Increasing anxiety about energy prices, power blackouts forcing us to question energy security, and disunity around the commitments made in Paris make it easy to be uncertain about how we will deliver a low-emissions, sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.
But I can see an alternative future – one which is much more hopeful. Let me paint a picture.
It’s 2050. Ultra-low carbon buildings are found in every street and suburb of Australia. These buildings are not just efficient and comfortable, they save owners hundreds of dollars a year in energy costs. And they have inspired a generation of people to consider their carbon footprints.
Electric charge points are found in most homes, and e-bike sharing schemes are as common as the local corner shop. Australians have some of the highest rates of cycling in the world, and commuting to work has accelerated to light speed as people make the link between their health and the health of the planet.
A large-scale social housing program has finally cracked the housing affordability nut. Old public housing tenements, riddled with asbestos and mould, have been replaced with light-filled, airy apartments powered by the sun. These homes are healthy and positive places for people of all ages and incomes, and mean those struggling to make ends meet have some extra cash for Christmas presents and holidays.
Upgrading school buildings has delivered extraordinary outcomes too. While schools have slashed their emissions, the real benefits are revealed in the nation’s NAPLAN results. As sick building symptoms and asthma rates have dropped, school attendance rates have skyrocketed. Australia is now an international case study for educational excellence.
Hospitals, shopping centres, warehouses and airports all proudly display their sustainability credentials and carbon neutral status. And there isn’t a blue-chip company in the land that would consider an office that is anything less than carbon zero. Tenants understand that their work space is not just bricks-and-mortar, but a symbol of their social license to operate, and an engagement tool to support staff.
In the country of droughts and flooding rains, we still have extreme weather events – but we’ve spent many decades designing and delivering resilient buildings and communities, and we bounce back quickly.
And Australia’s property and construction industry has continued as an unassailable leader in sustainable building. This isn’t just about awards and applause. The world’s investment community sees Australia as the world’s safest market in which to invest, and our carbon zero approach has delivered wealth and prosperity across the entire nation.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
This is the vision the Green Building Council of Australia is working toward. And two projects will help the GBCA support our industry to get there.
For the last year, the GBCA has been working with the Australian Government’s Department of Environment and Energy to help establish a new draft voluntary standard for carbon neutral buildings and precincts, with certification that can be achieved through Green Star. This is close to being finalised, and Australia will soon have the world’s first voluntary standard endorsed by a national government.
The GBCA is also taking great strides forward on its Carbon Positive Roadmap project. Over the last few months, the organisation has released a discussion paper, hosted workshops, kicked a lot of hornets’ nests, and is now working on the next draft which is expected to be released later this year. This will include everything from clear trajectories for buildings as they move towards carbon neutrality, through to how to engage tenants on the journey.
This is more than just paper. The Carbon Positive Roadmap will build on the ground-breaking work in the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s Low Carbon, High Performance report. ASBEC laid it all there in black and white: we have a finite budget to expend between now and 2050. The GBCA's work will build on its success to date to identify the real-world, practical actions that any building owner can take to meet carbon neutrality by 2050 as part of their broader sustainability objectives.
ASBEC’s report showed that we can eliminate emissions from the built environment entirely by 2050. And we can deliver healthier, more productive cities and save $20 billion using technologies that exist today.
It’s now about getting on with the job. And that’s building a carbon zero property industry that lays the foundations for a better Australia. A carbon zero utopia is just around the corner.