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Sustainable Development & the “Hip Pocket” Nerve

GCA has been an advocate for the sustainability agenda long before it was fashionable to do so, or even before it was part of the mainstream. Over recent years we have watched on with interest as the design and development industries adopted sustainability as part of their overall mantra. What has was concerned us though, is the way sustainability has and continues to be viewed through 'rose coloured glasses'. Some would even say an academic and intellectual filter, how many awards or even the number of stars achieved.

At a presentation in May, for the 2013 LGMA National Congress in Hobart, GCA highlighted the 'rose coloured glasses' concept, but also went a step further. We introduced the notion of the “hip pocket” nerve. What we view as the critical and current tipping point as Australians strive for sustainable built environments, lifestyles and initiatives. There is evidence emerging, that the hunger for and the subsequent mass market for “McMansions” in Australia is diminishing. With increasing energy costs the average Australian household is gradually recognizing that they cannot continue to build, buy or live in housing at a size and scale that they cannot afford to run and maintain.

As part of the recent global Green Building Week, a question was posed to workshop participants;

Q. What will drive sustainable buildings by 2020?

A. “Operational Efficiency” - (received the most votes).

Are we surprised? No

So what does this mean for the traditional Australian housing model?

Buyers and renters will increasingly look for compact, smarter and accessible homes which satisfy operational efficiency requirements. Dwelling types will need to cater for the increasing demographic shift to lone persons and couples without children households. “Affordability” will become the driver. The consumer will increasingly demand sustainably designed new builds and retrofitted existing housing stock. Passive solar design, photovoltaics, water capturing/reuse, energy efficient lighting and heating/cooling will become the pre-requisites that every home will need to deliver.

The Australian building industry is slowly adapting, but more work is needed to make the operational efficiency and performance of buildings less cost prohibitive and acceptable practice. A great initiative was launched this month by the Green Building Council of Australia – the Green Star – Performance rating tool. This tool will provide a means of benchmarking and monitoring the ongoing operational performance of buildings. It will be a “game changer” for improving the efficiency of our existing building stock and should bring significant benefits to the property market – rental, buying and selling.

At GCA we believe however, that the Australian market is now ready to move beyond green ratings. Sustainability is well embedded in our reality and is part of the vernacular. So keep your eyes and ears open and prepare for the next big shift - social aspects of the sustainable built environment. It is waiting in the wings ready to be embraced by those who are bold enough to do so...

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