Seminar topics at the recent SEE Sustainable Experience reminded us of the ground that still needs covering – product certification, standards, labelling, indoor environment, supply chains, waterproofing, drainage, wood, natural lighting, solar, carpets, bicycling, green walls and others.

The eclectic product range had sit-stand desk clusters, indoor plants, construction work clothes and nurse’s scrubs made of bamboo, heating, ventilation and “green” air-conditioning units, LED lighting and anti-pollution filters, restoration double glazing, and electric re-chargeable bicycle racks initially targeted at local councils – a long-term proposition.

The SEE website at one point had a small paragraph showing that only 0.06 per cent of the building industry support a sustainable building industry in Australia. Reflecting this sobering statistic, a panel of leading industry representatives and practitioners discussed how the deep integration of sustainable building materials and products in the Australian construction industry was faring.

The conclusion was somewhat gloomy. Asked to rate the industry out of 10, most hovered around 4 or 5. While they agreed that amazing things have happened with top-end commercial buildings (and seminar stages were courtesy of sponsors Global Green Tag, Brickworks, Boral and Lendlease) panel members still worried about the bulk of the industry, residential and small-scale builders.

 “Through the passion of the Green Building Council of Australia it generated a bit of wind regarding our responsibility to the environment and the impact of cost,” says Cameron Rosen, creator and director of SEE organiser, Australian Living, who also has a building practice.

He regrets the missed opportunities to integrate sustainable product indicators into wider industry measures such as BASIX (Building Sustainability Index) that covers the performance of new houses in NSW for water, energy and thermal benchmarks.

The panel session talked about small companies that want to do the right thing and needing a uniform measurement and the commercial drive to get them around a table and discuss measures. Rosen believes there is still not enough information on why the wider industry needs to consider sustainability more, to show not only what products and materials we need to eliminate but to understand why we need to do it.

“The building industry is the only industry embedded in all other work,” he says. “This is a privilege and there is a duty that comes with it. Every player has a role, building suppliers and manufacturers, architects, builders, the whole thing, the whole way through to final purchase but it is all currently diluted. 

“We need an engaged industry to invest in their value and to focus on what we can achieve. We need to aim for the ceiling but we are only looking at the floor.”

The challenge, then, is to help industry lift its head higher. 

Deborah Singerman runs her own writing, editing, proofing and project managing consultancy specialising in the urban built environment and community. @deborahsingerma; [email protected]