It’s out with the old and in with the new for Green Star rating tools, though there will certainly be a transition period in between.

As the Green Building Council of Australia begins to streamline its systems for rating a range of different building projects, the previous ratings tools have now been relegated to ‘legacy’ status. This means new projects seeking a Green Star rating won’t be using the legacy tools, but existing projects that have already applied for certification or register before December 2015 can continue under the older tools.

Green Star ratings encourage systematic thinking in order to achieve the most sustainable outcome for building design and construction. Under the ratings system, ratings range from 1 star (minimum practice – 10 points) to 6 stars (world leadership – 75-plus points), though the GBCA only formally certifies and recognises projects that achieve a minimum 4 stars (best practice – 45 points).

These ratings are based on a common underlying framework of nine Green Star categories, each with a set of different credits that address certain environmental impacts. These credits have designated ‘points’ values, which are awarded when certain criteria are satisfied. Criteria are either specified in a prescriptive manner or are performance-based, relying themselves on ‘Green Star calculators’ which calculate the number of points awarded.

To get the final score for a project, the points in each category are added, a category weighting is applied for all except the ‘Innovation’ category, and these scores are then added to give a project points score out of 100.

So what’s different under the new tools that the GBCA is rolling out?

Ten of the legacy tools have essentially been rolled into two new tools to simplify the documentation process and costs for compliance. Design & As Built was the first of the new tools to be introduced, followed by Interiors. The Design & As Built tool brought with it a range of improvements, including the ability to assess any building type, a greater focus on outcomes rather than specific solutions, and a redefinition of best practice.

The Performance tool, rating the sustainable operation of existing buildings, and Communities tool, rating the sustainability of community or precinct-scale projects, will be introduced at different stages during 2015.

With the release of the new tools, category weightings have been removed, some new credits (such as the Sustainable Products, Life Cycle Impacts, or Responsible Materials credits) have been created, and a new sustainable products calculator has been developed which replaces the materials and fitout calculators.

The new Sustainable Products credit was introduced to encourage transparency and sustainability in product specification, such as those with re-used or recycled content or an ecolabel, for example. Depending on the tool used, projects can earn up to a maximum of three to 19 points within that credit. The credit works on the basis of the percentage of sustainable products by dollar cost used in a project. The value of a sustainable product is determined by the dollar cost of the product multiplied by a “sustainability factor” depending on the nature of the sustainability initiative.

For example, if the product is a reused product, or has a Level A third party certification as assessed and recognised by the GBCA, then the sustainability factor is 1.0; that is, the weighting is 100 per cent. Many standards released by Good Environmental Choice Australia and other ecolabels have this Level A recognition with the GBCA.

In contrast, if the product only has a product stewardship program in place or a Level C third party certification, then the sustainability factor is only 0.5 (50 per cent weighting). With the help of a Sustainable Products Calculator, the sustainability values of all sustainable products are then added together and expressed as a percentage of the contract value of the project to determine the number of points earned in that credit.

The changes mean that there is now a wider scope of projects that can apply for a Green Star rating. It also means that manufacturers and suppliers of products with sustainability credentials behind them may find it easier to be specified into projects thanks to the increased importance that the Sustainable Products credit provides: the stronger their credentials, the more they are worth in Green Star projects.

Ecolabel programmes have an important role to play in helping sustainable product manufacturers achieve a higher level of recognition than they might have otherwise. Ultimately, though, it’s always encouraging to see the green building industry grow in Australia, with more sustainable buildings being constructed.