All that glitters is not green

Barangaroo South, NSW. Lendlease. 6 Star Green Star - Communities PILOT v0.2

28 Jul 2022

A message from the CEO Davina Rooney

Australia’s competition watchdog has greenwashing in its sights. Last month, deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Delia Rickard told the Australian Financial Review ESG Summit that the ACCC would be proactively pursuing companies making sustainability claims that don’t stack up.

“When companies are out there saying, ‘we’re going to net zero, we’re reducing our carbon footprint’, we will be looking at those claims and making sure that they are doing what they say they’re doing,” Delia Rickard said.

The ACCC is sending a powerful message to the market. Companies can no longer overhype their green credentials and that includes project teams claiming Green Star ‘equivalency’.

The GBCA turned 20 this year, and in this time rating systems and market expectations have evolved enormously. In the early days, when Green Star's scope was narrower, it made sense that some bespoke buildings would look for proxies simply because there wasn’t a rating available to achieve. Not so now. We've now certified everything from museums to metro stations, concert halls to communities, single homes to swimming pools.

We have solid evidence that sustainability ratings can be deployed at scale, with more than 3,000 Green Star certifications and national recognition in frameworks and policies. The National Construction Code, for instance, recognises Green Star and NABERS as compliance pathways for non-residential buildings.

Green Star certification is a quality process accredited to ISO9001. This accreditation holds us to account and ensures that ratings are auditable and replicable. In contrast, self-assessments benchmark a proposed development against Green Star credits without undertaking rigorous, independent assessment. These self-assessments cannot be used to communicate achieved green credentials as they are not verified.

We have built Green Star’s reputation as a trusted trademark. Misusing Green Star or NABERS trademark breaches that trust. In fact, the Australian Government’s Sustainable Procurement Guide notes that “projects that claim to meet the requirements of Green Star but are not certified are potentially in breach of trademark rules and may be accused of ‘greenwash’.”

As Hutchinson Builders’ Patrick Campbell says: “Green Star's final stamp of approval is unarguable – you have either built it right or you haven't. The only way to get true confirmation that you’ve met Green Star benchmarks is to get a rating."

Last year, we promised to ramp up our efforts to eliminate equivalency claims. Since then, we've updated our marketing rules and website to make our position clear. Our Green Star business case and social infrastructure report also feature strongly-worded warnings.

We’ve strengthened our partnership with NABERS and the evidence base for certification. Our research confirms that certification closes the gap between design ambition and actual performance.

Several state governments are now showing leadership. The Queensland Government is using Green Star to ensure its carbon neutral target for the Brisbane Olympic Games is met. Homes Victoria has committed to minimum 5 Star Green Star certification and School Infrastructure NSW verifies its projects with Green Star. Renewal SA mandated 5 Star Green Star ratings for every building on Bowden’s 16.3-hectare site. The commitment of these state government organisations shows the real value of verification through certification.

A growing number of local governments now see Green Star for what it is: strong on verified sustainable outcomes that they can rely on. Green Star mandates in some jurisdictions are on the horizon, and some local governments are already working with developers on a case-by-case basis to eliminate equivalency. “The City of Yarra in Melbourne no longer accepts Green Star ‘equivalency’ on new submissions for town planning development applications or its own capital works program,” says the City’s Environmentally Sustainable Development Advisor, Euan Williamson.

Best of all, industry itself is stepping up its efforts to protect the system it built. As Aurecon’s Anita Milne notes: “What were aspirations at the beginning are forgotten, value engineered out during the design and construction process or simply missed during delivery. Certification provides that additional layer of scrutiny, holding the project team to account.”

With an abundance of standards, benchmarks, rating tools and frameworks on the market, the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council published a ratings snapshot last year to help people navigate the most common rating tools. ASBEC concluded: “Green Star, NABERS and IS certifications all rely on quality control mechanisms which are repeatable and auditable. You can trust the claims being made under these schemes.”

After two decades of hard graft, Australia now has some of the world’s most robust, reliable rating systems. Whether you choose Green Star, NABERS or IS to guide your project, our position is clear. Don’t rely on equivalency, because all that glitters is not green.