Innovation is the secret to sustainability success, but in an industry that can be slow to embrace change, how do we encourage new sustainable ideas, behaviours and technologies?

Where should we be focussing our innovation efforts, and who should shoulder the burden of risk that comes with trying something new?

Putting a financial value on sustainability innovation is tricky, but there can be no doubt that it takes money to innovate. Initial capital costs can turn people away from investing in new initiatives in green buildings. However, there is an opportunity for engineers, architects and consultants to crunch the numbers and demonstrate the energy savings and paybacks.

Australia Post’s upgrade of StarTrack House in Sydney is one inspiring example. Originally a mail-sorting centre that was converted to offices in 1989, the quality of the workspace simply wasn’t suitable for the requirements of a modern workforce. Despite the expansive floor plates, the space was not well used and the façade was looking tired.

The program of works encompassed a complete overhaul of electrical, mechanical, hydraulic and fire systems, as well as upgrades to glazing, the façade, lobby, interior fitouts and landscaping. The retrofit delivered a ‘trifecta’ of Green Star ratings for design, construction and interiors, not to mention a string of awards and accolades.

Energy modelling identified a significant opportunity to boost the building’s NABERS Energy rating from 2.5 Stars to 5 Stars through a range of measures, including installation of one of the largest commercial rooftop solar arrays in the state.

The 1,048 solar panels on the roof of the building – about 100 times the size of an average residential installation – produce 371.5 MWh of electricity each year. That’s enough to reduce the base building’s electrical load by 25 per cent at peak times.

Australia Post is now saving $340,000 in energy costs each year, but the energy savings are just one part of the sustainability story.

Australia Post has made a clear statement about its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint while providing a high quality working environment for its people – and it’s managed to do so without sending truckloads of waste to landfill or trashing the embodied energy in an existing building.

Another leading example is 247 Adelaide Street in Brisbane. Constructed in 1966 with little thought to energy efficiency, indoor environment quality or carbon footprint, the recent makeover of the office has halved its energy consumption.

The $980,000 building services upgrade elevated the NABERS Energy rating from 0 to 5 stars, and it is now one of the oldest buildings in Queensland to achieve this rating.

The building overhaul included the installation of a high-efficiency, low-load HVAC system, a new building management system, LED lights and a lighting control system. Inefficient equipment was replaced and new strategies for controlling temperature and water flow were implemented.

Annual energy savings of $64,000 a year – the equivalent annual spend of 50 typical Australian households – is the remarkable result.

Tenants aren’t the only ones saving. The upgrade has reduced peak demand on the grid by 33 per cent, with estimates that this alone could save the Queensland Government in excess of $400,000 a year.

The improvement in temperature control and lighting has boosted tenant satisfaction and attracted new tenants. Refurbishing rather than rebuilding also diverted large quantities of waste from landfill.

Perhaps most impressive, the retrofit was undertaken without the loss of a single tenant – and with the building only out of operation for one weekend.

By demonstrating that results like these are achievable, built environment professionals are certainly navigating us toward better sustainability outcomes. But challenges remain.

How do we overcome green innovation’s biggest obstacle – a perpetual reluctance among investors to outlay capital for sustainability initiatives?

We need to talk about sustainability in terms that corporate decision-makers understand – the language of dollars made and money saved. And we need to explain that green innovation is effectively an insurance policy. Those with the biggest insurance policies are always the most secure.

Rejecting new sustainability solutions when your competitors are embracing them is simply bad business.