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Of the 1,300-plus Green Star projects around Australia, just a handful are what we would call ‘carbon neutral.’

The University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute in Brisbane, for example, is naturally ventilated 88 per cent of the year, and captures and stores its own power through one of the largest solar arrays in Queensland. The Institute meets its own power needs every day in all seasons, exports power to the grid four days a week, and is the ideal workplace for a team exploring the impacts of climate change, population growth and technological innovation.

The Australian Institute of Management’s Katitjin Centre in Western Australia is emissions-neutral, meaning it produces as much energy in operation as it consumes. Smart site orientation ensures the 6 Star Green Star building benefits from high levels of daylight penetration while reducing thermal loads. Air-conditioning and ventilation system don’t need to work as hard, and the lighting system is only used sparingly, reducing demand in two areas of high energy use. This orientation, coupled with highly efficient systems, allows the centre’s remaining energy requirements to be met by the installed solar array.

The Pixel building in Melbourne is a prototype office of the future. While small, with a gross floor area of just over 1,000 square metres, Pixel is packed full of innovative features. An extensive photovoltaic array on the roof, mounted on a tracking device to improve output by 40 per cent, was combined with the first commercial application of the most efficient one-kilowatt wind turbines then in production. This enables Pixel to generate more electricity than it requires. Over time, developer Grocon will also offset all of the carbon that was generated in manufacturing and installing construction materials.

And Barangaroo South, with its 6 Star Green Star – Communities rating, aims to be Australia’s first large-scale carbon neutral community. Developer Lendlease is also targeting a 20 per cent reduction in embodied carbon emissions and zero net waste to landfill by 2020. A Climate Change Adaptation and Community Resilience framework maps likely climate change impacts, and the precinct’s design considers extreme weather events and sea level rises.

These are all great examples – but we need more of them. The Paris Agreement, signed by Australia in April, sets our nation on a pathway toward zero carbon emissions by 2050. This commitment is game-changing for our industry.

We are already seeing moves by rating agencies, banks, institutional investors and sovereign wealth funds to seek assets that meet a zero carbon trajectory. Australia’s built environment is heavily reliant on foreign investment – and the fact that Australia scores highest on both the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) and Dow Jones Sustainability Index is a response to this.

Lendlease’s CEO Steve McCann recently argued that “the defensive investment strategy is to invest in the most sustainable properties” – and he’s right.

Each country now has a finite carbon budget, and a clear deadline for carbon neutral assets to be delivered as a matter of course.

There will be pressure on owners of both new and existing buildings to deliver carbon neutral operations as quickly as possible.

Investors and governments are already looking, but their appetite for mechanisms that identify low carbon assets will continue to grow.

So, how can we facilitate this transition quickly, and at scale?

Last year, at COP21 Buildings Day, eight green building councils, including the Green Building Council of Australia, announced that we would be moving toward certifications that identify and promote net zero buildings.

In Australia, this has been the catalyst for our work, in partnership with NABERS and the Australian Government, to expand the Carbon Neutral Offset Scheme. Expanding this standard from covered organisations, events and products to buildings and precincts will provide an opportunity for the built environment to aim for carbon neutrality for assets in operation.

Having a definition for carbon neutrality for buildings and precincts that is agreed upon by industry, voluntary rating tools and the federal government gives credibility and shows leadership worldwide. You can expect more information about the standard soon.

This work is being watched closely by other green building councils, as part of the ‘Advancing Net Zero’ project, of which Australia is taking part. Last month, 11 GBCs met to discuss the value of net zero buildings and develop a paper to be submitted at COP22 highlighting the value of net zero emission buildings as a strategy to achieve our climate change targets.

The bottom line is simple. Carbon neutrality is now a de-risking strategy in Australia and will soon be the case worldwide.

The question that we’re facing is how to move beyond “random acts of carbon neutrality” – because we don’t have time for that. We need scale and we need it now. In the future, anyone operating an asset in the built environment will be obliged to ensure that asset is carbon neutral.

 
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