In 2000, Sydney hosted what became known as the “Green Games.” An emphasis was placed on future use of Olympic infrastructure – from stadia to the athletes’ village – as well as the long-term sustainability and environmental impact of these structures, an aspect never considered before the 2000 Games. In 2002, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) was formed, a lasting legacy of this new, environmentally-conscious development mentality.
The GBCA wanted to leverage the collaboration that occurred between architects, engineers, developers, consultants, and the government during the Olympic Games. The GBCA’s initial vision was to establish a rating system that would help the property industry compare different buildings and their sustainability. At the time, though, there were few industry metrics or benchmarks for best practice in energy, water, waste materials or transport. Recognising the need for robust, evidence-based best practice benchmarks for sustainable building, the GBCA’s founding members examined other rating tools in use around the world and formulated the Green Star rating system for use in the Australian market.
During Green Star’s development, Australia was seeing prominent growth in the commercial sector. The decision was made for the first Green Star rating tool to address the sustainability of office design and construction, which in turn provided a master framework for future Green Star rating tools.
It’s no surprise, then, that offices comprise the largest segment of Green Star-rated buildings. Robin Mellon, Chief Operating Officer of the GBCA and with the organisation since 2007, explains that “twenty per cent of the total central city office space around Australia is now Green Star certified; this increases to one in four buildings in Adelaide, and one in three in Brisbane. In some cities, such as Sydney, almost all of the office space built since Green Star was launched has been certified using the appropriate rating tool.”
Other industry sectors are beginning to catch up – Green Star-rated industrial facilities, as well as retail spaces, hospitals, more than 120 school and university facilities, multi-unit residential buildings and community centres are being built across Australia. Green Star certification can now be achieved for interior fit-outs of existing buildings as well – a category increasingly popular in the wake of the global financial crisis, as companies recognise the financial value of retrofits and the redevelopment of existing buildings. “In the last twelve months, we’ve begun working with a range of exciting new projects, and Australia now has Green Star-rated community centers, libraries and restaurants.”
After rating over 600 projects so far, the Green Building Council of Australia is just months away from releasing the Green Star – Performance rating tool which will assess the operational performance of buildings.
The rating tool will assess buildings against the nine Green Star categories of Management, Energy, Emissions, Indoor Environment Quality, Water, Transport, Materials, Land Use and Ecology, and Innovation, and their operational metrics.
“Buildings don’t need to be new to be green; existing buildings have many opportunities to improve the way in which they operate,” Mr Mellon says.
“Just as Green Star ratings for new buildings have helped companies to reduce operating costs, attract and retain staff, boost their brand equity and demonstrate a commitment to corporate social responsibility, so too a Green Star – Performance rating will provide the third party tick of approval that a building is comfortable, efficient, productive and healthy. ”Perhaps most exciting of all, the Green Star – Communities rating tool, which we launched last year, will drive higher levels of sustainability in developments at the precinct scale. This new rating tool enables us to scale up Green Star to evaluate not just building-level solutions, but community-wide and community-scale solutions. The result will be a transformation in Australia, not just one building at a time, but one community at time.”
Given the rise of Green Star’s influence, the GBCA has effectively transformed Australia’s property and construction industry, which now thinks in terms of ‘stars’. Mellon states that, today, the GBCA is focused on three priorities: “We rate, we educate and we advocate.”
“We use Green Star rating tools to provide independent assessment and verification of the sustainability of buildings and communities against best practice benchmarks. We educate organisations and individuals on sustainable building practices, not only through a classroom environment but also through online modules. And we advocate, by working with local, state and federal governments to develop policies and programs which support Australia’s thriving green building industry,” Mr Mellon explains.
In just 10 years, the GBCA has been the driving force behind the substantial reduction in the environmental impact of buildings, while at the same time increasing financial savings and industry skills, as well as occupant health and productivity.
“We recently released a report, The Value of Green Star: A decade of environmental benefits, which analyses data from 428 Green Star-certified projects occupying 5,746,000 million square metres across Australia and compares it to the ‘average’ Australian building and minimum practice benchmarks. We found that on average, Green Star-certified buildings produce 62 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use 66 per cent less electricity than average Australian buildings. Green Star buildings also use 51 per cent less potable water than average buildings. These savings directly contribute to bottom line savings.
Today, the GBCA has 50 employees in five different locations, with the GBCA headquarters located in Sydney. More than 700 organisations are members of the GBCA, spread across the breadth of the construction and property industry – including all tiers of government, building owners and managers, professional service firms, investors, manufacturers, as well as universities, professional societies, and utilities.
The GBCA has trained more than 40,000 industry workers, 1,400 of which are currently Green Star Accredited Professionals.
“The Green Building Council of Australia strives to achieve an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable Australia. It is not just about whose office is greener – it’s about the places in which we live, learn, heal, rest and play. Green Star is helping to build better communities, lifestyles and futures for all Australians.”