Buildings kill millions of birds. Here’s how to reduce the toll



These birds were killed by flying into a set of surveyed buildings in Washington DC in 2013.
USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab/Flickr

Norman Day, Swinburne University of Technology

As high-rise cities grow upwards and outwards, increasing numbers of birds die by crashing into glass buildings each year. And of course many others break beaks, wings and legs or suffer other physical harm. But we can help eradicate the danger by good design.

Most research into building-related bird deaths has been done in the United States and Canada, where cities such as Toronto and New York City are located on bird migration paths. In New York City alone, the death toll from flying into buildings is about 200,000 birds a year.

Across the US and Canada, bird populations have shrunk by about 3 billion since 1970. The causes include loss of habitat and urbanisation, pesticides and the effects of global warming, which reduces food sources.

An estimated 365 million to 1 billion birds die each year from “unnatural” causes like building collisions in the US. The greatest bird killer in the US remains the estimated 60-100 million free-range cats that kill up to 4 billion birds a year. Australia is thought to have up to 6 million feral cats.




Read more:
For whom the bell tolls: cats kill more than a million Australian birds every day


But rampant global urbanisation is putting the reliance on glass buildings front-of-stage as an “unnatural” cause of bird deaths, and the problem is growing exponentially.

In the line of flight

Most birds fly at around 30-50km/h, with falcons capable of up to 200km/h. When migrating, birds generally spend five to six hours flying at a height of 150 metres, sometimes much higher.

And that’s where the problems start with high-rise buildings. Most of them are much taller than the height at which birds fly. In Melbourne, for example, Australia 108 is 316 metres, Eureka 300 metres, Aurora 270 metres and Rialto 251 metres. The list is growing as the city expands vertically.

The paradigm of high-rise gothams, New York City, has hundreds of skyscrapers, most with fully glass, reflective walls. One World Trade is 541 metres high, the 1931 Empire State is 381 metres (although not all glass) and even the city’s 100th-highest building, 712 Fifth Avenue, is 198 metres.

To add to the problems of this forest of glass the city requires buildings to provide rooftop green places. These attract roosting birds, which then launch off inside the canyons of reflective glass walls – often mistaking these for open sky or trees reflected from behind.

Reflections of trees and sky lure birds into flying straight into buildings.
Frank L Junior/Shutterstock

A problem of lighting and reflections

Most cities today contain predominantly glass buildings – about 60% of the external wall surface. These buildings do not rely on visible frames, as in the past, and have very limited or no openable windows (for human safety reasons). They are fully air-conditioned, of course.




Read more:
Glass skyscrapers: a great environmental folly that could have been avoided


Birds cannot recognise daylight reflections and glass does not appear to them to be solid. If it is clear they see it as the image beyond the glass. They can also be caught in building cul-de-sac courtyards – open spaces with closed ends are traps.

At night, the problem is light from buildings, which may disorientate birds. Birds are drawn to lights at night. Glass walls then simply act as targets.

Some species send out flight calls that may lure other birds to their death.

White-throated Sparrows collected in a University of Michigan-led study of birds killed by flying into buildings lit up at night in Chicago and Cleveland.
Roger Hart, University of Michigan/Futurity, CC BY



Read more:
Want to save millions of migratory birds? Turn off your outdoor lights in spring and fall


We can make buildings safer for birds

Architectural elements like awnings, screens, grilles, shutters and verandas deter birds from hitting buildings. Opaque glass also provides a warning.

Birds see ultraviolet light, which humans cannot. Some manufacturers are now developing glass with patterns using a mixed UV wavelength range that alerts birds but has no effect on human sight.

New York City recently passed a bird-friendly law requiring all new buildings and building alterations (at least under 23 metres tall, where most fly) be designed so birds can recognise glass. Windows must be “fritted” using applied labels, dots, stripes and so on.

The search is on for various other ways of warning birds of the dangers of glass walls and windows.

Combinations of methods are being used to scare or warn away birds from flying into glass walls. These range from dummy hawks (a natural enemy) and actual falcons and hawks, which scare birds, to balloons (like those used during the London Blitz in the second world war), scary noises and gas cannons … even other dead birds.

Researchers are using lasers to produce light ray disturbance in cities especially at night and on dark days.

