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The business of sustainability

THE Property Council of Australia is urging industry players to embrace the concept of sustainability, ahead of any legislation, to gain a market edge.

At the same time the Gallop Government has released its blue-print for sustainable development in WA.

Sustainable Development Guide: A Roadmap for the Commercial Property Industry promotes the idea that sustainability is good business for the property sector.

Lincolne Scott Consulting Engineers Adelaide director Darren Bilsborough believes environmental concerns fit together with the economic performance of a building – particularly with regard to energy consumption.

There was a reasonable assumption that the Kyoto Protocol (given Australia eventually will sign) would include future energy and electricity costs, Mr Bilsborough said.

“Energy costs are going to rise at some point in time,” he said.

“So it will become an economic-driven decision. And there will be a green building rating system in the future.

Federal and State schemes will rate buildings in terms of their energy efficiency.”

These ratings are expected to be lucrative marketing weapons for owners and tenants.

What this would do is single out the exaggerated claims from the genuinely ‘green’ buildings, Mr Bilsborough said.

“One example of this is a building in Adelaide that has solar panels on it, but the building has a glazed facade that faces west,” he said.

In this case, any power generated by the solar panels would be outweighed to a significant degree by the power requirements to keep the building cool in summer behind all that glass, Mr Bilsborough said.

“The rating schemes will identify what claims are appropriate,” he said.

The definition of sustainability, as Mr Bilsborough explains it, is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

There is a range of categories that relates to buildings, including water and waste-water treatment, ozone depletion, renewable energy and resource re-use.

Mr Bilsborough said there was a number of State departments in the United States that required their staff to be housed in buildings with a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating.

Proponents of sustainable development have claimed it has a positive benefit in terms of productivity, he said.

“If there’s a methodology for showing that [increased productivity] then that’s a good reason for tenants to drive this,” Mr Bilsborough said.

“And there’s an opportunity to increase your return on the building.”

This didn’t necessarily require major alterations to the exterior of an existing building, however.

There were several examples where a clever fit-out could maxi-mise energy efficiency in a commercial building, he said.

“There’s a case study in Adelaide where we did a tenancy fit-out and, as part of the process, we pushed as many boundaries as we could,” Mr Bilsborough said. “And it wasn’t that hard. It was very economic and the real reason why it was cheap was because of the approach taken.”

All the furniture used in the fit-out was lightweight and there was minimal use of partitions and very few built structures.

“The staff response was excellent because everybody got a space where they could see the Adelaide hills, and everybody had access to daylight,” Mr Bilsborough said.

“There were 28 initiatives, including the re-use of materials, low emission boards and toxin-absorbing plants.

“We used wireless phones so there was obviously no cabling, and that means when they move again there will be no cable to rip up and throw away.”

This is an ideal way for forward-thinking companies to set them-selves apart in the marketplace, he said.

Professor Peter Newman has been seconded by the WA Government to progress its blueprint for development.

“The State Government has elect-ed to make a sustainability frame-work; that hasn’t happened in any other State in Australia,” Professor Newman said.

In all, 11 principles for sustain-ability have been developed, the final one being hope, vision and iterative change.

In terms of property developers, the sector needed to go beyond net environmental impact to the net benefit, Professor Newman said.

“You can’t do it all at once, but it’s a start. We need to look at greenhouse gases, biodiversity, oil vulnerability and the transition to gas,” he said.

“We need to look at settlements, water, waste and energy. It’s a large document … it’s very opportunity oriented. Sustainability is not just another hoop to jump through, there are actually opportunities.”

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