Synopses of Selected Research Projects
Improving building environmental efficiency in the Australian commercial property industry
Given the current environmental imperative, building owners and tenants in Australia are increasingly being required to proactively manage the environmental aspects of building operation. ISPT, one of Australia’s largest property managers, has a substantial investment in sustainable buildings on behalf of its stakeholders. The company continues to seek ways of reducing energy consumption, water use, and waste in its office, retail, and industrial properties. ISPT’s approach is based on “discovering hidden stars”, a reference to improving building performance using cost-effective solutions driven by smart engineering and assessed using the National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS), which rates buildings from 1.0 to 6.0 stars based on measured energy efficiency, water use, and other parameters. The approach involves a comprehensive check of a building’s mechanical–electrical systems, including an examination of the building systems brief, available documentation, and the history of maintenance, on which basis the configurations of the systems are optimized. Computer simulations help identify other efficiencies by using energy and water use data collected continuously from the building and parameters derived from building design, geometry, and climate. The approach avoids the need to engage in costly, full-scale refurbishment of properties to achieve substantial improvements in building environmental performance. A case study of a 17-storey, 21,000 m2 Sydney office building exemplifies the smart engineering approach. The NABERS energy efficiency rating of this building has improved from 2.5 stars (2007) to 4.0 (2010) and to 5.4 (2013). The increase from 4.0 to 4.5 equates to a 15% reduction in energy use, and from 4.5 to 5.4 equates to ~34%. The NABERS water rating has improved from 3.6 stars (2010) to 4.4 (2013). More widespread use of such approaches in the sustainable property industry should generate substantial financial and environmental benefits for stakeholders including building owners, tenants, investors, communities, and government.
Participatory-based Conceptions of Housing Need in Remote Indigenous Communities
The 2006 Australian census shows that Indigenous households are only half as likely to own their own home as are non-Indigenous Australians. In addition, housing in remote Indigenous communities is known to be of significantly lower quality than in other localities, and inappropriate building design and construction for local conditions has often been the case for such communities. Most characterizations of housing in remote Indigenous communities have not been derived from participatory research methods, and existing characterizations of housing issues may therefore not be particularly meaningful to the people actually living in such communities, because the communities themselves have not been actively involved in generating the characterizations. In this respect, a disjuncture exists between existing measures of housing and Indigenous community conceptions and experiences of housing need, which has resulted in outcomes of housing schemes for such communities that have been less successful than anticipated or desired. This study seeks to contribute in this regard by using a qualitative, participatory research method ‘Photovoice’ to investigate Indigenous Australians’ conceptions of housing and of housing need. The method gives participants voice through taking photographs and describing/discussing them verbally in order to form representations of their communities’ views on various aspects of housing, potentially including problems, needs, solutions, and desired outcomes. The conceptions of members of remote Indigenous communities surrounding terms such as ‘housing’ and ‘housing need’ may differ from the definitions/perceptions of researchers, and may lead to differences in characterizations of housing constructed by participants on the one hand and by scholars/investigators and government/policy-makers on the other. To effectively address these matters, innovative methods need to be applied if new insights into housing issues in remote Indigenous communities are to be gained.
Sustainable Building in Remote Communities
Environmentally sustainable building projects in remote communities are subject to a different array of constraints compared with those applying to urban settings. In Australia, these constraints include not only the vast geographic separation from major centres, but also the severe environmental conditions and the characteristics of the host populations. Inhabitants of remote communities are disadvantaged by prevailing economic and social processes and by a lack of investment and infrastructure compared with urban areas. This study makes an analysis and assessment of remote community sustainable building in Australia, including aspects of design, construction, procurement, materials, and funding. Project case studies include the refurbishment of a building in Aurukun, the construction of sustainable houses in Nguiu and Wadeye, the design of a business centre in Yarrabah, and the development of a recycling centre in Cherbourg. From these and other examples, common issues and themes relating to remote community sustainable building are identified, from which the key factors involved are drawn. The findings provide new insights into the constraints acting on remote region sustainable construction, and reveal that affordable sustainable buildings can be constructed in remote communities, but only if appropriate designs, construction systems, procurement methods, and materials are adopted. Given that many remote communities are populated by indigenous people, cultural considerations regarding sustainability must also be made. Sustainable building projects should be encouraged in remote communities as a way of enhancing not only environmental, but also socio-cultural and economic, sustainability.
Green Leases in the Australian Office Property Market: Current Trends and Issues
The key drivers of green strategy and design in Australia are the issues of energy consumption (in a market of rising costs), carbon emissions (in an era of international environmental responsibility), and water conservation (in a drought-prone country). However, although a green building may be constructed or refurbished to high environmental standards, the green lease is the key to operating the building in a sustainable manner. Green leases include provisions to minimise environmental impacts and operate efficiently with respect to energy and emissions. This study examines the significant trends and issues regarding green leases in the Australian office property market. In its drive for sustainability, the government is leading by example by mandatorily using green leases as either landlord or tenant. Corporate reporting requirements and environmental sustainability regulations will also encourage adoption of green leases by the private office sector. The growing application of tools for rating building environmental design and performance will necessitate the use of green leases as the mechanism for ensuring the establishment and maintenance of building environmental performance. Green office buildings with environmental ratings are now known to provide an asset value and return advantage over non-rated office buildings, and green leases will therefore be a means to protect/enhance asset values and returns for property investors. The study therefore identifies the central importance of the green lease in the Australian office property market as stemming from its backward link to green building environmental rating tools and its forward links to environmental performance/sustainability and the protection of investors’ returns. Issues include the accuracy and consistency of rating tools, the match between rating tools and lease targets, and the drivers influencing the private sector landlord-tenant relationship regarding environmental matters.