Noise can be effective, although birds do acclimatise if the noises are produced full-time. However, noise used as a “sonic net” can effectively drown out bird chatter and that interference forces them to move on looking for quietness. The technology has been used at airports, for example.

A zen curtain developed in Brisbane has worked at the University of Queensland. This approach uses an open curtain of ropes strung on the side of buildings. These flutter in the breeze, making patterns and shadows on glass, which birds don’t like.

These zen curtains can also be used to make windows on a house safer for birds. However, such a device would take some doing for the huge structures of a metropolis.

More common, and best adopted at the design phase of a building, is to mark window glass so birds can see it. Just as we etch images on glass doors to alert people, we can apply a label or decal to a window as a warning to birds. Even using interior blinds semi-open will deter birds.

Birds make cities friendlier as part of the shared environment. We have a responsibility to provide safe flying and security from the effects of human habitation and construction, and we know how to achieve that.


This article has been updated to correct the figure for the estimated number of birds killed by the cats in the US to “up to 4 billion”, not 4 million.The Conversation

Norman Day, Lecturer in Architecture, Practice and Design, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Making every building count in meeting Australia’s emission targets



While many Australian households have solar power, our very large houses and wasteful use of building space are factors in our very high emissions.
Jen Watson/Shutterstock

Timothy O’Leary, University of Melbourne

Buildings in Australia account for over 50% of electricity use and almost a quarter of our carbon emissions but the failures, frailties and fragmentation of the construction sector have created a major obstacle to long-term reductions. Reducing our carbon footprint plays second fiddle to the multibillion-dollar work of replacing flammable cladding, asbestos and other non-compliant materials and ensuring buildings are structurally sound and can be safely occupied.

Buildings – whether residential, commercial or institutional – do not score well under the nation’s main emissions reduction program, the A$3.5 billion Climate Solutions Package. This is intended to help meet Australia’s 2030 Paris Agreement commitment to cut emissions by 26–28% from 2005 levels.

This climate fund has very successfully generated offsets under the vegetation and waste methods – these projects account for 97% of Australian carbon credit units issued. But built environment abatements have been very disappointing.




Read more:
Buildings produce 25% of Australia’s emissions. What will it take to make them ‘green’ – and who’ll pay?


Australians have very high emissions per person. That’s partly due to how we use our buildings.

Our states and territories control building regulations. This year the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set ambitious energy-reduction trajectories for buildings out to 2022 and beyond. This was to be achieved through amendments to national codes and implementing energy-efficiency programs.

Making the best use of our buildings

Last month, the Green Building Council and Property Council launched a policy toolkit, called Making Every Building Count. The councils urged governments to adopt practical plans to reduce emissions in the building sector.

The toolkit contains no fewer than 75 recommendations for all tiers of government. These are the result of work done through industry and university research partnerships in places like the Low Carbon Living Collaborative Research Centre – now disbanded after its seven-year funding ended.




Read more:
We have the blueprint for liveable, low-carbon cities. We just need to use it


Most energy-efficiency studies and programs focus solely on the operational aspect of buildings, such as the energy used to heat and cool them. However, various studies have proved that the energy and emissions required to manufacture building products, even energy-saving products such as insulation, can be just as significant.

A more holistic approach is to look at the embodied energy already in our building stock, which then poses a serious question about our consumption. So, besides aspirational codes for net zero-energy buildings, we should be asking: can we meet our needs with fewer new buildings?




Read more:
The other 99%: retrofitting is the key to putting more Australians into eco-homes


In Melbourne, for example, an estimated 60,000 homes are sitting unused. Commercial property has very high vacancy rates – up to one in six premises are unoccupied in parts of the city. This points to a less-than-effective market in valuing our embodied carbon emissions in property.

If we are to get serious about reducing emissions, we need to tackle inefficient space use.

Empowering people to cut emissions

In occupied commercial buildings, some evidence suggests most building managers are grappling with complexity and challenging tenant behaviours. They also don’t get the clear information they need to continually improve their building’s performance beyond a selected benchmark.

In residential property, home energy performance is very much in our own hands. So we need to consider the means, motivations and opportunities of households, which I did in my doctoral study. A major barrier is that most of us don’t even know what we are getting when we buy or rent an ageing stock of more than 9 million homes.

