, the project team, and the project goals needs to be very clear.

“Everyone needs to understand they are not just ‘putting up a building.’ The intent is to put up a healthy, comfortable, efficient building — perhaps even a WELL building,” Mellon explains.

In the residential sector, the National Home Energy Rating System [NatHERS] is a mandatory performance measure applied to dwellings as part of the National Construction Code and state-based performance requirements.

NatHERS is assessed at the design stage, and it calculates the likely thermal comfort and energy efficiency of the home based on passive factors, such as orientation, insulation specifications, glazing, shading and climate zone. In some jurisdictions, such as Queensland, a home energy rating also allows for planned installation of rooftop solar or fans to external living areas as part of the factors assessed.

All homes are required to meet a minimum rating — 6 Star NatHERS or equivalent in most states.

In commercial building, on the other hand,a NABERS energy rating is used. While it cannot be assessed until the building has been operational for a period and its energy use profile analysed, many developers or contractors may make a contractual commitment to deliver a building that will achieve a specific NABERS rating.

This is because many major tenants, such as government departments or large corporates, have sustainability policies in place that mandate only occupying space with a high NABERS rating.

All homes are required to meet a minimum rating — 6 Star NatHERS or equivalent in most states.

In turn, it puts the onus on the team designing and delivering the building to make sure all the right decisions are made. Factors that can influence a NABERS rating include building orientation, facade glazing, building sealing, mechanical system energy efficiency, lighting, the BMS system and vertical transportation energy use.

All commercial buildings also have to meet the current minimum energy efficiency provisions of the National Construction Code, specifically, Section J.

Toughest Rating System

When it comes to the optional rating systems, the Living Building Challenge is widely regarded as the toughest to get accredited. Not only do LBC projects have to demonstrate sustainability and beauty in design and material selection, but they also have to achieve net zero for energy use, water and waste over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy.

Australian projects registered to achieve the LBC certification include the University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, Bull Street Terraces in Castlemaine Victoria, and Frasers Property Brickworks retail centre development in Melbourne.

The Wellness Rating

The WELL Building Standard is a relative newcomer to Australia. Its focus is on design and construction that puts the wellbeing and health of occupants at the centre of decision-making. This takes in aspects like including stairs and other elements that encourage movement, prioritising materials that do not off-gas volatile organic compounds to ensure indoor environment quality, and initiatives that facilitate healthy eating on the part of occupants, such as rooftop vegetable gardens or ground floor cafe areas.

WELL-certified projects in Australia include Lendlease’s International Towers at Barangaroo, Mirvac HQ in Sydney, and 720 Bourke Street in Melbourne.

One Planet Living takes in aspects such as the carbon footprint of a building’s materials and energy use as well as the context of how a project adds to the local community and the local economy. It also examines how it will enable active, healthy, low-carbon, and engaged lives on the part of occupants. As a baseline, it uses the idea that resources need to be consumed only at the rate our planet can provide and sustain.

Examples of recently certified projects include Landcorp’s White Gum Valley and DHA’s Liv Apartments, both in Western Australia.

One thing is clear – the green toolkit is here to stay in Australian construction.

Green Star is one of the long-standing green rating tools in Australia, and it has continued to evolve as the green building sector has grown. Recently, the GBCA has started work on pathways that enable projects aiming for WELL Certification or LBC to achieve more streamlined accreditation under Green Star also.

The IS rating system, developed by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), applies to infrastructure projects such as light rail, heavy rail, airports, roads, water treatment plants, dams and renewable energy projects.

Its ratings are based on factors like materials, carbon emissions, water efficiency, pollution reduction, waste management, community consultation and operational efficiency. IS V 2.0 is due to launch this month.

One thing is clear – the green toolkit is here to stay in Australian construction.

The Supply Chain Sustainability School offers free, self-paced learning resources for builders and trades looking to become more proficient in green building approaches.

Mellon says the resources try to answer four key questions: What is the problem or issue? Why is it relevant? What do I do differently? Where do I go to for more information?

You can find out more about the School here

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks you might enjoy:

The Future of Green Building

Is Green Building Worth It?

Where is Green Building Headed?


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