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Building Green: Tree Huggers' Hype or the Way to a Sustainable Future?

Property developers are increasingly turning to sustainable building designs in the race to be green, but is the extra time, effort, and cost really worth it?

This is the question a team of Bond University researchers will seek to answer by examining the performance of Green Star Certified buildings around Australia.

The study, commissioned by the Green Building Council of Australia and led by Head of Bond’s School of Sustainable Development Professor George Earl, will be the first of its type in Australia.

“The Green Building Council has now been in operation in Australia for five years, but most of the emphasis to date has been on getting people to design and build greener – but there has been little measurement of actual performance,” Professor Earl said.

“This research project will look at the economic, environmental and social performance of about 40% of Australia’s Green Certified buildings.

“Our team will be surveying these buildings on an ongoing basis over a period of five to six years to find out if they’re performing the way they’re expected to.

“We’ll examine physical performance measures, such as the amount of energy and water the building is using and the amount of waste it generates, along with financial performance and social performance measures, including the health and productivity of the occupants,” he said.

Professor Earl said the research is in response to the needs of companies and developers to justify the extra expense that comes with constructing a ‘green friendly’ building.

“One of the current problems with Green Star Certified buildings is that they are expensive to design and construct. Justifying that extra expense is crucial if developers and businesses are to embrace sustainable development.

“The only way to do that is to prove there are real benefits to building green - that it is not a passing fad,” he said.

Professor Earl expects the buildings taking part in the longitudinal study to be realising those benefits in around three to four years’ time.

“I think we’ll definitely see savings in running costs, and those savings will become even more evident in the future as the cost of utilities such as energy and water increase at a greater rate than inflation.

“I also think the social benefits of working in a green building will become more evident over time with increases in employee productivity, satisfaction and happiness, and decreases in absenteeism and business churn.”

According to Professor Earl, the climate change debate and our nation’s mandate to reduce carbon emissions will also see more and more Australian buildings going green.

Approximately thirty percent of Australia’s carbon emissions come from CBD areas. Through adopting a green infrastructure approach, we could reduce those emissions by a staggering 50%, which would reduce our national emissions by 15%.

“That would be a great step towards meeting our requirements under the Kyoto protocol.”

Professor Earl will present the preliminary findings of the study in mid-February, at the Green Cities 08 Australasian Conference & Expo, the largest annual convention of its type in the Asia-Pacific.

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