The Sydney Opera House: a world leading sustainability performance

31 May 2023

"The Green Star Performance rating scheme is fantastic because it provides a framework to assess current sustainability performance and to then conduct a gap analysis on how performance can be improved over time. This translates into policy changes, behavioural changes, equipment upgrades, and more."


Technical Director of Sustainability, Mott MacDonald

Underneath its striking white sails set against the blue of the harbour, the Sydney Opera House is green-certified. Designed with nature in mind and building on its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Listed and globally renowned performing arts space, the Opera House has been working with Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) since 2013 to position itself as a world leader in operational sustainability performance.

From sandstone buildings in city streets, to industrial estates in the suburbs and government blocks in outback Broken Hill, Green Star Performance has been used by thousands of existing buildings around Australia.

The popular tool assesses a building’s operational performance across several areas including energy use, emissions, indoor environment quality, water, materials and waste. Davina Rooney, CEO, GBCA says it’s a tool that lightens the environmental footprint of any building type, including the Sydney Opera House.

“This energy efficient, heritage listed, public building has gone from a 4 Star Green Star Performance rating for best practice in 2015, to a 6 Star Green Star rating for world leadership in 2023. This is proof that any building – old or new, big or small – can reach the highest sustainability outcomes,” said Davina.

Our journey with the Sydney Opera House

The building we see today was designed in the late 1950s with sustainability in mind. Inspired by nature, the Opera House’s architect Jørn Utzon incorporated revolutionary features that ensure energy efficiency and a reduction in carbon emissions.

“Utzon was strongly influenced and inspired by nature. To receive this 6 Star Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia demonstrates our commitment to continuing to build on Utzon’s legacy and doing our part to encourage greater community awareness in reducing our impact on the environment,” shared Emma Bombonato, environmental sustainability manager at the Opera House.

“I like to be on the edge of possible.”

Jørn Utzon,, Architect, Sydney Opera House

The Opera House has worked closely with GBCA member and partner Mott Macdonald to develop a plan to reach 6 Star certification and uplift sustainability performance from the existing 5 Star rating. This involved providing technical advice and reviewing documentation for:

  • indoor environment quality monitoring and management (including an innovative bushfire dust response system)
  • building services information management (including an innovative digitally responsive maintenance platform)
  • fire system test water reuse
  • energy and water metering and monitoring
  • sustainable procurement
  • operational waste management
  • refurbishment waste management
  • building user sustainability information sharing
  • content and performance sharing using the innovative ‘From Our House to Your House’ online platform during the global pandemic to enable access to both live and recorded performances to audiences all over the world.

The Opera House’s 6 Star Green Star Performance certification joins a list of achievements worth celebrating:

  • switching to 100% renewable electricity
  • maintaining carbon neutral status year-on-year since 2018
  • retrofitting the building with new technology to monitor energy, water and indoor environment quality, enabled by Opera House Global Goals partner Honeywell Building Technologies
  • reducing electricity and water usage by approximately 20% since 2018
  • increasing operational waste recycling rate from 55% to more than 90%
  • diverting more than 90% of major building works construction waste from landfill
  • installing an artificial reef in the waters around Bennelong Point to restore habitat, clean the harbour water, and increase marine biodiversity
  • diverting 95% of event waste from landfill for Vivid LIVE and outdoor concerts in 2022 (and on track for 2023), and
  • completing major building improvements including new accessible passageways, lifts and facilities and creating a new Centre for Creativity that provides hands-on creative experiences for all ages

This case study is part of a bigger story following the growth and innovation of SOH since 2015, with periodic check-in's on performance, including during 2019.

Green Star - Performance is Australia's leading sustainability rating tool to assess the operational sustainability performance of existing buildings. If you're a building owner or manager wanting to measure the environmental impact of existing assets, learn more about Green Star Performance here.