A carbon positive future: Are you with us?

Australia’s built environment is central to creating a carbon positive future and governments – local, state and federal – can play a key role in leading the transition.

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) has released A Carbon Positive Roadmap for the built environment, an industry-led discussion paper which establishes the steps required for government, commercial and institutional buildings and fitouts to decarbonise.

Improving the built environment offers more opportunities and lower costs to help ease the transition required to reduce emissions across other more challenging economic sectors.

The roadmap clearly outlines the high-level outcomes, actions, targets and policy positions required. These are proposed alongside changes to the GBCA’s Green Star rating tool to ensure it helps lead industry through the next decade of transformation.

Developed in close consultation with government and industry, and now released for their feedback, the discussion paper plots a world-leading path to raise the benchmark for sustainable design, construction and building operation.

GBCA’s Head of Market Transformation, Jorge Chapa, said the roadmap was developed to help ensure Australia’s competitiveness and attractiveness for investment while fulfilling international commitments to reducing carbon emissions.

“This roadmap was developed as a response to GBCA’s vision of healthy, resilient and positive places for people and the natural environment and is the result of extensive industry and government consultation and engagement,” Jorge said.

“It proposes a range of policy positions for industry to support and calls for upgrades to energy efficiency requirements in the national construction code and an expansion of requirements for the mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency in buildings and fitouts.

“Broader reforms in the energy sector are also discussed, with practical incentives to support building upgrades and retrofits and the development of carbon neutral products and services.

“Whether you are a policy maker, developer, building owner, industry professional, product manufacturer or building occupant, this roadmap will help you lead in the delivery of a more sustainable built environment.”

The roadmap proposes a significant increase in performance for buildings and fitouts over the next decade. It is being developed in tandem with Green Star Future Focus – a comprehensive review of the GBCA’s existing Green Star rating tools to set leading targets for certification.

Buildings seeking a Green Star rating would have to meet updated requirements – with a proposal that new and existing Green Star rated buildings will have no greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and existing buildings having to meet this target by 2050 or earlier.

It will drive transformation in the rest of the built environment by promoting policies to retrofit existing buildings, improve new buildings, increase the supply of renewable energy, and phase out fossil fuel use.

The roadmap also acknowledges the contractual, policy, and commercial barriers that discourage joint action between building owners and tenants to address whole-of-building emissions.

“Achieving the roadmap’s targets requires a whole-of-building approach,” Jorge said.

“Where the building owner has control over the fitouts and energy use changes are easier to implement. However, in buildings where there is a contractual relationship with another party collaboration and cooperation is needed.

“Problems can be overcome by first incentivising decarbonisation, then requiring collaboration between all parties to share energy data. Encouraging the use of operational ratings will drive both parties to use renewable energy.”

As a signatory to the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals the continued support of all levels of government is needed to bring carbon emissions down.

This work is part of a series of activities taken by GBCA in this space, including working with the Australian Government on its National Carbon Offset Standards for Buildings and Precincts, the release of its Green Star Innovation Challenges, and its participation in the Global Commitment for Net Zero Carbon Buildings.

Case study:

Wollongong City Council’s administration building is proof older buildings can be green. The 31-year-old building achieved a 5 Star Green Star – Performance rating, signifies Australian excellence.

The rating provides the people of Wollongong with independent verification that their building stacks up against some of the newest green icons around the country – and that they have an efficient, productive and healthy community asset.

The council has developed a Sustainable Building Strategy, guiding how it improves the operational sustainability of existing buildings, in addition to how new buildings will be designed, constructed and operated. 

Roadmap goals:

·         commit to a permanent transition to buildings and fitouts with no greenhouse gas emissions

·         switch to, install, or procure renewable energy and support the decarbonisation of the grid

·         build, operate, or occupy low energy intensive buildings and fitouts

·         adopt net zero carbon products, materials and services

·         support the transition to electric vehicles.