Europe and the United States moved to mandatory residential energy disclosure at point of sale and lease well over a decade ago. If you rent or buy a home in these countries you get an energy performance certificate. It identifies emissions intensity and gives advice on how to operate the home more efficiently and hence with lower emissions.

In Australia, we have just sat on a commitment made by COAG back in 2009 to introduce a nationwide scheme.

Size matters, too. Residential space per person is high by international standards. Although McMansions are on the wane, our apartments are getting a bit bigger. The average size of freestanding houses built in 2018-19 shrank by 1.3% from 2017-18 to a 17-year low of 228.8 square metres.

And we are putting more solar on our roofs as a carbon offset. As of September 30 2019, Australia had more than 2.2 million solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. Their combined capacity was over 13.9 gigawatts.

However, the trend towards high-rise living is not helpful for emissions. Solar for strata apartments is tricky.

I recently worked with colleagues in Australia and overseas in a study of the user experience of PV. We found residents face a range of issues that limit emission reductions. These issues include:

  • initial sizing and commissioning with component failures such as faulty inverters
  • lack of knowledge about solar and expected generation performance
  • regulatory barriers that limit the opportunity to upgrade system size.

Looking to improve regulations and codes and billion-dollar funds may be sensible ways to meet emission targets, but human empowerment is the secret weapon in improving energy performance and lowering emissions. Good low-carbon citizens will help create good low-carbon cities.




Read more:
Cutting cities’ emissions does have economic benefits – and these ultimately outweigh the costs


A set of clear guides on how to use a building is a good starting point. The low-carbon living knowledge hub provides these.

What will make every building count in lowering emissions is the behaviour of occupants, the commitment of owners to make their buildings low-carbon and building managers’ ability to become more adept at reducing building-related emissions.The Conversation

Timothy O’Leary, Lecturer in Construction and Property, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Daylight robbery: how human-built structures leave coastal ecosystems in the shadows



Human-built structures are home to a wide variety of creatures.

Martino Malerba, Monash University; Craig White, Monash University; Dustin Marshall, Monash University, and Liz Morris, Monash University

About half of the coastline of Europe, the United States and Australasia is modified by artificial structures. In newly published research, we identified a new effect of marine urbanisation that has so far gone unrecognised.

When we build marinas, ports, jetties and coastal defences, we introduce hard structures that weren’t there before and which reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the water. This means energy producers such as seaweed and algae, which use light energy to transform carbon dioxide into sugars, are replaced by energy consumers such as filter-feeding invertebrates. These latter species are often not native to the area, and can profoundly alter marine habitats by displacing local species, reducing biodiversity, and decreasing the overall productivity of ecosystems.

Incorporating simple designs in our marine infrastructure to allow more light penetration, improve water flow, and maintain water quality, will go a long way towards curbing these negative consequences.

Pier life

We are used to thinking about the effects of urbanisation in our cities – but it is time to pay more attention to urban sprawl in the sea. We need to better understand the effects on the food web in a local context.




Read more:
Concrete coastlines: it’s time to tackle our marine ‘urban sprawl’


Most animals that establish themselves on these shaded hard structures are “sessile” invertebrates, which can’t move around. They come in a variety of forms, from encrusting species such as barnacles, to tree-shaped or vase-like forms such as bryozoans or sponges. But what they all have in common is that they can filter out algae from the water.

In Australian waters, we commonly see animals from a range of different groups including sea squirts, sponges, bryozoans, mussels and worms. They can grow in dense communities and often reproduce and grow quickly in new environments.

The sheltered and shaded nature of marine urbanisation disproportionately favours the development of dense invertebrate communities, as shown here in Port Phillip Bay.

How much energy do they use?

In our new research, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, we analysed the total energy usage of invertebrate communities on artificial structures in two Australian bays: Moreton Bay, Queensland, and Port Phillip Bay, Victoria. We did so by combining data from field surveys, laboratory studies, and satellite data.

We also compiled data from other studies and assessed how much algae is required to support the energy demands of the filter-feeding species in commercial ports worldwide.

In Port Phillip Bay, 0.003% of the total area is taken up by artificial structures. While this doesn’t sound like much, it is equivalent to almost 50 soccer fields of human-built structures.

