Building back better

A word from Davina

26 Feb 2020

As we count the cost of Australia’s horror bushfire season, we must learn the lessons of the past and build back better.

Before we rush out to rebuild, we must rethink the systems and structures that got us into this position in the first place.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen the clear consequences that a failure to prepare for emergencies can have on lives and livelihoods.

In 2005, following the 7.6 magnitude earthquake in Pakistan, I joined an AusAID contingent of engineers dispatched to deliver emergency accommodation to millions of people left homeless.

With winter bearing down on the Kashmir region, aid agencies were struggling to keep up with relief and recovery efforts. More than 80,000 people had lost their lives, and survivors were trying to rebuild their homes with the materials they had to hand. These makeshift homes, while shelter in the short-term, were often not set up for the cold of a Himalayan winter.
This experience in Pakistan was my first foray into “build back better” thinking. I saw firsthand that, despite the flood of international aid in the early days, the world moves on. The emergency shelter erected in 2005 became the standard living conditions for some people for the next decade.

What was missing was not the generosity of nations and the goodwill of people. That was in abundance. We were missing systems and processes in place before the emergency to help us build back better.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this play out in our own land of bushfires and floods. Despite the very best of intentions, our rebuilds haven’t always been better than what was there before, especially when considered at scale.

It is optimistic to think we will have more time to consider our options and plan out our processes next time disaster strikes. Instead, we need to be crisis-ready. This means having the systems and structures, the processes and procurement pathways in place before the next emergency.

Green Star provides an essential reference point for government and communities as we look to deliver buildings that are better prepared for the challenges of a changing climate. Additionally, we need to ensure that the buildings make a smaller contribution to climate change with a pathway to net zero.

Resilient design has long been embedded into Green Star, but we’ve now made this explicit in the new Future Focus rating tools. A new standalone ‘Resilience’ category, currently open for consultation, includes credits to improve an asset’s resilience to climate change impacts, and to boost a community’s overall resilience. 

We’ve also been thinking about the role of resilience in the residential sector. Our Future Homes program has outlined the need to advocate for more resilient homes and ensure the code addresses resilience as a core attribute of the building. And while Green Star for New Buildings will cover apartments, there is nothing out there that holistically addresses resilience for new homes. This is an area where leadership and partnerships are sorely needed, and one that we plan on addressing very soon. 

Over the next few months we will be continuing our engagement. Of course in just this next month I am looking forward to seeing so many of our members at our TRANSFORM conference from the 24-25 March; helping set a powerful new agenda for the year ahead. In addition to those critical discussions at TRANSFORM we are hosting resilience webinars and workshops across our membership with industry and local councils; and exploring how our leading industry members can support resilience across some of our fire-affected local government members.

Importantly, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) will continue to use the bushfire crisis as an opportunity to reconnect people with the critically important message of climate action – because one of the best ways for us to create resilient communities is to curb our emissions. 

If we can get this right, together we can deliver the sustainable transformation at the heart of the GBCA’s mission.