According to the latest Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), Australia is the world leader in green building.

 “Green building is the world’s fastest growing industry, and Australia is leading the charge,” says Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) chief executive, Romilly Madew.

Since 2009, the annual GRESB report has surveyed investors and analysed the sustainability of public, private, and direct real estate portfolios worldwide. Institutional investors use the report to evaluate and improve their portfolios. The 2014 survey included 56,000 buildings held by 637 property companies, with an aggregate value totaling US$2.1 trillion.

Australia/New Zealand is once again the world’s leading region, with an overall score of 61, a decrease of four per cent from last year. Gross asset value of projects included in the survey is $131 billion. In Australia/New Zealand, 70 per cent of participants are regional Green Stars, which is the term used in the report for top performers. It does not signify Green Star certification by the Green Building Council of Australia.

According to Madew, since the introduction of Green Star in 2003, the GBCA has been able to build a strong business case for green buildings.

“Green Star provided a reliable assessment system and the best practice benchmarks that enabled the industry to ‘get on with it,” she noted. “Green Star enabled both builders and buyers to move into the sustainable development space.”

In the CBD, Madew said, 23 per cent of office buildings are now Green Star certified.

Australia’s construction sector accounts for about $100 billion in gross value add (GVA) per year, or about 7 per cent of the Australian economy, according to a 2013 report by Price Waterhouse Coopers. Non-residential buildings account for about $35 billion, and residential buildings account for about $22 billion of that total. The industry employs over one million people as well, which is about 10 per cent of all people employed in Australia.

The GRESB survey includes the following building types:

  • Retail: 18 per cent
  • Office: 19 per cent
  • Residential: 8 per cent
  • Industrial: 7 per cent
  • Hotels: 1 per cent
  • Healthcare: 1 per cent
  • Other: 4 per cent
  • Office/Residential: 3 per cent
  • Office/Industrial: 2 per cent
  • Retail/Office: 13 per cent
  • Diversified: 25 per cent

According to the GBCA, a baseline study of the commercial building sector found that hospitals and office buildings were the two “largest emitters by building type, causing around 40% of total sectoral emissions.”

Compared to an average Australian building, Madew noted, Green Star-certified buildings cut greenhouse gas emissions by 62 per cent, electricity use by 66 per cent, and water use by 51 per cent. The GBCA has certified more than 640 projects since 2002.

The GRESB survey is structured with seven aspects of sustainability, plus a separate section for New Construction and Major Renovations. The seven aspects are:

  • Management
  • Policy and Disclosure
  • Risks and Opportunities
  • Monitoring and EMS
  • Performance Indicators
  • Building Certifications
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • New Construction and Major Renovations

Though some government policies have contributed to the adoption of green building, Madew said, “[i]ndustry leadership has been far more effective in driving change, and will continue to drive leadership regardless of  whichever political party is in power.”

The GBCA cites several published studies on its website regarding the increased return on investment of building green. As early as 2007, the McGraw Hill Construction Report touted a 7. 5 per cent increase in property values, and an overall increase in ROI of 6.6 per cent. The GRESB survey also signals industry recognition of green building benefits, rather than government mandate.

“Few commercial offices are designed and constructed without seeking Green Star certification, because, as Grocon’s Executive Chairman Daniel Grollo has said ‘if you’re not building in Green Star, you’re building in obsolescence,’” Madew said.