We found that the invertebrate community living on a single square metre of artificial structure consumes the algal biomass produced by 16 square metres of ocean. Hence, the total invertebrate community living on these structures in the bay consumes the algal biomass produced by 800 football pitches of ocean!

Similarly, Moreton Bay has 0.005% of its total area occupied by artificial structures, but each square metre of artificial structure requires around 5 square metres of algal production – a total of 115 football pitches. Our models account for various biological and physical variables such as temperature, light, and species composition, all of which contribute to generate differences among regions.

Overall, the invertebrates growing on artificial structures in these two Australian bays weigh as much as 3,200 three-tonne African elephants. This biomass would not exist were it not for marine urbanisation.

Colonies of mussels and polychaetes near Melbourne.

How does Australia compare to the rest of the world?

We found stark differences among ports in different parts of the world. For example, one square metre of artificial structure in cold, highly productive regions (such as St Petersburg, Russia) can require as little as 0.9 square metres of sea surface area to provide enough algal food to sustain the invertebrate populations. Cold regions can require less area because they are often richer in nutrients and better mixed than warmer waters.

In contrast, a square metre of structure in the nutrient-poor tropical waters of Hawaii can deplete all the algae produced in the surrounding 120 square metres.

All major commercial ports worldwide with associated area of the underwater artificial structures (size of grey dots) and trophic footprint (size of red borders). Trophic footprints indicate how much ocean surface is required to supply the energy demand of the sessile invertebrate community growing on all artificial structures of the port, averaged over the year. This depends on local conditions of ocean primary productivity and temperature. Ports located in cold, nutrient-rich waters (dark blue) have a lower footprint than ports in warmer waters (light blue).

Does it matter?

Should we be worried about all of this? To some extent, it depends on context.

These dense filter-feeding communities are removing algae that normally enters food webs and supports coastal fisheries. As human populations in coastal areas continue to increase, so will demand on these fisheries, which are already under pressure from climate change. These effects will be greatest in warmer, nutrient-poor waters.

But there is a flip side. Ports and urban coastlines are often polluted with increased nutrient inputs, such as sewage effluents or agricultural fertilisers. The dense populations of filter-feeders on the structures near these areas may help prevent this nutrient runoff from triggering problematic algal blooms, which can cause fish kills and impact human health. But we still need to know what types of algae these filter-feeding communities are predominantly consuming.




Read more:
Explainer: what causes algal blooms, and how we can stop them


Our analysis provides an important first step in understanding how these communities might affect coastal production and food webs.

In places like Southeast Asia, marine managers should consider how artificial structures might affect essential coastal fisheries. Meanwhile, in places like Port Phillip Bay, we need to know whether and how these communities might affect the chances of harmful algal blooms.The Conversation

Mussels in the port of Hobart.

Martino Malerba, Postdoctoral Fellow, Monash University; Craig White, Head, Evolutionary Physiology Research Group, Monash University; Dustin Marshall, Professor, Marine Evolutionary Ecology, Monash University, and Liz Morris, Administration Manager, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Buildings produce 25% of Australia’s emissions. What will it take to make them ‘green’ – and who’ll pay?


Igor Martek, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Deakin University

In signing the Paris Climate Agreement, the Australian government committed to a global goal of zero net emissions by 2050. Australia’s promised reductions to 2030, on a per person and emissions intensity basis, exceed even the targets set by the United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the European Union.

But are we on the right track to achieve our 2030 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels? With one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world, this represents at least a 50% reduction in emissions per person over the next dozen years.




Read more:
Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)


Consider the impact of one sector, the built environment. The construction, operation and maintenance of buildings accounts for almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. As Australia’s population grows, to an estimated 31 million in 2030, even more buildings will be needed.

In 2017, around 18,000 dwelling units were approved for construction every month. Melbourne is predicted to need another 720,000 homes by 2031; Sydney, 664,000 new homes within 20 years. Australia will have 10 million residential units by 2020, compared to 6 million in 1990. Ordinary citizens might be too preoccupied with home ownership at any cost to worry about the level of emissions from the built environment and urban development.

What’s being done to reduce these emissions?

