Australia has an opportunity to build greener and more resilient communities while stimulating economic growth, under a targeted plan for efficient construction and development.
As governments seek to create jobs in the post-lockdown environment, there is a chance to build in energy efficiency that will generate not only immediate economic impacts, but reduce costs and emissions well into the future.
A green building-led recovery would remobilise the construction and property sectors and deliver on energy-reduction policy objectives.
The Building Efficiency for Jobs and Growth blueprint, launched by the Green Building Council of Australia, the Energy Efficiency Council, the Property Council of Australia and the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, outlines 10 recommendations to boost the economy and drive down emissions.
It is a comprehensive but achievable series of initiatives to kick start industry growth.
According to modelling conducted for the report, the 10-step green-building stimulus would create more than 91,000 job-years of employment, reduce household and business energy bills $4.8 billion a year, strengthen the power grid, reduce household gas consumption and cut our national greenhouse gas emissions.
Restarting our construction and property industries through green building
An overhaul of the building sector – funded by government incentives, special funds and public-building upgrades – could reignite the Australian economy.
We suggest job-intensive initiatives that are spread out across the country to drive significant economic activity. They also support businesses and households.
Energy efficiency upgrades mean jobs for local suppliers and workers. They can be mobilised quickly and leave long-term productivity dividends.
And it works for greenhouse gas reduction. Energy reductions this century have largely stemmed from efficiency.
These ideas focus on three main areas: commercial and government building upgrades, household efficiency upgrades and incentives including for social housing, and workforce development and training.
Growing jobs and green offices
Tax incentives and a Smart Building Fund aimed at commercial building upgrades would improve office efficiency across the country.
While the Australian property industry has an enviable reputation as a market leader in energy-efficient buildings, green investment is a low priority for most commercial property owners.
We suggest revamping tax incentives such as expanding the 10 per cent green building withholding tax regime to all rental buildings – it is currently only applicable to offices, hotels and shopping centre – and expanding it to refurbished buildings as well as new-builds.
A $500 million Smart Building Fund to supply grants for upgrades in compliance with NABERS – Energy or Green Star – Performance measures.
The 30 per cent of office space that is government-owned or occupied also provides a ready pool of assets that could be transformed under the proposed dollar for dollar $1 billion fund.
Upgrading schools, hospitals and other assets would cut their costs and improve system resilience, while supporting subcontractors and local tradespeople.
Creating energy-efficient homes
The residential sector provides a clear opportunity to improve energy efficiency across Australia and boost overall jobs and health benefits.
Existing homes have an average energy-efficiency star rating of just 1.7 stars, compared to new homes that rate at an average level of 6.1 stars.
A $500m boost could fund homeowners to retrofit commonly available energy-efficient technologies and improve thermal mass of their buildings through renovations.
The 440,000 social housing dwellings owned by governments are also not keeping pace with technology and efficiency, providing scope to upgrade heating and cooling, more efficient hot water, draught sealing, better lighting and solar PV.
Better home construction should also be incentivised through planning schemes to allow density bonuses and additional floor space for efficiencies.
Building a renewed industry
Energy efficient buildings and homes require a skilled workforce and supply chain.
As a recent industry expert panel conceded, Australia does not have that workforce – yet. Under a stimulus program, jobs can be created or transitioned to this important area of work.
A program to highlight the incoming National Construction Code improvements would also generate wider benefits across other industries.
We also continue to support the recommendations of the 2019 Examining Additional Sources of Low Cost Abatement: Expert Panel Report regarding skills, performance ratings and education.
A positive outlook for the future
2020 has not been the year we expected. The unexpected and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has shaped our economy and will continue to impact our national and international economy for years to come.
We acknowledge the sadness and the difficulties it has brought. From this, we want to create a better future and generate positives from the changes it has ushered in.
Disruption and change can have benefits. As we advocate for positive changes around us, the GBCA is building on its foundation to focus on healthy, resilient and positive places with a fresh brand face.
Displaying optimism, dynamism and trustworthiness in line with our Future Focus program, the GBCA wants to continue to work with our partners to build a better future for Australians.
By Davina Rooney, CEO, Green Building Council of Australia