Sustainability in the built environment

This month the team at Inside Construction has worked closely with the Green Building Council of Australia to highlight the fantastic work companies are doing in the ‘Green Construction’ space.

The Australian construction industry continues to charge forward despite global supply chain pressures, labour shortages and cost inflations. Nationally, there are a plethora of projects in the pipeline and, as the industry continues to see rapid growth, we’re seeing an increase in construction companies looking to pivot their operations to more sustainable models.

Davina Rooney, CEO, Green Building Council of Australia.

In 2002 the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) was formed with a purpose to lead the sustainable transformation of the built environment. GBCA CEO Davina Rooney has worked in the construction industry for over 20 years, and says she’s seen sustainability strategies have gone from being a ‘nice to have’, to something that’s at the top of the industry’s agenda.

“Buildings have about 40% of the global carbon budget, they use about 50% of global materials, and they’re fundamentally important to our health and wellbeing,” says Rooney.

“This year the GBCA celebrates our 20th anniversary. Over the past decade we have seen the construction industry make huge strides in creating a more sustainable built environment, but we still have a long way to go.”

According to the 2021 report from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Australian buildings and infrastructure: Opportunities for cutting embodied carbon, up to 10% of national greenhouse gas emissions come from embodied carbon and 28% of emissions come from the building and construction sector globally.

These staggering statistics have seen a surge in conversation and action around sustainability in our industry and organisations like the GBCA are leading the way for change.

Rooney says they do this through four key pillars – rate, educate, advocate and collaborate.

“We rate buildings, which is to set the standard for best practice through our rating system Green Star. We educate by working with industry, running conferences, training and thought leadership series on the latest sustainability topics. We advocate, partnering with government to set strong standards and sensibly transition innovative ideas into regulation,” she says.

“To bring all this together, we collaborate with industry. We now have over 600 members who we work with to make positive change happen and deliver new models, and ways of working, at scale in the built environment.”

Many people and businesses don’t know how integral Green Construction is to climate change says Rooney. The decisions we make throughout the life of a build can have enormous impacts on the future of construction.

“There’s no reason why all new buildings shouldn’t be designed to be net zero, highly efficient, powered by renewables and fossil fuel free – the technology to support the transition exists now,” says Rooney.

“The next huge focus for the sector is the materials that we all use. This is what we call the hard to abate part of the sector. Our partners in manufacturing are doing amazing work, but one of the big roles of construction companies is to create a business case for change.

“I was speaking to one of the big manufacturers in the last week and their low carbon concrete range has caused their market share to quadruple in the last year. That’s because of key construction companies looking for more sustainable options.”

Pushing for sustainable alternatives in the construction industry has been a big focus for the GBCA since their inception, but Rooney says working with the industry to take innovative ideas to scale across every project is paramount.

The GBCA’s Green Star rating system is recognised internationally and is one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in Australia. The rating is derived from critical environmental elements and is awarded to companies for sustainable incentives on their projects.

“Over 55-million-sqm’s of building space and over 40% of CBD office space in Australia is Green Star certified. What we find is there’s an enormous amount of area for improvement in this space as we work with our partners,” says Rooney.

Truganina: GPT Foundation Road, VIC – The GPT Group. Targeting a 5 Star Green Star – Design & As Built rating.

“The key opportunity here is for all of us to take sustainability and try and deliver it in every project, every day.”

In the past few years, we’ve seen a green rush of people putting in designs to the highest construction standards, with a focus on delivering buildings that are decarbonised for the future.

Sustainable and environmentally friendly construction is increasingly becoming of top importance to everyone in the supply chain, from clients and constructors to materials suppliers and sub-contractors.

“The only way to achieve a 40% reduction in embodied carbon by 2030 is by everyone in the industry working together,” says Rooney.

“Whether it’s using more sustainable products or reducing waste during a build, Green Construction is critical to creating a prosperous future for our nation.”

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