A new guide published by the Green Building Council of Australia aims to broaden the sustainable focus of councils from individual buildings to communities.

The Green Star Communities: Guide for Local Government was unveiled at the Green Cities 2014 conference in Melbourne. It was developed by the GBCA and AECOM with input from stakeholders such as:

  • The GBCA’s Local Government Task Group
  • Brisbane City Council
  • Parramatta City Council
  • City of Melbourne
  • City of Sydney
  • United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

The Green Star – Communities rating tool was developed through collaboration by the industry, all tiers of government and academia, and released in pilot phase in June 2012. The rating tool addresses sustainability at the precinct, neighbourhood and community scale.

“What we’ve learnt over the last decade is that few people understand what a ‘green building’ actually means, and few people get excited by photovoltaic panels or trigeneration systems,” said GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew. “But almost everyone, when asked, can describe what a sustainable community means to them.”

The Green Star – Communities program is the result of government and industry calls for guidelines to help change the focus from individual buildings to larger units of development such as precincts, neighbourhoods, and cities. Starting in 2009 and continuing through 2010, the GBCA developed the program’s framework with cooperation from more than 4000 stakeholders.

Ultimately, the Green Star – Communities program aims to enable “community-scale developments to be measured and certified against economic, social and environmental benchmarks.” As of February 2014, 15 projects had been registered with the program.

“More than 25 projects are working with the Green Building Council of Australia to benchmark their developments against 38 credits in the categories of Liveability, Economic Prosperity, Environment, Design, Governance and Innovation,” said Madew. “Projects range from small inner-city infill developments to large greenfield developments that will one day be home to hundreds of thousands of people.”

The framework comprises five principles that are assessed with 38 credits, including one credit that can be earned through “innovation.” The five principles are:

  • Governance. This category, with seven possible credits, aims to make sure that community development projects include a framework for governance and encourages developers to operate transparently. As one example, credit Gov – 2, Corporate Responsibility,  seeks to “encourage and recognise projects developed by proponents with defined corporate responsibility values.”
  • Design. Four credits promote sustainable urbanism. According to the Guide, credit Des – 4, Urban Design, encourages “projects that apply world-class urban design practices to their developments.”
  • Liveability. The Liveability category offers seven credits that address neighbourhood safety, affordability, health, food, and more. Credit LIV-4, for example, addresses “projects that provide access to local food production and distribution opportunities.”
  • Economic design and prosperity. Eight credits comprise this category, which addresses projects’ education, productivity, business diversity, and development of skills. Credit Econ – 7, Digital Economy, aims to “encourage and recognise projects that use digital infrastructure to create greater efficiencies in the connection of goods, services, people and information.”
  • Environment. The Environment category addresses a broad array of environmental issues, such as potable water, light pollution, waste, and transportation. Credit Env – 2, Ecological Enhancement, for example, encourages “projects that enhance the ecological value of the site.”

In addition, one credit can be earned for innovation demonstrated when planning, designing, and constructing sustainable communities. One example: “Improve upon the benchmarks within the Green Star – Communities rating tool.”

Using the Guide

In addition to explaining the program, the Guide also provides extensive details as to how councils can apply the framework and rating tool. Councils can encourage sustainable community projects if they “lead by example” by developing a sustainability policy, embracing best practices community engagement, and planning for economic success, among other suggestions. Case studies examine Parramatta Square, and the Morphett Hutchinson projects in South Australia.

Further sections of the Guide address barriers that commonly impede sustainable development projects, such as minimum parking requirements and zoning codes that separate land uses by type; how councils can offer incentives for sustainable development projects, such as fast-tracked approvals, and grants and financial incentives; and building capacity within the system by educating council staff, offering technical assistance to developers, and partnering with developers aiming to achieve sustainable outcomes.

Case studies help to illustrate how the credits apply in real world projects.

“It’s clear from the scale of these projects that a building-by-building approach will transform individual buildings,” said Madew. “However, achieving a quantum leap in sustainability requires a community-wide approach. Our challenge will be to secure consumer demand and support for Green Star – Communities.”