Manufacturers that have dedicated to producing certified healthier and safer building materials are keen to see their products more widely used in Australian homes but according to responses this week gathered from building industry spokespeople, queried on the current state of play, significant challenges stand in the way of mainstreaming sustainability for the Australian residential sector.

Representatives from leading architectural firms and the Green Building Council of Australia all agreed that a cohesive and industry wide support system to embed sustainability as a core outcome for the residential sector is currently lacking. A need for industry professionals to be educated and upskilled in sustainability practices was raised as an issue and so too was the challenge ahead to decide on a sustainability rating system for the Australian residential market.

Global GreenTag, which acts as a leading product certifier for the built environment, believes that it is important now that all of these issues stay firmly on the table.  After all, says David Baggs, GreenTag’s CEO:

“People live, sleep and these days also work from their residences; it’s an important issue.  But it’s what we have to offer now and we have come a long way to bring sustainability to the built environment. Plus there are also some amazing leaders in our midst and gladly more consumers are demanding changes too.”

Trudy-Ann King, Head of Market Engagement for the Green Building Council of Australia says currently, under GBCA’s Green Star program there is no sustainability rating system for single residential dwellings, only multi-unit residential properties. However, the GBCA has plans to broaden it’s focus and will be “engaging a Senior Advisor to work with the residential sector” as part of a soon to be released strategic plan to “create a roadmap for industry on what needs to be done over the next decade in the built environment to ensure we deliver on the Paris Plan.”

“We must develop the mechanisms required to drive sustainability in the mid-tier market – across all sectors.  We will also need to tackle city scale sustainability and we will need to plot and activate the path to sustainable homes in Australia.”

GBCA’s new Senior Advisor for the residential sector will be tasked with “identifying the mechanisms required to quickly drive change in that part of the market and developing a business model to move the sector forward.  Their role will require them to work with effective, existing initiatives as well as identifying new ones.

The GBCA also has confidence that the property sector can do this together, says Trudy-Ann. “The pace at which regulatory change moves in this country and the determination of some aspects of the market to maintain the status quo are always challenges but as we are all aware after 14 years of change in the commercial sector, none of them are insurmountable.”

“We work in what is probably the most collaborative property sector in the world.  That has been of huge benefit to us in the past and we will be looking to nurture even stronger collaboration and leadership from the sector as we move into what is arguably the most critical decade for climate change and social sustainability that we have ever experienced.”

“We will be calling upon property sector leaders and professionals to refocus their skills and potential on an audacious target and we will need them to commit their energy, ingenuity and innovation capacity toward some clear and common goals.  All hands on deck is what we will require from here.”

Two architectural firms already delivering sustainable residential projects full time in Australia – Pidcock Architecture + Sustainability and Envirotecture provide finer details and questions for further consideration.

One hundred percent of Pidcock’s residential projects are designed to be sustainable, says Director Caroline Pidcock because “it is not only the right thing to do, it is the best way to deliver great outcomes.”  However, Pidcock does not think that Green Star is the answer to develop a rating system for small scale residential. Instead, she suggests that BASIX would be “a great start – as it is easy to use while relying on complex data to make it work.”

Caroline emphasises that rating systems for small scale residential projects present a complex issue for the industry as a whole “note least of all because they are so personal.  Unlike large scale commercial there is very little repetition; less capacity in the budget for fees for additional services on the already huge list required by most councils and most houses have quite different requirements and usage patterns. Also, most home owners only do this once so therefore have little experience in finding a way forward.”

The best way to move forwards, says Caroline, is most definitely a collective approach with input on the development of a rating system “by all the Built Environment Industry along with all States and Territories, to make it even better and applicable for more climates and sustainability issues (such as materials and health + happiness).”

Dick Clarke, Director of Envirotecture, believes that building trust across industry and communicating the benefits to home-owners is fundamental to growing sustainability in the residential sector.  Dick claims that the biggest challenge in the way of the uptake of sustainable materials and sustainable residential design is education and training.

Industry, Dick believes, still needs to be equipped to help consumers relate more easily to the benefits “to understand the full impacts of their selections and choices, the breadth and depth of the ongoing benefits of more sustainable choices and to relate to seen examples of more compact urban forms that allow single residential to reduce its footprint both physically and ecologically.”

Dick advises that: “Industry can help by undergoing training in the knowledge and skills of sustainable design so that they can then communicate these benefits, in terms that will attract consumers.”

“And green product manufacturers or product certifiers like Global GreenTag can assist by providing useful and credible technical info to industry training.”

GBCA’s Trudy-Ann King adds that trust is also central to mobilise industry and that product certifiers like Global GreenTag have an important role to play.

“For contractors and consumers to know they are really getting what they are paying for, we need to be vigilant about the products, materials and technology being used to create our homes, buildings and cities.  If government is not able to monitor the quality of products going into our built environment – and we have seen some significant lapses recently - then we need to look to other, third party certifiers that are credible and have transparent governance in place.  This is the only way that we can know that what we ask for is being delivered.”

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