Greening the built environment with renewable energy

Thursday, 01 April, 2010

With residential and commercial buildings responsible for 23% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, buildings have a significant role to play in reducing our carbon footprint. Building green provides the greatest, most cost-effective opportunity to tackle climate change. What’s more, this action, and its positive impact, can be taken quickly.

Australia’s building industry is increasingly focused on making buildings greener, ensuring that higher standards of environmental performance are realised. The Green Building Council of Australia* (GBCA) supports this by operating Australia’s only national, voluntary environmental rating system for buildings: Green Star.

Green Star evaluates the green attributes of building projects based on nine criteria, including energy efficiency, resource conservation and indoor environmental quality. At this stage, Green Star ratings cover office, retail, multi-unit residential, educational and healthcare developments. New rating tools for other building types, such as industrial, are being piloted.

An assessment of 95 recently certified Green Star projects around Australia found that buildings with Green Star certification achieved an average 36% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when compared with ‘business-as-usual’ building practices.

Green Star encourages building designers to create developments that achieve zero operational greenhouse gas emissions. Several design teams are seeking this ‘holy grail’ of green building, but this can only be achieved when renewable energy systems are integrated into buildings. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to building green. The Green Star system offers a range of solutions for developments to achieve maximum economic and occupant health benefits, while reducing their environmental impact.

The federal government’s new renewable energy target will encourage construction projects that address the environmental impact of energy used in buildings. The Solar Credits Scheme will drive more small-scale renewable energy installations. There will be significant opportunities for small-scale renewable energy installations in buildings to contribute to the revised targets.

Renewable energy systems integrated into buildings will also result in lower transmission and distribution costs. These benefits should be recognised, particularly when compared to centralised and remote systems such as rural wind farms.

The range of Green Star credits encourages more energy-efficient buildings, from the direct (Ene-1 ‘GreenHouse Gas Emissions’ or Ene-3 ‘Lighting Power Density’) to the educational (Ene-2 ‘Energy Sub-metering’ or Ene-5 ‘Peak Energy Demand Reduction’). There are also credits in the Indoor Environment Quality category which examine the ventilation, comfort and pollutants aspects of buildings, and their relationship with energy-efficiency issues.

Australia is witnessing a paradigm shift from the development of buildings that consume energy to creating ones that actually produce energy. Resource scarcity and rising utility prices are already exposing traditional ‘consumer buildings’ to increased maintenance costs. Eventually, this pressure will force the necessary investment required to convert buildings into ‘producers’ in order to survive. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that a self-sufficient building collecting its own rainwater, creating less waste and producing its own energy will be the most economically viable construction model.

The broader Australian economy also benefits from building green. A 2009 Davis Langdon report, ‘Retrogreening Offices in Australia’, estimates that refurbishing a significant quantity of office stock has the potential to create jobs for more than 10,000 people in the construction industry. This translates into almost 27,000 new jobs across the wider economy. The report argues that for every ‘green-collar job’ created, there is a potential annual saving of approximately 300 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

By integrating renewable energy sources in the construction process, we begin to see that buildings can tackle climate change and boost the economy, while also having a positive and restorative effect on their surroundings.

For more information and to download the Green Star rating tools, visit

* Robin Mellon is GBCA’s Green Star Executive Director, responsible for the Green Star team’s development and operation of rating tools and the certification of Green Star projects. Mellon teaches the Green Star Accredited Professional course around Australia, represents the GBCA on sustainability committees and regularly presents at conferences to encourage industry towards better practice.

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