How does biodiversity play a role in Future Focus?

29 Aug 2019

Green Star Future Focus is well underway, charting a course for the next generation of sustainability rating tools for the built environment. In this feature, GBCA Senior Manager – Strategic Projects, Elham Monavari, unpacks what you need to know about how we are targeting biodiversity.

Why is it important to focus on the relationship between nature and the built environment?

By 2050, it is expected that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. With Australia’s population set to reach 31 million people by 2030 our cities are expanding, placing greater strain on resources and the natural environment.  Importantly, the impacts on biodiversity are not just confined to the project site.  

The materials that are used in construction also have an impact, whether this is to rivers and streams, or forests.  Therefore there are many touch points between nature and the built environment which offers us a big opportunity to make a positive impact through the whole project life cycle, from site selection and acquisition to design, materials specification, construction and ongoing use.

How is Future Focus looking to address biodiversity through the Natural Environment credit?

The GBCA released the Building with Nature Paper in 2018. This focus on nature is in recognition that biodiversity is facing significant challenges and threats and these threats touch us all.  

While we currently have our Land Use and Ecology category, Future Focus will see the emergence of a new category called ‘Nature’.  

This category seeks to bring nature back into cities and the built environment by protecting existing sites, and encouraging an active connection between people and and the environment.

As well as encouraging onsite protection, enhancement and restoration, the nature category will include the following outcomes: 

• Reduction of water pollution and runoff impacts through integrated water management solutions. 
• Creation of habitats through landscaping in order to improve biodiversity outcomes.
• Nature connectivity to improve ecological connectivity and promote solutions that encourage wildlife movement.
• Recognition of investments in solutions that promote the restoration and conservation of habitats in areas outside the site.

What are the biggest challenges we face in preserving biodiversity (and helping it thrive)?

There are many current threats to biodiversity. We’re at risk of losing up to 50% of land-based species this century due to a number of threats including:

• Climate change – with weather patterns changing at such a fast pace, animals and plants are simply not able to adapt in time and are becoming extinct at a fast rate.
• Around 5,000 square kilometres of virgin bushland and advanced regrowth are lost every year, hence deforestation and habitat loss is another key challenge. With habitat lost, remaining areas are fragmented which inhibits the ability of animals to move through landscapes. 
• The imbalance created with ecosystems also leads to pest and weed infestations which further degrades biodiversity value. 

What about the opportunities?

While the challenges to nature seem daunting, it’s good to know that there are so many ways that nature can be protected and enhanced and that these efforts have so many multiple benefits. For example – the power of trees!

Trees and plants photosynthesise. They take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert this to oxygen.  Research has shown that planting trees on an international scale has the ability to take two thirds of carbon emissions emitted through human activity and convert that into oxygen.

Trees and vegetation also provide shade and absorb heat which makes our cities cooler and thereby more comfortable. Protection and increasing vegetation through landscaping creates more liveable cities and also helps create places bringing people together. 

As well as making us happier, having green spaces encourages human activity which improves health and wellbeing. 

Nature is also important to the global economy. It provides services such as cultural connection, clean air, water, food and materials, which contributes around US$125 trillion to the economy every year. 

Simply put, on a social, environmental and economic scale, we cannot afford to neglect nature in the development of buildings, cities and communities and we hope to address this as Future Focus unfolds.

To find out more about the Nature category, or Green Star Future Focus in general, head here