13 May 2022
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

The Built Environment Quarterly Review | Sustainability Matters

Feb 21, 2022 Sustainability

As we move through 2022, sustainability across all industries in the built environment remains critical - from climate change and mental health to materials shortages and infrastructure.

One of the biggest revelations from the Covid crisis is how many global supply chains are not as robust and future proofed as organisations believe, which has led to a sharper focus on a shared vision towards a net zero future. We take the country’s temperature for a closer look.

Moving to net zero

According to Good Environmental Choice Australia’s (GECA) technical manager, Rodrigo Martinez, the built environment can make a significant positive contribution to sustainability through decarbonisation. ‘Net zero goals are part of the international efforts to harmonise and leverage resources to promote carbon mitigation across different industries,’ he says.

Right now, that shared vision has been endorsed by a number of governments and international associations, including the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero and UN Climate Change with its global coalition for net zero emissions, as well as the GHG Protocol and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Other initiatives include tools to help minimise offsetting, also known as ‘burden shifting’, designed to set a comprehensive and holistic baseline. These tools include Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) and Environmental Product Declarations (EPD).

Quarterly Review | Sustainability - birds eye view of building with solar panels

In Australia, GECA is a founding partner of the Materials & Embodied Carbon Leaders’ Alliance (MECLA), which brings together key stakeholders in the construction industry to address barriers and set a proper benchmark on embodied carbon. Martinez says, ‘Sharing perspectives and knowledge has become key in developing solutions and alternatives to mitigate carbon emissions.’ He says that market-based incentives such as lifecycle ecolabels and government best practices in sustainable public procurement can drive the demand for more sustainable building materials in the sector. ‘Lifecycle ecolabels, such as GECA’s, can be a catalyst to drive change and slash energy emissions to contribute to the net zero goals by 2030.’

The low carbon lowdown

In terms of low carbon materials, circular economy, transparency in reporting and embodied carbon mitigation are among the main trends in the sustainability movement for the building sector. But according to GECA’s Rodrigo Martinez, one of the present challenges is ensuring a compressive benchmark that sets a standard methodology and framework to monitor and measure future improvements. ‘This would give us the certainty that we are making the right comparison at a product, project and building level,’ Martinez says.

Quarterly Review | Sustainability - hands on laptop next to papers and tech on green grass

In other regions such as Europe, the promotion of quantitative-based approaches and sustainability metrics has been endorsed to achieve lower carbon emissions and broader circular economy goals. The European Commission has supported the use of Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) methodology and other initiatives such as digital product passports, which aim to convey key environmental product information harmonised and standardised.

‘Rewilding’ our local cities

While we’ve been dealing with COVID for two years, the looming issue of climate change is even more impactful and requires us to think differently, act differently and prioritise nature, according to Caroline Pidcock, the past spokesperson of Architects Declare. ‘The built environment is responsible for approximately 40 per cent of the world’s emissions, and we have a huge opportunity to do things differently, and better.’ Pidcock is committed to work towards significantly reducing carbon emissions globally. ‘If we choose not to do that, the potential for the human race to continue is diminishing daily,’ she says.

Quarterly Review | Sustainability - buildings along river

With many projects currently underway across our cities, and a clear increase in building and construction activity, Pidcock says reducing carbon through design must be the first consideration. ‘Do you actually need to knock down a building? Or can you repurpose it and make more use out of it? We need resourceful upfront thinking.’

For companies, this means thinking regeneratively and creating clever ways to solve these issues. Already this is playing out with buildings that are naturally ventilated and have a greater connection to nature through all our senses, right through to larger zero emissions schemes that embrace the richness of life, such as The Cape, in Victoria’s Cape Paterson, and eco village The Paddock, in Victoria’s Castlemaine. ‘It’s really inspiring for what we can and should be doing, which is much better anyway. We can’t put it off any longer,’ Pidcock says.

You can hear more about sustainability and the path to net zero for Australia’s built environment at this year’s Be Summit. Purchase your early bird ticket today and view the full program here.
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