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“To stay relevant, it’s important for any product or service to review the market and adapt, to periodically re-energise itself. Green building is no different”

Big change to green building tools in response to the market – By Andrew Eagles

It’s going to be a busy year for us at the New Zealand Green Building Council, with new developments across our suite of rating tools.

There’s no better way to get to know people quickly than to walk into the middle of a party. When I took up the reins of the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) last September, it was in the midst of World Green Building Week, the global celebration of green building.

This was followed a few weeks later by the NZGBC’s tenth anniversary – a fantastic milestone and opportunity to let our collective hair down, congratulate industry on the immense progress made, and voice appreciation for the stalwarts who have carried the torch.

It’s hard to imagine a better way to start a new job. What impressed me immediately was the passion for green building in the sector, and the commitment from our professional community to do things better and to keep challenging and expanding the boundaries.

It’s clear that building green has entered the mainstream in New Zealand. In many spheres, incorporating sustainability into buildings is becoming standard business practice. At the time of our anniversary knees-up in November, Green Star had certified more than 130 projects, covering around 740,000 sq m of floor space. That’s offices, schools, industrial buildings and custom projects all over New Zealand.

Homestar, the residential tool for sustainability, had more than 6000 projects underway thanks to a tenfold increase in registrations since mid-2015. And NABERSNZ, the office energy rating tool we administer on behalf of the government, had issued more than 50 ratings.

A grassroots perspective

A significant birthday is also a good time to take stock and recalibrate – and one of my first missions as chief executive was to get out and meet members around the country. The perceptions, views and ideas of our members are our lifeblood. NZGBC had already done a significant amount of work on its future strategy for rating tools. Meeting and talking with people using those tools in the industry gave me a valuable grassroots perspective on their priorities, and has helped crystallise our path ahead.

To stay relevant, it’s important for any product or service to review the market and adapt, to periodically re-energise itself. Green building is no different, and this year we have a number of projects that will bring changes to our ratings tools or processes, making it easier for industry to engage.

Streamlining Homestar

Homestar has been in the market for a mere five years, and was adapted for apartments only recently. Its inclusion in Auckland’s draft unitary plan, and resulting deployment in special housing areas, brought a surge in registrations. This has been immensely helpful in socialising the tool among industry, growing capability in the professional community, and de-risking it for developers. Though it fell out of the proposed unitary plan last year, this created exposure and momentum, increasing demand and registrations – a trend I expect to continue.

The use of Homestar in large-scale projects has also been helpful in illuminating areas where it needs improvement. A major project we’re undertaking this year is streamlining Homestar to make it more responsive and easier to apply across a range of developments. We’ve canvassed industry for feedback and have had a generous response – testament to the appetite in the sector for a tool that can express sustainability in a way that homeowners understand and appreciate. The result will be a simpler tool, more aligned to market needs – but equally robust.

Greater focus on performance

Over the past few years the conversation around green building globally has been shifting from design to performance. This is driven by a growing understanding of how the workplace impacts the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff. Commercial tenants are starting to make the link, and to demand spaces that serve their people well.

During 2017 we plan to introduce the Green Star performance tool, to give New Zealand a more comprehensive means to rate building performance. Used for several years in Australia, the tool will complement NABERSNZ energy ratings, as these can satisfy the energy requirements.

NABERSNZ ratings have gained good traction, but they only tell part of the story. While energy efficiency shows us that a building is well commissioned, well maintained and responsive to users’ needs, we need other metrics to build a holistic picture. Water consumption and waste volumes, for example, help demonstrate the overall sustainability of a building while it’s in operation. And the internal environment quality – levels of natural light, ventilation rates, C02 levels – are a better barometer of wellbeing than energy use per person.

Building community

We’re also seeing a greater understanding that buildings don’t stand in isolation, but are part of a wider eco-system. The mix of building uses and typologies in a precinct, the interconnection between homes, workplaces and public facilities, the availability of open space and transport, all contribute to how our places meet the needs of people.
It’s been great following progress of the Green Star Communities tool as it’s applied at the East Frame development in Christchurch, and we’re grateful to Fletchers for piloting the tool in New Zealand. We aim to build on this great start, and work with more stakeholders to apply Green Star Communities. As we face rapid development to meet our housing needs, I think this will prove a useful way to ensure our future neighbourhoods are sustainable and designed for people.

Future Cities, post-2020

Advocating for change and educating the market about the value of sustainability is another area where we’re focusing our energies. To that end, we were excited to host our Green Property Summit in March, in partnership with Property Council New Zealand, on the theme of Future Cities, post-2020. Among the stellar line-up of international speakers was Dr John Keung from Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA) – a man who can take credit for helping make Singapore one of Asia’s greenest cities. We also welcomed Katie Swenson, an international leader in sustainable design for low-income communities. And closer to home, some of our most prominent chief executives in commercial property shared their ‘lightbulb moments’ on green building.

There are many talented people creating inspirational buildings in New Zealand. I’m looking forward to giving them even better tools to create change – as well as a platform to celebrate it.

Taranaki-born Andrew Eagles took over the role of chief executive of the NZGBC from Alex Cutler on 29 September after working in the UK in the field of sustainability for more than 13 years

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