GREENspeak is mainstream these days. The 2006 McGraw Hill Construction Green Building: Smart Market report states that “64 per cent of architects and 53 per cent of contractors have specified and / or installed green products in buildings”.

Although this has a US bias, the trend is much the same here with consumers of the built environment and certainly of hallmark buildings, pushing environmental performance. With the star rating of the energy-oriented Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (ABGR) scheme, and design through to existing office building Green Star tools, industry is responding to a measurement culture and demanding quantitative data it can trust.

The McGraw Hill report identified that “the largest need is for information about green products”. The Dollars & Sense of Green Buildings (Building the Business Case for Green Commercial Buildings in Australia) by Green Star developer, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), found that one of the barriers to a faster uptake was the lack of appropriate green and reusable materials.

“Products are a big sleeper,” says sustainability architect, Caroline Pidcock, president of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC). She warns that with product certification life-cycle assessment is crucial. “You need a strict methodology for a product’s environmental value. You have to be careful how the information is handled so you’re not thinking, ‘if that product is certified then why aren’t some others’?”

“Designing green requires a green products and materials supply chain and this is one of the greatest challenges facing green designers and specifiers in Australia,” says GBCA acting chief executive, Romilly Madew. “Environmental accreditation systems clearly have an important role in helping to overcome this challenge.” Petar Johnson, president of the Australian Environmental Labelling Association (AELA), believes that the united framework (and shared Memorandum of Understandings) by three green facilitators – AELA, the GBCA and Ecospecifier – has encouraged environmental change in the building products sector.

AELA is an independent, internationally recognised environmental scientific research and assessment organization that develops voluntary environmental labelling standards within the ISO 14024 framework for third-party environmental labelling and declaration. The certification process uses life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology where possible and evaluates environmental performance (not management) of a product or service.

Standards are transparent ( and cover products from paints to recycled rubber, with others pending including for cement and concrete. The organization also delivers non-profit verification services, with products that establish their environmental credentials against these standards being awarded the Good Environmental Choice label. The certified products registry is also on the website.

Market recognition is important. “I know I am environmentally beneficial but I need a way to put that across to potential users that is based on a valid, credible independent authority,” says Tim Edwards, managing director of Ecoflex Australia whose recycled rubber tyre technology is used widely in the construction industry. The GBCA recognises and awards points within the Green Star rating methodology for products that are certified to the Good Environmental Choice label.

Ecospecifier, a national environmental data, knowledge base and technical guide to more than 1,000 building products, allows users to investigate information about the environmental and health priorities and attributes of products. It independently assesses products using an in-depth methodology based on LCA and benefiting from the original involvement of the RMIT Key Centre for Design. You can search by product category or eco outcome such as energy and greenhouse, and products are also listed against green credits for Green Star Base Building and Office Interiors. Ecospecifier also recognises the Good Environmental Choice Label within its system.

An OECD research project, Environmentally Sustainable Buildings: Challenges and Policies, noted that “labelling schemes may help those who have incentives to choose environmentally friendly products to make the right choice they cannot create the incentives themselves.” Nevertheless, that is a start. “It’s obviously an important issue for contractors, particularly developer/builders,” says Jim Barrett, Secretary of the Australian Constructors Association, which recently joined ASBEC. Adds Madew: “The challenge in Australia is to strengthen and improve the AELA system, and then to promote it to the industry and increase its uptake.”

Source: Construction Contractor