Sustainability Begins at Home

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
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You’ve likely heard the saying ‘charity begins at home.’ Well, the same is true for sustainability.

Housing makes a sizeable contribution to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions – around 13 per cent in total. That means that reducing emissions from housing can go a long way toward helping us meet our national emissions reductions targets.

But there’s a bit of work to do if we’re going to lay the foundations for more sustainable homes in the future. The Council of Australian Government’s recently released National Energy Productivity Plan found that there are great opportunities for improving energy efficiency to be made through bettering the way we measure sustainability in our homes, and in the way we disclose information about them when they are bought or rented.

But right now, Australia lacks a coherent sustainability rating scheme that is consistent across all states and territories. Instead, requirements and ways to disclose sustainable features of homes vary widely from one jurisdiction to another. Requirements can even vary from one local council to another within the same state.

The Australian building industry, via the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, is calling for both the building industry and government to play important parts in achieving greater sustainability in our homes through a national framework for residential ratings. This framework should follow a three-layered approach of setting minimum standards, benchmarking building performance, and communicating the value of sustainability features to renovators and homebuyers.

State, territory and federal governments need to work together to create nationally consistent sustainability measures for homes. Governments also need to work on updating the National Construction Code, assisting the industry in building capacity and lowering compliance costs. Additionally, governments need to work with industry to explore improved standards for the energy and water efficiency, and heating and cooling systems, of new homes.

At the same time, industry needs to collaborate in creating voluntary benchmarks for best practice in sustainable home building. Industry is also best-placed to lead the creation of a system to disclose sustainable features of homes when they are bought or rented.

But it’s not just about improving the buildings themselves. The greatest sustainability feature of a home may well be the people who live in it. That’s because a key part of living sustainably is ensuring that we understand how to get the most from the sustainable features of our homes. A cooling system based on airflow won’t work if the windows are shut all the time, for example. That requires a certain amount of education and cultural change – something the industry is well-placed to do.

There’s never been a better time to tackle these tasks. The creation of Australia’s first ever federal Ministry for Cities and the Built Environment provides a perfect opportunity to convene a meeting of state and territory Planning Ministers to agree on a vision for a nationally harmonised sustainability ratings framework for homes.

If government and industry can work in partnership to make these changes, then as far as sustainable homes go, Australia will be home and hosed – with tank water, obviously.

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