Conference paper

Green Urbanism in Australia: An Evaluation of Green Building Rating Schemes

11 Dec 2015

Creating sustainable cities requires rethinking the built environment, a fundamental component of mitigating the environmental impacts of buildings. To evaluate this, stakeholders in Australia increasingly rely on third party verification via green building rating schemes. These rating schemes address and encourage a variety of green features which are incorporated into the design and construction of a building. They also set benchmarks and provide methodologies to enable the assessment of whether a green feature or reduction in negative environmental impact has been achieved. They are generally highly complex and require a professional level of knowledge to understand how a rating is achieved and what it means. This paper investigates the priorities of green building stakeholders and whether the available rating schemes in Australia address these. Green building stakeholders include building professionals including architects, engineers, builders and town planners; investors; building owners; tenants; the local community; and civil society affected by the impacts of development and construction. 102 green building stakeholders were surveyed to determine how stakeholders use the information provided by rating schemes to make decisions and what their priorities are in terms of green features, building performance and marketability. This information was then analysed and contrasted against the stated aims of the rating schemes and the green features that they promote. Findings indicate that green building rating schemes could be used more effectively if the priorities of all stakeholders were considered when selecting the rating scheme to be used and credits within a rating scheme to be targeted. It also appears that the residential sector is not being catered for adequately by the available rating schemes which could impact green urbanism outcomes. It is argued that a more comprehensive understanding of rating schemes by all green building stakeholders could result in better coordinated environmental outcomes across the built environment.
The papers presented at the 2015 State of Australian Cities National Conference (SOAC 7) were organised into seven broad themes but all shared, to varying degrees, a common focus on the ways in which high quality academic research can be used in the development and implementation of policy. The relationship between empirical evidence and theoretical developments that are presented as part of our scholarly endeavours and policy processes is rarely clear and straightforward. Sometimes, perhaps because of the fortuitous alignment of various factors, our research has a direct and positive impact on policy. Sometimes it takes longer to be noticed and have influence and, sometimes, there is no little or no evidence of impact beyond or even with the academy. And while there are things we can do to promote the existence of our work and to present it in more accessible formats to people we believe to be influential, ultimately the appreciation and application of our work lies in the hands of others.
The pursuit of urban sustainability requires multiple holistic approaches that target human behaviours, the built environment, and the hard and soft infrastructures that comprise contemporary cities. Green buildings are one component of this broader agenda, and the past two decades have seen great strides toward achieving more desirable ecological and social outcomes through better design. This translates to enhanced outcomes for a variety of stakeholders, with energy-related costs at the forefront of the matter. Ancillary benefits, ranging from conservation to better public security, are also relevant and green buildings ratings schemes provide means by which stakeholders can access metrics tied to each.
This study has revealed that the priorities of stakeholders are often misaligned with the frameworks provided by green building rating schemes. Energy-related and other engineering-related concerns consistently outranked more aesthetically oriented features such as architecture or the showcasing of new technologies. This suggests high potential for ‘greenwash’ in newly built green buildings as lessrelevant categories may add to the points-based certification that falls short of desired objectives. Furthermore, it was found that some rating schemes are found to be more useful than others, with UDIA 10 Envirodevelopment, NABERS, Green Star, and the Living Building Challenge most appropriate in the Australian context. The abundance of good systems as well as the existence of less-useful ones suggests that there is an informational discord, and perhaps over time clear leaders will emerge that are more transparent and comprehensive in scope. Thus, while the status quo of green building rating schemes is found be adequate, further enhancements are needed to ensure that those with non-expert knowledge are able to access and benefit from these schemes. As cities move toward more sustainable alternatives to shaping the built environment, developing ‘green’ frameworks that are accessible and clear is important to ensure positive future outcomes.
This paper is one of 164 papers that have each been reviewed and refereed by our peers and revised accordingly. While they each will have been presented briefly at the SOAC conference, they can now be read or re-read at your leisure. We hope they will stimulate further debate and discussion and form a platform for further research.
Adapted from the SOAC 7 conference proceedings introduction by Paul Burton and Heather Shearer
The State of Australian Cities (SOAC) national conferences have been held biennially since 2003 to support interdisciplinary policy-related urban research.
SOAC 7 was held in the City of Gold Coast from 9-11 December 2015. The conference featured leading national and local politicians and policy makers who shared their views on some of the current challenges facing cities and how these might be overcome in the future.

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