It’s tough to be Australia right now.
Our Lucky Country hasn’t seemed quite so fortunate recently, as we’ve been battered by a series of disasters in recent months. If it isn’t fires in NSW, Victoria and South Australia, it’s floods in Queensland or hailstorms in Canberra. On top of all this, we’ve now got the unprecedented health and economic challenges of Covid-19.
There’s another disaster in the works, of course, which is unfolding with a slowness that makes it harder to see. That’s climate change. The science tells us our warming climate will make events like 2019’s fires hotter and more common, while floods will occur more often, and storms will grow in frequency and intensity.
There is some good news in all this gloom. With our construction industry providing 9% of all Australian jobs and 8% of our GDP, Governments have an opportunity to use the construction industry to drive rapid recovery of the economy from the Covid-19 crisis.
The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has released a new report, Tomorrow’s Homes, that shows how building better homes can protect jobs, and help to revitalise our damaged economy after the COVID crisis is resolved. At the same time, improved energy efficiency measures in these new homes could see Australians save $600 million on our energy bills.
Projections show that we will need homes for around 41 million people by 2050.. If we build them more sustainably, we will deliver more comfortable homes that are better for our health speed up the transition to sustainability, and deliver more than half a billion dollars for the construction industry over the next decade, all while creating 7000 jobs. This is a win-win for industry, the economy, consumers and for the environment. .
Accelerating action will help support the existing pathway to sustainable homes. Standards in our National Building Code are tightening up as we strive to meet our international climate obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement.
If we don’t take action many of our construction industry workers will face a lull in work. This is actually the perfect opportunity to upskill them. With support from government, industry professionals could learn to install and maintain sustainable features like double glazed windows, heat recovery ventilation, insulation and weather proofing that make houses naturally warm in winter and cool in summer.
A system of official certification would help consumers know they can trust the services they are buying and the products that their tradies install. Benchmarking would establish clear standards, so consumers know exactly what they’re buying and can compare like with like.
An interesting finding cited in the report is that although consumers highly value the comfort, light and affordability that sustainable homes provide, they don’t know how to ask for these features. This is because so much of the conversation around sustainable features is so technical – everything is focused on concepts like kilowatt hours or thermal bridging, instead of the lived experience of calling a sustainable building home. To overcome this, we need to highlight the features and benefits of sustainable homes in a way that makes sense to everyone, not just engineers.
Tomorrow’s Homes suggests that we do this using voices and faces that consumers know and trust when it comes to lifestyle and design, whether they be online influencers or more traditional TV stars. Content focused on entertainment and storytelling, not boring technicalities, can be marketed across online and traditional platforms, reaching a much wider audience. (Check out Renovate or Rebuild for a great example). At the same time, consumers can explain the benefits and the challenges of sustainable features to one another via online peer-to-peer support; think chat forums and social media instead of technical handbooks.
Research also shows that consumers face barriers to accessing finance because no one can say how much sustainable housing features are worth. To accurately measure the value of sustainable features, we need financial tools that are up to the job. That means training for valuers and others in the real estate industry, as well as incentives, such as lower interest rates on mortgages or loans.
We can’t keep on with business as usual through this time of crisis. We have a chance to build a better Australia, with healthier, more comfortable homes, lower energy bills and an economy revitalised with construction jobs and new skills. But if we’re going to get everything possible from tomorrow’s homes, we must begin to lay the foundations today.