A 40 per cent increase in Green Star certifications last year is just one indicator that we’ve passed the tipping point, and the industry has well and truly embraced sustainability.
Australia’s recognition as the global green leader in the latest Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), the plethora of large companies committing to portfolio-wide certification and the emergence of new finance mechanisms such as green bonds are other signals that our industry has set its sights on long-term value.
Within the sustainability space, there are three emerging trends that I think will accelerate over the course of the next year or two: net zero buildings, resilience and social equity.
In December, to coincide with the historic climate change pact in Paris, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) announced a new label, which will be introduced this year to encourage net zero buildings.
The net zero label will encourage the industry to move beyond buildings as consumers of resources and toward buildings as producers. We will start by rewarding buildings that achieve a neutral or even a positive impact on energy, carbon and water.
We already have a handful of impressive Green Star projects that are achieving these lofty ambitions. One inspiring example is the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, which has met carbon- and water-neutral benchmarks through a mix of natural ventilation, on-site solar panels and rainwater storage capacity of 60,000 litres. Expect to see buildings like the Global Change Institute gain additional recognition in the year ahead.
When most of us think resilience, we tend to focus on climate change impact, rising sea levels, heat waves and so forth.
However, the industry is starting to expand its horizons and is now looking at resilience as a multi-faceted concept. Failed cities such as Detroit in the United States have served as a wake-up call to city-builders around the world, who now understand that adapting to climate change without addressing other resilience factors, such as access to food and resources, urban sprawl, employment and economic opportunity and social equity, is a recipe for disaster.
Social equity is also squarely in the headlights in 2016, as companies recognise they have both an obligation and an opportunity to influence the communities within which they operate.
The Homes 4 Homes project, for example, is a simple but effective response to the problem of homelessness around the country, and aggregates the building industry’s purchase power to help get people off the streets. Using an innovative finance mechanism which encourages home owners to donate 0.1 per cent of their sale price to a fund, Homes 4 Homes is able to invest in social housing projects. Grocon has committed to supporting the scheme, and it has been recognised in a new Green Star ‘Social Enterprise for Affordable Housing’ Innovation Challenge.
Another great example is Stockland’s commitment to encourage healthy eating. The sustainable upgrade of the 32-year-old Wetherill Park centre in Sydney is saving tenants around $4 million each year in energy costs, but the real sustainability innovation is found in Stockland’s commitment to the community. After careful consultation with locals, Stockland engaged Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food to join its funky new foodie laneway within the shopping precinct. Oliver’s program teaches local people ‘back to basics’ cooking skills for a small fee, and is helping to tackle Australia’s rising obesity epidemic.
While net zero buildings, resilience and social equity may seem like three distinct trends, they are very much interconnected. In 2016, those at the cutting edge of our industry will be looking at how to bring these systems together, as they recognise how a focus on net zero building can create a community or city that is more resilient, equitable, and ultimately sustainable.