Residential downturn a chance for renewal

Despite a decade of gridlock on energy and climate policy in the federal Parliament, Australia’s property industry continues to get on with the job of decarbonising the built environment.

This year’s GRESB results – which ranked the Australian and New Zealand real estate market the world’s greenest for the eighth year in a row – is a testament to that effort. So is the uptake of Green Star in the commercial sector – with 40 per cent of CBD office space and 40 per cent of retail space now Green Star-rated.

While these achievements deserve applause, there is a vast sea of residential stock in Australia that continues to present a powerful opportunity to deliver improved energy productivity and lower our emissions – with homes responsible for 57 per cent of our built environment emissions.

As Australia’s residential property cycle changed direction this year, a slowdown may present new opportunities to drive sustainability through the sector.

For the best part of five years, the industry has been focused on getting new product delivered to meet increasing demand. Some companies in the residential sector – both boutique developers and the big end of town – have stepped up their sustainability agendas. But these efforts have been sporadic. In a hot housing market, there are limited opportunities to tweak the product mix, test new design ideas or materials, or take the supply chain on a sustainability journey, due to the delivery pressure.

A slowing market gives consumers more time to evaluate their options and developers more time to evolve their product. Buyers are still on the hunt for property, but if it doesn’t demonstrate good design and good value, and if it isn’t a future-proofed investment, they won’t buy it. Developers are still producing homes, but they have more time to work with their supply chain to introduce new building materials, appliances and design elements. And the supply chain has no choice but to deliver – because they, too, are in the business of meeting demand and delivering value.

It seems odd that the public debate about energy prices and cost of living has focussed on the price of energy consumed, not reduction of the amount of energy used.

This is why the time is right for the Green Building Council of Australia to accelerate our efforts in the residential space, and why homes are one of four pillars – alongside carbon, social infrastructure and member value – of our new strategic plan.

Consumer sentiment, investor demands, scientific evidence and pure pragmatism are propelling the property industry forward despite lack of coordinated national action on climate change or energy efficiency.

The GBCA’s board believes a commitment to, and the delivery of, net zero emissions in our industry will become a competitive advantage in the years ahead, which is why we’ve set an ambitious target: net zero new buildings by 2030 and existing buildings by 2050. Our Carbon Positive Roadmap, launched in June, charts this course.

We’re also zeroing in on infrastructure – as social infrastructure like transport hubs, hospitals, schools and sporting facilities are within Green Star’s influence, and infrastructure is responsible for nearly half of all Australia’s emissions.

Momentum is building. We’ve demonstrated world-leading performance in the commercial sector. 

Now is the time to set the agenda for our residential industry and to confirm its position as a world leading performer by delivering zero carbon housing. 

And now is the time for our governments to work collaboratively with industry to create systemic change, and, at the same time, reduce household costs.