Romilly Madew has been chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of Australia, which recently signed a MoU with the Living Future Institute of Australia and the International Living Future Institute.

Madew has led the GBCA since 2006 and is also deputy president of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and the independent chair of the Currawong State Park Advisory Board (Pittwater, NSW).

Architecture and Design spoke to her about the MoU, the Green Star evolution and future sustainability challenges for the industry.

How did the MoU come about with the GBCA, LFIA and ILFI?

We recognise that we are all working towards the same goal – a sustainable future – and that by aligning our activities, our rating systems and our efforts, we can drive the adoption of sustainable building practices at a faster pace.

How will the MoU benefit the property industry?

We will be exploring how the Green Star and Living Building Challenge rating systems can work together – where there are complementarities and connections that can make it easier for project teams to achieve joint certification. We are also looking at our education programs and events to help the industry continue to evolve its knowledge and skills.

Green Star has come a long way since its introduction. What do you think has been the most significant change?

The biggest evolution I’ve seen is the recognition that we are doing more than designing and creating environmental high performance buildings. We are connecting people with fabulous places, creating productive work and learning spaces, boosting health and resilience, and creating community. We are no longer looking at our buildings in isolation, but understanding them as part of an interconnected whole.

What has been the most significant change to the industry's approach to sustainability?

We continue to expand our understanding of sustainability – it’s no longer just about environment, but about health, wellbeing, social equity and resilience too. For example, an emerging trend is around resilience. While our conversation has previously been centred on climate change impact, rising sea levels, heat waves and so forth, the industry is beginning to understand that resilience has many layers. Just look at the challenges faced in our cities – congestion and potential productivity loss, not to mention our quality of life and environmental sustainability.

Melbourne and Sydney already have chief resilience officers – positions enabled through the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network. And the 45plus Green Star – Communities projects currently working with us are creating local jobs, ensuring people of all incomes can live in the same community, promoting social inclusion, and encouraging healthy and active living.

What sustainability challenges are ahead for the industry?

Undoubtedly, with NASA recording the hottest February on record, the challenge of dealing with climate change will only get more urgent. While this is a global issue, our industry is at the forefront of solutions. Our buildings present some of the cheapest and fastest opportunities to reduce our emissions – and we can do this with proven and readily available technologies.

The property and construction industry understands how to deliver low-carbon buildings – all those Green Star ratings are positive proof. Our next challenge is to move beyond ‘low carbon’ to ‘no carbon’.

In collaboration with NABERS, the Green Building Council of Australia will introduce a new ‘net zero’ label later in 2016, which will recognise buildings, fitouts and communities that are energy, carbon or water neutral. The label will also reward those projects that go beyond net zero and make positive contributions to, for example, generating more renewable energy than consumed. Alongside this label, we are working on an advanced curriculum to educate professionals on how to deliver net zero buildings and drive the uptake of net zero construction worldwide.

Are there any other countries that are dealing well with those challenges?

Firstly, it’s important to recognise that Australia’s property industry leads the world in greening the office sector. The Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) has named Australia the “green leader” for five years running.

However, other nations are achieving extraordinary outcomes, and Australia can learn a lot from looking to our international counterparts. I’m inspired by the work of the Green Building Council in South Africa to integrate socio-economic indicators into green ratings. Project teams are thinking beyond environmental efficiency to how they can create jobs, enhance skills, and create opportunities for communities long after a building has been constructed.

Canada GBC is also doing great work to drive the uptake of sustainable, healthy and resilient buildings. The green building industry in Canada now generates more jobs than the oil and gas extraction, mining and forestry industries combined. CaGBC has adopted a similar strategy to the GBCA – it has forged partnerships with the WELL Building Standard (healthy buildings), Living Building Challenge (innovation) and EcoDistricts (precinct-scale sustainability) to expand its influence.

If you weren't involved in the property industry, what would you be doing?

I feel passionately about sustainability in the property industry, so it’s hard to imagine a different career path. However, if I were to change tack in my career, it would definitely be in an industry that was purpose-driven and about making a positive impact. I love bringing people together to make a difference to the world.