Not even a blade of grass, experts poo-poo “green” buildings

AUSTRALIA’S “greenest” buildings may not be all that green, with not one of the five most common environmentally sustainable design (ESD) accreditation schemes requiring tree retention, tree planting or even a blade of grass.

New research conducted by not-for-profit Nature Based Cities – backed by the private sector and helmed by Paul Hameister OAM alongside key research partners Urbis, Ark Resources and the University of Melbourne – was undertaken to review the efficacy of major rating tools including NABERS, Green Star, Built Environment Sustainability Scorecard (BESS), BASIX, EnviroDevelopment and Climate Active.

It concluded that projects can achieve a world-leading green rating without a single tree being retained or planted, and no nature-based landscaping whatsoever.

“The Ark research finds that its currently possible to achieve a 6 star Green Star rating for a building – the highest level of ESD recognition possible – without a single tree or blade of grass. To me this is outrageously deficient,” Hameister said.

“One of the simplest and most effective ways we can cool the earth and address climate change is to retain and plant more trees, and it’s time to provide every tool possible to the development industry to be a leading force for this change – starting with an urgent update to our nation’s ESD accreditation tools.

“We’re at a critical juncture concerning the climate. While many of the current environmental issues we’re facing have stemmed from urbanisation, our cities’ contributions towards addressing these global challenges are increasingly important.

Nature Based Cities also used an Ark Research study alongside a commissioned Urbis report, The Growing Value of Green Space, to issue a call to arms to prioritise the inclusion of green space in the design or urban projects.

Urbis found that park-front units attracted a 17% price premium on average, while park-front houses attracted a 34% premium over the past 10 years when compared with surrounding properties.

Park-fronted properties have grown in price in that time by 9.6% per annum, nearly double the surrounding market average annual growth of 5% each year.

In master-planned communities and inner and middle-ring developments, premiums of up to 28% can be achieved for park-fronted properties. For investors, this is bolstered by rental premiums of up to 49%.

Less than 5% of the earth’s surface is urban space, but 55% of humans lived in cities in 2018, and the figure if forecast to rise to 65% by 2050.

The idea for Nature Based Cities was seeded when Hameister’s development company Hamton was seeking research to support the benefits of green open space being incorporated into the $2 billion redevelopment of the Moonee Valley Racecourse. The scope for a commissioned piece of research quickly evolved to provide a framework that could be applied to any urban property development project or asset.

Hameister commissioned additional research and sought involvement from experts in their respective fields, including lecturer of urban planning at the University of Melbourne Dr Judy Bush, director of Urbis Mark Dawson and managing director of Ark Resources Jan Talacko.

Alongside the research conducted by both Ark Resources and Urbis, the University of Melbourne examined research and data from the last 20 years that showed cities such as New York, Barcelona and Stockholm are highly regarded cities that put greenspace at the centre of design.

“We recommend the introduction of mandatory minimum thresholds for incorporating vegetation across all green accreditation tools and believe that this requirement could be readily incorporated into all the rating frameworks we assessed,” Talacko said.

This article was featured on The Australian Property Journal.

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