Five minutes with Sandra Qian on driving value for governments

25 Sep 2020

Happy Green Building Week, Sandra! This year we’re calling on businesses and governments to act on climate change so we can achieve our mission of 100% net carbon buildings by 2050. What are your thoughts/highlights of the campaign so far? 

The call to action for World Green Building Week this year is especially important. Like many countries Australia is facing two imperatives– the need to stimulate jobs growth and rebuild our economy and the need to transition to zero net emissions and help keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. While there are lots of opportunities, local and overseas experience tells us that high performing buildings hold promise on both fronts because they create demand for clean energy technologies and materials and activate local supply chains, whilst lowering emissions and energy use. This presents our sector at the heart of the solution for two very big issues of our time.

Can you tell us about how Green Building Council of Australia's (GBCA) new tool will help governments decarbonise the built environment?

The new rating tool – Green Star Buildings is underpinned by a strategic goal of delivering net zero emissions buildings, in line with GBCA’s Carbon Positive Roadmap. Governments will be able to influence all three scopes of a building’s emissions, including operational energy use, where the energy is sourced from as well as the materials and products used in the building. All 6 star rated buildings rated using this tool will be net zero - defined as buildings which are fossil fuel free, highly efficient, powered by renewables, built with low carbon materials – these same requirements will apply to 5 and 4 star rated buildings from 2023 and 2026 onwards. Furthermore, all certified projects will be subject to a set of minimum expectations. These include the requirement to be 10% more energy and emissions efficient during operation than the National Construction Code, and to have 10% less upfront emissions (through low carbon design and selection of materials).

How can governments use tools like Green Star to benchmark sustainable outcomes and progress their work in driving sustainable buildings?

There are many ways that established tools like Green Star can help governments with their goals, and we see this exemplified at every level of government. One great example of leadership is Brisbane City Council’s new Green Buildings Incentive Policy, which provides a payment equivalent to 50% of paid infrastructure charges if a new development can demonstrate specific green and energy efficient design elements. Eligible projects must choose from a list of criteria that includes the achievement of a 5 star Green Star certification (we profiled this policy for – read more here).
A key benefit of rating tools for governments is the ability to make comparisons across multiple different investments, manage and track their performance as well as clearly articulate and verify commitments. Green Star and NABERS are frequently adopted by governments to benchmark their own buildings for this reason. Another way that rating tools can help government procurement is by providing a clear framework for benefits realisation that is aligned with government’s strategic objectives. This was illustrated by Building Queensland during the most recent update of their Business Case Development Framework, which saw Green Star used to underpin a framework for assessing the sustainability of government building projects and integrate a whole-of-life approach within government procurement processes.

Our rating tools are evolving to ensure Green Star will deliver not just environmental outcomes, but significant social value as well. What can you tell us about this?

Governments are under pressure to ensure that their investments bring long-lasting social value and will often make decisions that consider the indirect and direct benefits to the community, related to improved liveability, access to amenities and employment, among other co-benefits. This focus on social value is reflected through a large number of credits in the new Green Star Buildings rating tool, which takes a people centric approach to the built environment and addresses issues such as social construction impacts, contribution to place, community engagement, culture, identity and heritage. For example, the ‘Social Procurement’ credit covers the diversity of the construction workforce by integrating targets in construction contracts and sub-contractors and the ‘Design for Inclusion’ credit encourages going beyond code compliance to provide equal and inclusive access and amenities to all occupants. Modern slavery issues are addressed through credits targeting responsible procurement and responsible products. And many credits in the ‘Places’ category advocate for the creation of active, inclusive and enjoyable places that integrates the building into the urban fabric.

2020 has been a tumultuous year on many levels. What are your thoughts on government leadership this year around decarbonisation?

For most of this year, governments’ attention has rightly been fixated on ensuring public health and safety, and stimulating the economy through both public and private investment. Despite this, we continue to see momentum building in the public sector around the importance of decarbonisation, a recognition that climate change presents a risk to society and to the economy and a growing desire by governments to respond. One area where governments can seize the opportunities to support future reductions is infrastructure investment – as noted in our paper ‘Building to Bounce Back’ – because these assets last such a long time, todays’ strategic decisions, whilst responsive to current to current economic conditions should keep longer-term challenges in mind, and avoid locking the economy into a high emissions future.