The overhaul of the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star sustainability rating system will provide investors, developers and owners with a more comprehensive and flexible set of tools that place greater emphasis on the actual outcomes and future challenges of projects.

According to Jorge Chapa, the GBCA’s Green Star executive director, the new Green Star – Design & As Built and Green Star – Interiors rating tools serve as more comprehensive and adaptable systems for sustainability assessment than the GBCA’s legacy rating tools while also marking a significant break from established precedent.

“Right now there are about eight ratings tools that are sector specific – so we have Green Star Office v2, Retail Centre v1, Public Building v1 and so on, and that’s how we’ve been developing the ratings over time,” said Chapa.

Instead of an array of ratings divided on the basis of building category, the GBCA has opted for a smaller set of more comprehensive tools.

“About two years ago we embarked upon the idea of having a single universal rating tool that would replace all of those,” said Chapa. “Essentially, rather than having Green Star Office V4 or Retail Centre V2, we just went with the idea of having a universal rating tool for the design and construction of buildings.

“It doesn’t matter what it is, you go with this rating tool – from the smallest commercial building to stadiums if you want to, and everything in between.”

Chapa said the introduction of the more comprehensive rating tools has already expanded the range of buildings applying for sustainability ratings under Green Star.

“We have focused very strongly on having an aligned framework, or an aligned set of benchmarks for any building type,” he said. “We have already had everything registered, from hotels, which we’ve never really done before, to commercial buildings, educational facilities, affordable housing, swimming pool complexes, art galleries – the overall variety of buildings that have registered and are currently going through the rating system is actually quite big.”

In addition to a comprehensive range of applicability, the updated Green Star ratings tools also place greater emphasis on the actual outcomes and performance of built assets, as opposed to focusing to an undue extent upon their designs.

“The design review is also quite different from the old design rating, mainly because it’s integrated with the as-built rating,” said Robert Milagre, the GBCA’s Green Star development and operations director. “So you can’t just get a design review and not proceed to as-built. The focus is on as-built, with an optional design review rating.

“We actually want to make sure that the sustainability outcomes are verified at the built stage – once the building is completed you can obtain an as built verification.”

According to Chapa, one of the chief advantages of these changes to the Green Star ratings tools will be the ability to perform sustainability assessment more quickly for reduced cost.

“We already have a building in Adelaide – 185 -189 Pirie Street, that has a design review rating, “ he said. “They’ve told us directly that they’ve achieved a rating about six months earlier compared to when they would have expected to obtain it under Office v3, because of the changes we’ve made to the rating tool and the documentations.

“The consulting team for that building was very experienced with Office v3, and they found that the changes and amendments to get them to the place where they are right now, with a five star design review rating on their Green Star As Built, to be much more efficient, cost effective and flexible.”

Chapa believes the new tools make the assessment process easier without necessarily compromising on the quality of criteria, and can actually serve as a spur for more efficient and sustainable designs.

“We didn’t lower the benchmarks to impact the quality of the ratings – the consulting team for 189 – 189 Pirie Street also said that’s they’ve created a better building with better design solutions,” he said.

A forward-looking mindset also underlies the creation of the new ratings tools as part of efforts to address changes in the market that have already occurred and are likely to take place in future.

“We’ve tried to establish criteria for 2015 rather than the benchmarks under Office v3, which were for 2007,” Chapa said. “We’re trying to look forward to the future, and a rating tool that suits future assets better, based on the things that investors and owners are likely to want.”

To this end, the updated ratings tool also place a new emphasis upon the challenges that built assets are likely to face in Australia as a result of ongoing climate change.

“Adaption and resilience are now core parts of these ratings tools – how their design solutions respond to the high risk of climate change that may be present in the area where built assets are situated,” said Milagre. “That’s a new credit which didn’t exist before.”