GBCSA / Opinion Piece / Pushing the Envelope: a Responsible Built Environment

Pushing the Envelope: a Responsible Built Environment

September 26, 2023

By André Harms, Director, Ecolution Consulting

A world in a socio-environmental crisis urgently needs sustainable development compatible with planetary boundaries and societal cohesion. Yet, our global construction industry faces fierce competition, tight building schedules and constraining budgets. Vital building attributes and qualities are overlooked whilst opportunities for industry transformation are often foregone.

Green Building rating frameworks, such as the newly introduced Green Star New Build version 2 tool with its RESPONSIBLE Category, offer a vital means to address these challenges. The new category can guide projects beyond industry norms, encouraging responsible development by defining best practice in the built environment. Including:

  1. Industry Transformation: Encouraging partnership, collaboration, and data sharing for transformative change.
  2. Sustainable Construction Practices: Promoting practices that reduce environmental impact and enhance social outcomes.
  3. Verified Building Systems: Ensuring building systems are optimised and documented for high performance during operation.
  4. Energy and Water Management: Buildings that are set up for ongoing management and optimisation of energy and water consumption.
  5. Climate and Occupancy Optimization: Tuning buildings to align with climate and occupancy patterns for increased performance and efficiency.
  6. Responsible Waste Management: Safely and efficiently separating and recovering operational waste.
  7. Responsible Procurement: Implementing environmentally and socially responsible principles in the procurement process.
  8. Responsible Manufacturing: Encouraging the use of responsibly manufactured products in construction.

These initiatives recognise (and encourage) activities that ensure the building is designed, procured, built, and handed over in the most responsible manner.

Why the Responsible Category Matters 

Contractors typically spend up to 80 percent of revenue on their supply chain. The narrow focus on internal sustainability practices alone is limiting. The RESPONSIBLE Category promotes a focus on sustainable and responsible procurement practices, together with embedding a systematic and responsible product framework for key products and services. Building by building, this has the potential to catalyse the future built environment to increasingly see (certified) buildings composed of responsibly manufactured products and materials that have a ripple effect of environmental and social benefit far beyond the direct influence of the project site.

When buildings are designed and constructed, a window of opportunity exists to incorporate fairly simple yet key infrastructure that, together with an effective training and handover process, would serve to unlock a well managed and sustainably operated building. The RESPONSIBLE Category acknowledges this whilst also encouraging tuning of the building’s performance with actual occupancy patterns and climatic conditions throughout the seasons.

By integrating the responsible construction management and environmental management best practices stipulated within these initiatives, developers and projects will be able to counteract the financial losses and unchecked environmental destruction that poorly managed projects can cause.

The category’s initiatives are finely balanced to be accessible to both smaller or newer players in the construction industry, as well as the more established and extensive industry names. Simultaneously it allows for nuances from smaller or simpler buildings through to complex or large developments.

Despite concerns about the costs these initiatives may bring, focusing on the long-term benefits, financial savings, efficiency, and planetary habitability it may unlock is essential. The analogy of viewing our built environment like cars, subject to careful testing and regular maintenance, underscores the importance of such a meticulous process.

There is no doubt that, if implemented sincerely, the Green Star RESPONSIBLE Category could see a marked improvement to attributes and metrics that our industry desperately needs. We need higher performing, more responsibly procured buildings while increasing uptake of sorely lacking environmental practices and enhanced social outcomes. A new rating tool and category alone will not solve all of this. However, it is only by making real progress on activities such as this that we can hope to have our increasing demand for development and urbanisation compatible with planetary and resource limitations, and step towards societal cohesion and equity.

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