Australian Green Building Council Certifies First Project

Australian Green Building Council Certifies First Project

The Green Building Council of Australia has announced that the design of an office building in the national capital of Canberra is the first to earn certification under Green Star for Office Design, a comprehensive tool for rating the environmental responsibility of building designs. “The Green Building Council of Australia congratulates the developer, Canberra International Airport, on this outstanding achievement,” said executive director Maria Atkinson. The building was assessed by a third party and awarded five Green Stars out of six possible, qualifying it as an example of “Australian Excellence,” according to the rating system.

The building, at 8 Brindabella Circuit in Canberra’s Brindabella Business Park, is now under construction and expected to be completed by the end of 2004. Through the use of non-flushing urinals, dual-flush toilets, and efficient faucets and showerheads, the 43,500 ft 2 (4,040 m 2) building is projected to save 205,000 gallons (775,000 liters) of potable water each year, using less than half the water of a conventional building. Materials and furnishings will be selected for their recycled content and low emissions of volatile organic compounds; PVC-based products will be avoided; and the building will be ventilated with 100% outside air.

Green Star for Office Design, which was released in pilot form in July 2003 and finalized in December 2003, was modeled after existing tools, including the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) from the U.K. and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System from the U.S. “It is an important tenet of the Green Building Council’s operations to learn from others,” according to Rebecca Blackburn, the organization’s communications and education manager. “Green Star has benefited from robust first thinking and principles from the UK and the USA,” she said. As with LEED, Green Star was designed to recognize the top 25% of the building market.

Green Star for Office Design rates designs according to their performance in nine categories: management, indoor environment quality, energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, emissions, and innovation. Each category has been weighted to reflect its relative importance—“a world first for such a rating tool,” Blackburn said—and the weighting is adjusted to reflect priorities in each state. In this way, “Green Star provides a framework capable of providing a single credible measure of green for all urban centers within Australia,” Blackburn said. The biggest difference from state to state is in the water category: Water efficiency makes up 15% of the total score in South Australia, where water scarcity is a great concern, but only 10% in the wetter and less populated Northern Territory. Energy is the most significant category, representing 25% of the total points in seven of Australia’s eight states.

According to the Green Star summary, this weighting system “means that a credit in one category is not of equal value to a credit in another category,” and it “permits credits to be added or deleted within individual categories without affecting the overall environmental importance of an issue.” It should also allow Green Star to evolve as environmental concerns and building practices change. In projects where a particular credit does not apply, that credit is excluded from both the achieved credits and the available credits. A renovation project for which no new concrete is poured, for example, will not be penalized for failing to use recycled content in the concrete.

The rating tool has only two conditional requirements (the equivalent of prerequisites in LEED). First, the base building must achieve a minimum energy performance of four stars in the existing Australian Building Greenhouse Rating (ABGR) scheme. Since ABGR bases its benchmarks on the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from a building’s energy use, Green Star also rates efficiency according to this standard. Second, the site must not be located on land of high ecological or social value. Similar to LEED’s Sustainable Sites credit 1, this conditional requirement precludes the rating of designs for new construction on prime agricultural land, within 100 meters (330 feet) of a wetland, or on land that served as public parkland prior to acquisition.

The overall score is tallied by combining the weighted category scores, up to 100 points for credits, with up to five points for innovative strategies not otherwise covered by the tool. The maximum possible score, then, is 105. See table for the levels of certification.

The Green Building Council of Australia has also launched Green Star for Offices As Built and Green Star for Office Interiors. A rating tool for existing buildings is expected by the end of 2004. In addition, the Council plans to release tools tailored to different building types, including retail, industrial, and residential projects. The Council anticipates rapid growth in the use of Green Star. “Interest is strong from engineers, architects, designers, project managers, and developers, as well as government,” Blackburn said.