The National Construction Code of Australia sets minimal obligatory requirements for energy efficiency. Software developed by the National Housing Rating Scheme (NatHERS) assesses compliance.

Beyond mandatory minimum requirements in Australia are more aspirational voluntary measures. Two major measures are the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) and Green Star.

This combination of obligatory and voluntary performance rating measures makes up the practical totality of our strategy for reducing built environment emissions. Still in its experimentation stage, it is far from adequate.

An effective strategy to cut emissions must encompass the whole lifecycle of planning, designing, constructing, operating and even decommissioning and disposal of buildings. A holistic vision of sustainable building calls for building strategies that are less resource-intensive and pollution-producing. The sustainability of the urban landscape is more than the sum of the sustainability of its component buildings; transport, amenities, social fabric and culture, among other factors, have to be taken into account.

Australia’s emission reduction strategy fails to incorporate the whole range of sustainability factors that impact emissions from the built environment.

There are also much-reported criticisms of existing mandatory and voluntary measures. A large volume of research details the failure of voluntary measures to accurately evaluate energy performance and the granting of misleading ratings based on tokenistic gestures.




Read more:
Greenwashing the property market: why ‘green star’ ratings don’t guarantee more sustainable buildings


On top of that, the strategy of using front runners to push boundaries and win over the majority has been proven ineffective, at best. We see compelling evidence in the low level of voluntary measures permeating the Australian building industry. Some major voluntary rating tools have penetration rates of less than 0.5% across the Australian building industry.

As for obligatory tools, NatHERS-endorsed buildings have been shown to underperform against traditional “non-green” houses.

That said, voluntary and obligatory tools are not so much a weak link in our emission reduction strategy as the only link. And therein lies the fundamental problem.

So what do the experts suggest?

We conducted a study involving a cohort of 26 experts drawn from the sustainability profession. We posed the question of what must be done to generate a working strategy to improve Australia’s chances of keeping the carbon-neutral promise by 2050 was posed. Here is what the experts said:

Sustainability transition in Australia is failing because:

  • government lacks commitment to develop effective regulations, audit performance, resolve vested interests (developers), clarify its own vision and, above all, sell that sustainability vision to the community

  • sustainability advocates are stuck in isolated silos of fragmented markets (commercial and residential) and hampered by multiple jurisdictions with varied sustainability regimes

  • most importantly, end users just do not care – nobody has bothered to communicate the Paris Accord promise to Joe and Mary Citizen, let alone explain why it matters to them.

Tweaking the rating tools further would be a good thing. Getting more than a token few buildings rated would be better. But the show-and-tell display of a pageant of beautiful, green-rated headquarters buildings from our socially responsible corporations is not going to save us. Beyond the CBD islands of our major cities lies a sea of suburban sprawl that continues to chew up ever more energy and resources.




Read more:
A task for Australia’s energy ministers: remove barriers to better buildings


It costs between 8% and 30% more than the usual costs of a building to reduce emissions. Someone needs to explain to the struggling home owner why the Paris climate promise is worth it. Given the next election won’t be for a few months, our political parties still have time to formulate their pitch on who exactly is expected to pay.The Conversation

Igor Martek, Lecturer In Construction, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Lecturer in Construction, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australian cities are lagging behind in greening up their buildings


File 20180620 137734 1d98wbz.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Green rooftops give a backyard feel to smaller housing units in Sydney
Author Provided , Author provided

Sara Wilkinson, University of Technology Sydney; Paul J Brown, University of Technology Sydney, and Sumita Ghosh, University of Technology Sydney

Covering roofs and walls of buildings with vegetation is a good way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And these green roofs and walls make cities look nicer. Toronto’s central business district adopted a policy of establishing green roofs on around half of all city buildings in 2009. Research shows this could reduce maximum city temperatures by up to 5℃.

We spent the past 12 months analysing the case for more greenery on Australian city buildings, drawing on international comparisons. We’ve shown that a mandatory policy, coupled with incentives to encourage new and retrofitted green roofs and walls, will provide environmental, social and business benefits.




Read more:
Green roofs and walls – a growth area in urban design


These include improved air quality, energy conservation and reductions in stormwater run-off from buildings, which would decrease flash flooding. Green roofs and walls also become new habitats for biodiversity and can be pleasant spaces for social interaction in dense urban areas.

