The secret to cookie cutter sustainability

29 Jun 2022

A message from the CEO Davina Rooney

Each building project that is a one-off prototype or a start-from-scratch design leads us further and further away from a sustainable future.

In a fragmented industry where every building is bespoke, “cookie-cutter” designs cop a lot of flak. But the truth is we are still a long way from a systematised approach to sustainable building. Low VOC paint and low flow taps should be business-as-usual. But, as shocking as it may seem, they often aren’t.

The “cookie cutter” can help us fill in the ‘boring but important’ parts of a building so we can make space for the special parts, like community development and detailed design. We need a systematised approach to sustainability – and that starts with the overwhelmingly-important but often overlooked procurement function.

I know. Procurement is one of those words that can send a roomful of people drifting off to sleep. But it’s time to sit up and take notice, because procurement is only way to achieve sustainability at scale. Importantly, by embedding the items that are routine, we create more space for genuine innovation and problem solving.

The 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan clearly outlines the opportunities for procurement to drive down emissions and support the shift to circularity. A 55% reduction in carbon emissions is possible when sustainability goals are embedded into all infrastructure procurement, Infrastructure Australia estimates.

“Setting procurement targets for sustainable and net zero emissions materials in construction would be an effective method for governments to reduce emissions and ensure broad sustainability outcomes,” the report states.

So why is it so hard?

A new research project, which I’m delighted to be co-leading for the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre, has asked this question and the answers are manifold. Lack of resourcing, training and communication, a disconnect between sustainability targets and procurement functions, few tools and data, tight budgets… the list goes on.

But the research, which we expect to publish in coming weeks, also finds that sustainability targets will remain elusive without sustainable procurement.

This is why our work with the national building specifier, NATSPEC, is so important. Our combined technical experts have been in collaboration to align Green Star’s minimum expectations and NATSPEC’s procurement guidelines. This will allow more designers and specifiers to connect the dots. Read on to learn what NATSPEC’s CEO Richard Choy thinks about this ‘paint by numbers’ approach to procurement.

GBCA is also thrilled to welcome a new member to our team. Katherine Featherstone joins us as Senior Manager Responsible Products and Materials. Katherine has spent nearly seven years with Stockland, most recently as Sustainable Projects Manager. She will be championing our circular economy work and strengthening relationships with manufacturers and suppliers. Watch our interview with Katherine to find out how she’ll be connecting products and projects to drive change.

The old excuse – that sustainability is too hard or too expensive – no longer holds true. We have irrefutable evidence that standardised sustainability saves money. The Green Star business case lays it out in black and white. The average 6 Star Green Star building costs 2.6% of a project’s budget. That’s less than the 2.7% it takes to achieve a 5 Star Green Star rating. This is because the industry’s leaders understand how to deliver 6 Star at scale – and they have the cookie cutter to make the procurement process easier.

MECLA, the Materials and Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance, celebrated its one-year anniversary recently and has played an important role shining the spotlight on critical product and procurement issues.

Many GBCA members are also stepping up the pace. Lendlease’s recent work to chart a course towards decarbonised construction sites is featured in this month’s Green Building Voice. Lendlease is investing in electrification at speed and is using its scale to create a new renewable diesel industry in Australia.

Few companies have sustainable product experts or climate scientists on the payroll. Few project teams can afford endless hours poring over specifications. So how do we race towards net zero while we do our day jobs? When sustainable procurement is as easy as reaching for the cookie cutter, then we ensure each building we bake is satisfying and sustainable.