28/05/2008 - 22:00

Designing a greener future

28/05/2008 - 22:00

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Designing a greener future

Targeting a green-star rating on commercial projects has become more common for property developers, particularly at the big end of town.

In recent years, building design has come to be viewed as a key part of addressing broader environmental issues such as global warming and climate change.

It's a process being driven by tenant demand, and schemes such as the Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (ABGR) and the Green Building Council of Australia's green-star program.

The latter has 55 projects in WA registered for green-star ratings at present, with one building - Bible House at Westralia Plaza, 167 St Georges Terrace - certified to a four-star green-star design rating.

This is up from 40 registered projects in March.

According to Cox Howlett & Bailey Woodland director, Steve Woodland, it's the employees of businesses, particularly those from generations X and Y, who are really pushing developers to adopt green design principles.

"The shift we see occurring is...not because executives are suddenly conscious of the environment. It's actually being driven by staff," Mr Woodland said.

"Younger people [expect their employers to provide an environmentally sustainable workplace], and that in turn influences decision making. A number of the projects we're looking at now are targeting five-star green-star and beyond, so it's quite a big shift in [a short] timeframe."

However, those who design WA's buildings say more could be done on the sustainable design front.

Cameron Chisholm & Nicol (WA) director Greg Salter believes Perth could become a leader in green design, especially if developers had more support through government incentives and public-private partnerships.

"We've got this ideal opportunity with our climate to instigate best practice in Perth," Mr Salter said.

Others say that governments, both state and local, aren't providing enough leadership at practical or policy levels.

"It's all about budget, and the government isn't prepared to spend [what is required]. I think, commercially, we're probably doing better in some instances," Silver Thomas Hanley director Rod Mollett said.

"Unfortunately, quite often project budgets are set without sufficient design contingencies or escalation allowances, and by the time the project commences, savings have to be made, and more often than not...environmentally sustainable design principles are compromised."

There's a sense that the incentives available to developers aren't sufficient at the moment either.

"The City of Perth doesn't necessarily show much leadership in the way it goes about [driving green design]. It could potentially show more...particularly in terms of bonuses," TPG planner Peter Simpson said.

"I think the Property Council shows a bit of leadership, particularly for the second round of leasing."

While cities such as Brisbane have bonus plot ratios for buildings that meet a certain standard of green design, Perth currently does not.

However, the City of Perth is moving to amend its planning scheme, in order to encourage six-star green-star developments.

While the exact nature of the incentives hasn't been decided as yet, a plot ratio bonus of up to 20 per cent could be introduced.

The city has also joined the national green CBDs program, which requests commercial building tenants to complete an ABGR rating, reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and perform an annual progress review.

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