We found numerous studies confirming that greenery on inner-city buildings reduces the urban heat island effect, which is when city centres are hotter than surrounding suburban and outer-urban areas.

Green roofs are great social spaces.
Author provided, Author provided

What other countries are doing

We examined international case studies of cities embracing green roofs and walls to review policy frameworks which could be suitable for Australia. A range of measures and policies exist and vary depending on building types (buildings need specific features to host vegetation) and the degree to which policies can be enforced.

Singapore is leading in this area. It markets itself as a “garden city” to attract investment, visitors and commerce. Green roofs and walls are a vital and visual manifestation of this policy.

Green walls are aesthetically pleasing.
Author provided

Greenery is ingrained in Singapore’s development sector and is boosted by incentives, grants, awards, certification schemes and government-led development. Through this voluntary-heavy (yet supported) effort, Singapore increased its number of green roofs and spaces nine-fold between 2006 and 2016.

Rotterdam’s efforts weren’t as extensive as Singapore’s, but the city more than doubled its green roof area from 2012-2017 through incentives, grants, tax benefits and demonstration projects.

London increased its total green-roof area more than four-fold from 2005-2016. This was partially achieved through a biodiversity action plan.

And Toronto has the second-largest area of green roofs of the four cities we studied. This has been delivered through a mandatory policy, introduced in 2009, that requires all new developments with roofs of 2,000m² or more to install green roofs.

The case in Australia

We modelled what could be delivered in the City of Sydney and the City of Melbourne based on the measures taken in Singapore (which is voluntary-heavy), London (voluntary-light), Rotterdam (voluntary-medium) and Toronto (mandatory).

We combined this with data on actual green building projects in 2017 in Sydney and Melbourne to show the potential increase of projects in each city based on the four policies.

In the Sydney local government area, 123 green roof and wall projects were under way in 2016. The below table uses this base to estimate what the numbers of such projects would be for three time periods, based on the policies in the four scenarios modelled.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/7ff2z/3/

In the Melbourne local government area, 28 green roof and wall projects were under way in 2016. The table below shows how these could increase based on policies of the four case studies modelled.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/s2Efy/1/

How Australia can get on board

Sydney and Melbourne have green roof and green wall policies aligned with their 2030 and 2040 sustainability targets, launched in 2012 and 2015 respectively. Sydney has the Green Roofs and Walls Policy Implementation Plan, while Melbourne has the Growing Green Guide 2014.

These policies appear most aligned with the voluntary-light approach adopted in London. Sydney had a 23% increase in green roofs since its policy launch, although this was from a very low starting point. Melbourne also reports an increase in green roofs and walls, though the amount of uptake isn’t publicly available.

There are, of course, barriers to greening up buildings. These include costs as well as lack of experience in the industry, especially in terms of construction and management. Professional capacity for green roofs is still in a developing phase and further training and skill development are needed.

Green wall adds vegetation to an aged care home in Sydney.

Around 87% of the building stock Australia will have in 2050 is already here, and a large proportion of existing buildings could be retrofitted. We recommend a voluntary approach using a mix of initiatives for building owners, such as tax benefits and credits in green building tools.




Read more:
If planners understand it’s cool to green cities, what’s stopping them?


Focusing on new buildings is likely to lead to more modest growth rates in the short to medium term, relative to alternative approaches such as retrofitting. The annual growth rate of new stock is around 1-3%, which means that policies focusing on new stock will have a substantial impact over the long term.

However, in the short to medium term, a retrofit policy would have greater impact given the numbers of existing buildings suitable for this.

The ConversationLocal government areas can also promote the evidence showing the lift in property values in areas with more green infrastructure – in some instances up to 15%. This should encourage voluntary uptake.

Sara Wilkinson, Associate Professor, School of the Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney; Paul J Brown, Senior Lecturer – Creative Intelligence | Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation & Senior Lecturer – Accounting | UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney, and Sumita Ghosh, Senior Lecturer, School of the Built Environment, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Greenwashing the property market: why ‘green star’ ratings don’t guarantee more sustainable buildings


Igor Martek, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Deakin University

Nothing uses more resources or produces more waste than the buildings we live and work in. Our built environment is responsible for half of all global energy use and half of all greenhouse gas emissions. Buildings consume one-sixth of all freshwater, one-quarter of world wood harvests and four-tenths of all other raw materials. The construction and later demolition of buildings produces 40% of all waste.

