Green Star rising
In Australia, the green building movement only gained momentum after the Sydney Olympics in 2000 received worldwide recognition as the ‘Green Games’. With venues and facilities that established new benchmarks in design excellence and best practice sustainability, Australia’s property and construction industry demonstrated that green buildings were indeed achievable.
But at the time, the industry had few metrics or agreed methodologies to measure green building, few assessment tools or benchmarks of best practice. There was no organised approach to knowledge-sharing or collaboration. Nor was there any way for the industry to promote or profit from green building leadership.
In 2002, a group of green building pioneers recognised the need for an independent organisation to develop a sustainable property industry in Australia and drive the adoption of green building practices. The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) had arrived.
The following year, in 2003, the GBCA launched Australia’s first holistic environmental rating system for buildings, Green Star.
That same year, Lend Lease announced that it intended to construct Australia’s first 5 Star Green Star – As Built project, demonstrating ‘Australian Excellence’. The general outcry was “it can’t be done”. At the time, the benchmarks for a 5 Star Green Star rating seemed exceedingly high.
Nevertheless, Lend Lease designed 30 The Bond to excellent environmental standards, with Australia’s first widespread application of passive chilled beam technology to assist in energy reduction. The result was a building that produces around 30 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional buildings of similar dimensions at that time.
Lend Lease led the way, demonstrating that a green building could be good for both the environment and the bottom line. The race was on.
In 2005, another green icon emerged: Council House 2. CH2 achieved Australia’s first 6 Star Green Star – Office Design v1 rating and was not just a demonstration of environmental efficiency, but also showed that green building design can deliver impressive productivity benefits. A post-occupancy survey of CH2 recorded a 10.9 per cent boost to productivity, with estimated annual cost savings of $2 million.
Another ‘first’ came in 2008, when the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre became the world’s greenest convention centre with a 6 Star Green Star rating for sustainability initiatives which still remain one-of-a-kind today. These include the eye-catching façade, which towers 18 metres high and is constructed of spectrally-selective glass which reduces heat gain. The extensive solar hot water system generates around 35 per cent of the facility’s general hot water requirements, while the innovative displacement ventilation system provides excellent air quality to conference delegates.
Another influential green project was also certified in 2008: the Bond University Mirvac School of Sustainable Development, in Queensland. The first Green Star education facility in Australia achieved a 6 Star Green Star – Education PILOT rating and acts as a ‘living laboratory’ for the advancement of teaching sustainability principles and practices. Bond University set the bar for sustainable schools; today we have more than 100 green education projects either certified or registered to achieve Green Star ratings.
Also setting new benchmarks was Housing NSW’s Lilyfield redevelopment, which achieved a 5 Star Green Star – Multi Unit Residential PILOT rating in 2009. Housing NSW invested in environmentally-sustainable initiatives such as gas-boosted solar hot water systems, 267 square metres of solar panels and a four kilowatt photovoltaic system to power common area lighting. The gas-boosted hot water system caters for 60 per cent of hot water consumption and delivers annual savings of $19,000 – or $213 per unit – meaning the annual electricity bill for households will decrease by 25 per cent. As affordable social housing units, a saving of $213 per unit per year represents a major benefit for residents.
In 2010, Lot 12 TradeCoast Central was not only the first industrial project to gain a Green Star rating, but did so with a range of innovations never seen before. The project achieved a number of Green Star innovation points, for features such as the precinct non-potable water storage and distribution system which reduces potable water consumption by 80 per cent – the equivalent of more than 10,000 litres a day.
And earlier this year, Flinders Medical Centre – New South Wing became Australia’s first Green Star healthcare facility, providing positive proof that green healthcare facilities are affordable and achievable. Among the impressive green features, a 286 panel solar hot water system, the largest in South Australia, provides hot water across the entire campus and is expected to reduce energy costs by $400,000 per year.
Today, Green Star is certainly ascendant. While a 5 Star Green Star rating seemed unachievable in 2003, today we have more than 380 Green Star certified projects around Australia, and a further 540 registered to achieve Green Star certification.
A range of international reports have confirmed that green buildings positively impact everything from operational costs to return on investment, and from reputational equity to productivity. The Building Better Returns report, published in September 2011 by the Australian Australian Property Institute and Property Funds Association in association with the University of Western Sydney, has found that Green Star-rated buildings are delivering a 12 per cent ‘green premium’ in value and a five per cent premium in rent.
Similarly, the most recent IPD Property Index has found that 4 Star Green Star-rated buildings deliver a 10.8 per cent higher return on investment than non-Green Star buildings.
Since 2002, Green Star has penetrated the commercial office market to the extent that 18 per cent of CBD office space is now Green Star certified.
Recently, the Chief Executive of Australia’s largest privately-owned development, funds management and construction company, Grocon, said it was a “liability to have too few Green Stars.”
So, what does the future hold? Certainly, the number of Green Star-rated buildings will continue to escalate, as developers, investors and tenants all recognise that green makes good business sense.
More and more projects will be aiming for ‘World Leadership’ ratings, as building owners, designers and construction teams learn how to design for higher levels of Green Star achievement on conventional budgets.
Even projects that don’t attempt to achieve a Green Star rating will be designed by the same architects and designers working on Green Star projects, so we can expect current Green Star benchmarks to become integrated into general practice.
While we can be proud of our achievements in green building, the conversation has once again shifted – and we are looking at how we green our existing buildings, as well as how we embed sustainability into our neighbourhoods, communities and cities.
The Green Star – Communities tool is set to become a national voluntary standard for the planning, design and delivery of best practice sustainable community development projects across Australia. And our Green Star – Performance tool, once complete, will be able to rate the operational performance of the 98 per cent of Australia’s building stock that is not brand new.
Australia’s construction industry is now on the path of an important evolution. The Green Star environmental rating tools can support this evolution – helping the industry to reduce the environmental impact of buildings while improving their return on investment, boosting occupant health and productivity, and supporting a greener, cleaner future.