Buildings will have to be ‘NetZero’ to achieve Green Star certification going forward, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) says.

In an online event held on October 29, GBCA launched its Green Star Buildings rating tool – the first of a new suite of tools to be launched under the biggest overhaul of Green Star in its eighteen-year history.

Under the new tool, new buildings which are Green Star certified will need to be constructed in a way which helps to deliver on Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Toward this end, from 2020 onward (beginning from the launch of the tool on October 29), all new buildings that hope to achieve a 6-Star rating will need to be ‘NetZero’.

To do this, they will need to be:

  • free of fossil fuels
  • 100 percent powered by renewable energy
  • highly efficient
  • fully electric (no gas)
  • constructed with low upfront emissions and
  • fully offset with investments to reduce an equivalent volume of carbon emissions for any emissions which they do produce.

Initially, the NetZero requirement will apply only to 6 Star buildings.

By 2023, 2026 and 2030, however, it will apply to new buildings which aim to achieve 5 Star rating, 4 Star rating or any Green Star rating respectively.

The tool also adopts a new definition of a sustainable building.

Under the new tool, buildings will be considered sustainable if they meet minimum standards under at least seven of eight criteria.

These include responsible design, procurement and construction; being resilient; supporting and promoting occupant health; making a positive contribution to the environment; supporting creation of safe, inclusive and connected spaces; encouraging solutions which support positive social outcomes; encouraging active connection between people and nature; and showing leadership and building a vision for industry or enhancing the industry’s capability to innovate.

Other features of the new tool include:

  • Incorporation of the need to address three global megatrends, including a drive for action on climate change, effective use of resources and promotion of health and wellbeing
  • An emphasis on supply chain improvement; and
  • Minimum expectations for any Green Star building.

On the first point, Green Star Buildings aims for new certified buildings to address megatrends which have been identified as critical stakeholder priorities by the World Green Building Council.

These include a drive for action on climate change, effective use of resources and promotion of health and wellbeing.

The tool also takes account of the UN Sustainability Goals along with recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Toward this end, it sets requirements within specific credits which help to meet targets contained within the UN goals and establishes a pathway for buildings to contribute toward limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

On supply chain transformation, meanwhile, the tool establishes a new framework known as the Responsible Products Framework.

This rewards products which are transparent, have lower environmental impact, have a clear pathway to reducing the carbon content within their products and are taking action to respect human rights and eradication of modern-day slavery.

Finally, GBCA has specified minimum expectations of any building which will be certified to any level.

GBCA CEO Davina Rooney said the importance of the new rating tool should not be understated.

“While we currently have a lot of ‘nearly net-zero’ buildings in Australia, there are only a handful of genuine net-zero buildings,” Rooney said.

“Green Star Buildings has been designed with industry and government to ensure net-zero becomes the norm.

“There is overwhelming support from industry to eliminate carbon emissions from buildings and construction to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement, prevent assets becoming stranded and, ultimately, put a stop to unsustainable changes to our climate.

“Climate change is a global challenge that manifests itself in very local ways. The bushfires and coronavirus pandemic have shown us that our buildings need to be more resilient to changes in climate and more focused on the health of people.

“Green Star Buildings responds to these challenges in very practical ways introducing, for example, a new filtration requirement to help clean the air that we breathe and reduce the risk of disease spreading.

“It is a timely and necessary response to a rapidly evolving risk environment. Certification under the new tool will set projects apart, enhancing their enduring value through increased resilience.”