Greener pastures for communities

15 Dec 2009
Romilly Madew
Property Australia

Romilly Madew argues Australia is doing a great job of making its buildings sustainable, but needs to address the broader issue of greening precincts and cities.

At the opening of the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit 2009 in Seoul in May, Toronto Mayor and C40 Chair David Miller told the audience that we were witnessing the “dawn of the new industrial revolution – a green dawn”.

The C40 is a group of the world’s largest cities already taking action on climate change. It holds its biennial summit to share best practices, build networks, identify collaborative projects and chart future actions to help tackle climate change.

The four-day summit, attended by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), featured former US President Bill Clinton presenting to representatives from 70 global cities. These representatives had come together to outline a radical vision for green cities.

Cities provide both challenges and opportunities in the context of climate change. The UN forecasts that today’s urban population of 3.2 billion will rise to nearly 5 billion by 2030, at which time three out of five people will live in cities.

To put this in context, in the year 1800 only 3 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. By the end of the 20th century, this figure had risen to 47 per cent. In 1950, there were 83 cities with populations exceeding 1 million. By 2007, this had skyrocketed to 468 cities. Cities occupy just 2 per cent of the world’s land mass, and yet are responsible for more than two-thirds of energy use and global greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to move beyond greening our buildings – which we are already doing very effectively in Australia – and begin to look at how to green our precincts and our communities.

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) firmly believes that industry leadership and voluntary mechanisms play a crucial role in greening our cities.

Australia’s industry leadership is already recognised internationally. Since the GBCA was established in 2002, it has grown to become an organisation comprising more than 740 member organisations. This makes GBCA the world’s second-largest green building council after the USA.

The GBCA launched the Green Star voluntary environmental rating system in 2003, and since then it has certified more than 190 buildings – with over 400 more buildings registered for Green Star certification.

There is approximately 14.7 million sqm of CBD office space in Australia. Of that, around 11 per cent is Green Star certified. Today, few new buildings in CBD areas are built without attaining Green Star certification.

Clearly, we’re heading in the right direction with our buildings. We have the tools and the industry leadership to drive the green agenda brick-by-brick, building-by-building. However, industry leadership must now be re-engineered to ensure we can rapidly take on the challenge of greening our cities.

Living spaces of the future

Sustainable communities and precincts are places where people want to live and work – both now and in the future. They are well planned, built and operated. They meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life for all the people who live there.

In Australia, we are in the enviable position of being able to plan and design living spaces of the future. But more thinking is needed. Just what will these places look like? How will we interact with them? How do we ensure that they are liveable and enjoyable places? How do we ensure they meet the diverse needs of both existing and future residents and workers?

These are just some of the many questions facing all levels of government, owners, developers, planners, builders, communities and the GBCA as we begin to plan our future communities.

The GBCA, in partnership with VicUrban and other key stakeholders, is developing a national framework to drive the development of sustainable communities and precincts.

The GBCA precinct project aims to develop this national framework for industry and government land agencies to deliver best practice against measurable benchmarks for our communities and precincts, which achieves environmental, cultural, social, governance and economic outcomes. The framework could also be used by governments to inform policy, and, potentially, reward excellence during the planning approval process.

The impetus for the new precincts project was VicUrban’s leadership and willingness to incorporate its Sustainable Community Rating tool into a national framework. Both the GBCA and VicUrban agree that, while governments can play an important role in advancing sustainability in urban developments, optimal outcomes can only be achieved through partnerships, industry leadership and informed consumer choices.

It is envisioned that the GBCA precinct project will encompass residential, commercial and mixed use, and will guide and inform the design, construction and performance reviews of new and existing communities.

The GBCA precinct project will principally equip developers to minimise the impacts of their developments, capitalise on the benefits of their initiatives, and receive recognition for more sustainable design. Ultimately, these communities will be sought-after developments as reflected by public demand.

The project will also provide state and local governments with a framework for planning guidelines and development incentives for the property industry.

The GBCA will develop this project using thorough stakeholder engagement and a robust public review process. Initially, development will be led by a technical reference committee consisting of experts in urban planning, landscape design, engineering, architecture and building materials; as well as representatives from industry, government, communities and academia.

Regular progress updates on the project will be available at the GBCA website:

This vital project recognises the arrival of a “green dawn” by working towards creating greener communities in which current and future generations can thrive.

Romilly Madew is chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia.

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