In the lead-up to the September 7 election, Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) COO Robin Mellon speaks about the organisation's three-point plan designed to put Australia on a clear, long-term path toward better built environments.

“We need government policies and programs that encourage better buildings, communities and cities,” says Mellon. “There are so few government policies that directly benefit the industry, so we need more of those.  At the same time, there are currently 42 policies and programs relating to buildings, communities and cities that overlap at the federal level.  We need joined-up thinking around existing policies to improve efficiency and stop wasting money.”

The priorities the GBCA believes the next government needs to focus on are as follows:

Visionary government leadership:  Mellon says the GBCA hopes the next federal government will “achieve Green Star ratings for all of the buildings that it owns, occupies or develops to demonstrate that they are efficient, cost-effective and sustainable and to help drive the shift towards better building practices.”

Retrofit and improve existing buildings: According to Mellon, improving existing buildings will reduce both emissions and overhead costs in a cost-efficient way.

“We want to see all levels of government commit to policies that will improve energy efficiency in existing buildings, and deliver policies and programs that will remove barriers to retrofitting buildings.  We will be pushing for large-scale adoption of the Green Star – Performance rating tool, which will be launched in October,” he says.

Move beyond buildings to communities and cities: “We launched the Green Star – Communities rating tool in 2012 to provide best practice benchmarks for delivering adaptable, liveable, prosperous and sustainable cities, communities and precincts across Australia.  We’re working with governments to ensure Green Star – Communities is referenced in policies and planning strategies, and with industry to commit to achieving Green Star – Communities certifications,” Mellon says.

“There is no single policy that can transform the industry. However, people always prefer ‘carrots’ to ‘sticks’; so we would like to see all levels of government offering a range of financial and non-financial incentives which will encourage building and development projects to achieve more sustainable outcomes.”

These can include a system of mandatory disclosure to force the hands of commercial building owners and the use of carbon pricing to encourage better decision making.

Mellon notes, however, that the property and construction industry has done “a remarkable job” of innovating and driving change over the last 10 years.

At present, 20 per cent of Australia’s CBD office space is Green Star certified (30 per cent in Brisbane and 28 per cent in Adelaide) and hundreds of schools, hospitals, factories, shopping centres and apartments have also achieved Green Star ratings with hundreds more committed to doing so.

“While the transformation in the built environment has been largely industry-led, a range of government policies, programs and initiatives – at all levels – have helped to reshape Australia’s built environment,” he admits. “State and local governments are increasingly setting policies that require developers to meet Green Star benchmarks for all new projects, embedding Green Star into their planning codes, and providing incentives and funding such as Environmental Upgrade Agreements.”

While there are now more than 200 policies and programs that support green building around Australia, Mellon says much more still needs to be done.

“We need unqualified leadership from government and a coordinated set of complementary measures if we are to take the next step towards sustainability,” he says.

No matter who is elected to office on September 7, Mellon and the GBCA believe a focus on their three priorities will be the best way to ensure progress in the industry.

“The new government must recognise that Australia’s future economic productivity, liveability, resilience and sustainability depends on getting it right with our buildings, communities and cities,” Mellon says.