The sustainability of our buildings is coming under scrutiny, and “green” rating tools are the key method for measuring this. Deakin University’s School of Architecture and Built Environment recently reviewed these certification schemes. Focus group discussions were held in Sydney and Melbourne with representatives in the field of sustainability – including government, green consultancies and rating tool providers.

Two main concerns emerged from our review:

  1. Sustainability ratings tools are not audited. Most ratings tools are predictive, while those few that take measurements use paid third parties. Government plays no active part.

  2. The sustainability parameters measured only loosely intersect with the building occupants’ sustainability concerns. Considerations such as access to transport and amenities are not included.

Focus group sessions run by Deakin University helped identify problems with current sustainability ratings.
Author provided



Read more:
Construction industry loophole leaves home buyers facing higher energy bills


That’s the backdrop to the sustainability targets now being adopted across Australia. Australia has the highest rate of population growth of any developed country. The population now is 24.8 million. It is expected to reach between 30.9 and 42.5 million people by 2056.

More buildings will be needed for these people to live and work in. And we will have to find ways to ensure these buildings are more sustainable if the targets now being adopted are to be achieved.

Over 80% of local governments have zero-emissions targets. Sydney and Canberra have committed to zero-carbon emissions by 2050. Melbourne has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2020.

So how do green ratings work?

Each green rating tool works by identifying a range of sustainability parameters – such as water and energy use, waste production, etc. The list of things to be measured runs into the dozens. Tools differ on the parameters measured, method of measurement, weightings given and the thresholds that determine a given sustainability rating.

There are over 600 such rating tools worldwide. Each competes in the marketplace by looking to reconcile the credibility of its ratings with the disinclination of developers to submit to an assessment that will rate them poorly. Rating tools found in Australia include Green Star, NABERS, NatHERS, Circles of Sustainability, EnviroDevelopment, Living Community Challenge and One Planet Communities.

So, it is easy enough to find landmark developments labelled with green accreditations. It is harder to quantify what these actually mean.




Read more:
Green building revolution? Only in high-end new CBD offices


Ratings must be independently audited

Government practice, historically, has been to assure building quality through permits. Planning permits ensure a development conforms with city schemes. Building permits assess structural load-bearing capacity, health and fire safety.

All this is done off the plan. Site inspections take place to verify that the building is built to plan. But once a certificate of occupancy is issued, the government steps aside.

The sustainability agenda promoted by government has been grafted onto this regime. Energy efficiency was introduced into the residential building code in 2005, and then into the commercial building code in 2006. At first, this was limited to new buildings, but then broadened to include refurbishment of existing structures.

Again, sustainability credentials are assessed off the plan and certification issued once the building is up and running. Thereafter, government walks away.

We know of only one longitudinal energy performance study carried out on domestic residences in Australia. It is an as-yet-unpublished project conducted by a retiree from the CSIRO, working with Indigenous communities in Far North Queensland.

The findings corroborate a recent study by Gertrud Hatvani-Kovacs and colleagues from the University of South Australia. This study found that so-called “energy-inefficient” houses, following traditional design, managed under certain conditions to outperform 6- and 8-star buildings.

Sustainability tools must measure what matters

Energy usage is but the tip of the iceberg. Genuine sustainability is about delivering our children into a future in which they have all that we have today.

Home owners, on average, turn their property around every eight years. They are less concerned with energy efficiency than with real estate prices. And these prices depend on the appeal of the property, which involves access to transport, schools, parks and amenities, and freedom from crime.

Commercial property owners, too, are concerned about infrastructure, and they care about creating work environments that retain valued employees.

These are all core sustainability issues, yet do not come up in the rating systems we use.

The ConversationIf government is serious about creating sustainable cities, it needs to let go of its limited, narrow criteria and embrace these larger concerns of “liveability”. It must embody these broader criteria in the rating systems it uses to endorse developments. And it needs an auditing and enforcement regime in place to make it happen.

Igor Martek, Lecturer In Construction, Deakin University and M. Reza Hosseini, Lecturer in Construction, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.