Australia should implement a consistent framework with regard to ratings tools for the sustainability of housing, a key industry leader says.

Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) president professor Ken Maher says that with housing accounting for around 13 per cent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of the residential sector in terms of not only improving the cost and quality of living but also meeting Australia’s overall targets with regard to greenhouse gas emission reductions could not be understated.

But he said a plethora of ratings and measurement tools resulted in confusion amongst consumers, and that the nation lacked a coherent framework for sustainability in the design and construction of new dwellings.

“The industry is clear,” Maher said. “We need governments to work with us to implement a nationally harmonised sustainability ratings framework for houses.”

The call comes amid ongoing criticism of Australia’s performance in terms of the delivery of outcomes with regard to the environmental aspects of new construction – particularly in the residential sector.

A report by building surveying outfit Pitt & Sherry and Swinburne University of Technology last January talked of a ‘widespread culture of sign-offs’ and a ‘pervasive culture of mediocre performance’ having led to endemic non-conformance with energy performance criteria.

In a discussion paper accompanying Maher’s call, ASBEC said Australia’s current framework with regard to delivering sustainable outcomes in residential building suffered from a number of shortcomings.

With regard to the National House Energy Rating Scheme, there was a lack of consistency across NatHERS assessors along with conflicts of interest surrounding an incentive for energy raters to provide results which the builder wants as opposed to necessarily representing the best interests of consumers.

There were also issues regarding a lack of consumer understanding of the tool along with the fact that the tool essentially deals with the thermal performance of the building shell but does not incorporate other sustainability elements.

Finally, while each of the different rating tools had their strengths, the plethora of initiatives and tools available added confusion to the market, ASBEC says.

Maher says a harmonised framework was needed, specifying minimum performance standards in new buildings, benchmarks for market comparison of best practice sustainability performance and communication messages explaining the value of sustainability features to renovators and homebuyers.

He says now is the time to build upon recent momentum with regard to improving the built environment.

“We know the Turnbull government is committed to improving Australia’s built environment,” Maher said. “The very welcome creation of Australia’s first federal ministry for Cities and the Built Environment showed that.

“Now it’s time to act on the building industry’s recommendations and deliver the right tools for measuring housing sustainability.”