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The built environment is a crucial aspect of sustainable development. The construction, use and demolition of buildings generate social and economic benefit to society and provide the foundations for development, including housing, workplace, public buildings and services, communications, energy, water and sanitary infrastructure. But buildings also have substantial negative impacts, in particular for the environment. Key areas of concern include energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions, waste generation and disposal, construction materials use and recycling, water use and discharge, and integration of buildings with other infrastructure and social systems.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the building and construction sector accounts for the largest share in the use of natural resources, by land use and by materials extraction. This makes the building sector the largest single potential for energy efficiency worldwide.

Worldwide, 40-50% of all primary energy is used in buildings. In New Zealand, 25% of landfill waste is produced by the building industry.

Enter green building certification programmes. In response to the rising interest in sustainable building practices, organisations around the world have developed standards, codes and rating systems that allow regulators, building professionals and consumers to embrace green building with confidence. In New Zealand this is facilitated by the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC). NZGBC is a broad-based industry organization, formed to provide leadership in green building practices in New Zealand. It was established in July 2005 and in 2006 became a member of the World Green Building Council (WGBC). Today NZGBC is comprised 440 members, including engineers, architects, property owners and investors who are committed to accelerating the development and adoption of market-based green building solutions that help deliver efficient, healthy, innovative buildings for New Zealand. These solutions are implemented through the NZGBC’s Green Star rating tools, education and training for all areas of the building industry value chain, and by providing access to networks, information and resources for its members to actively lead the market.

Green Star NZ is a comprehensive, national, voluntary environmental rating scheme that evaluates the environmental attributes and performance of New Zealand’s commercial buildings using a suite of rating tools developed to be applicable to various building types and functions. Green Star addresses specific building types, such as office buildings, industrial buildings and education buildings.

Credits are awarded at either phase based on the building’s environmental merits in a range of categories. The unique development requirements and impacts of each building type are taken into consideration. Points are then weighted and an overall score is calculated, determining the project’s Green Star rating. Possible ratings are: a 4 Star Green Star Certified Rating (score 45-59) signifying ‘Best Practice’; a 5 Star Green Star Certified Rating (score 60-74) signifying ‘New Zealand Excellence’ and a 6 Star Green Star Certified Rating (score 75-100) signifying ‘World Leadership.

The tools have been developed by the NZGBC in partnership with the building industry in order to:

  • Establish a common language and standard of measurement for green buildings
  • Promote integrated, whole-building design
  • Raise awareness of green building benefits
  • Recognise environmental leadership
  • Reduce the environmental impact of development.

Homestar is NZGBC’s voluntary residential rating tool that evaluates the environmental attributes of New Zealand’s stand-alone homes in terms of energy, health and comfort, water, waste and more. The goal of the Homestar rating tool is to improve the performance and reduce the environmental impact of new and existing New Zealand homes, making them warm, healthy and comfortable places to live. For more information on Homestar click here.

Achieving a Green Star rating complements and expands upon conventional building design goals of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Practices such as efficient energy and water use, protecting occupant health, improving employee productivity and comfort, and reducing waste and pollution all contribute to the economic, as well as environmental, bottom line. Other benefits include:

Future ready assets: Governments and large corporate organisations are incorporating green principles into their property requirements, because they recognise the need to prepare for potential changes in the business and regulatory environment, and ensure they will not be at a competitive disadvantage in the future.

Competitive Advantage: By building green, organisations can differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Demonstration of Corporate Social Responsibility: Building green is a clear expression of a company’s commitment to the environment

A healthier place to live and work: Green buildings are healthy buildings, due to the use of safe materials, good ventilation and abundant light. This can also help employers and landlords to reduce liability and risk of employee or tenant illness, particularly when people are spending up to 95% of their lives inside buildings.

Higher Return on Investment: The McGraw Hill Construction Report (2007) found that building green increases a property’s values by 7.5% and improves the return on investment by 6.6%.The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ report, Green Value: Growing Buildings, Growing Assets (2006) confirms this, revealing that green building practices improve an asset’s value by securing tenants more quickly, commanding higher rents or prices, enjoying lower tenant turnover, costing less to operate and maintain, attracting grants, subsidies and other inducements, and improving business productivity for occupants, which affects churn, renewals, inducements and fitting out costs.

Lower operating costs: Worldwide it has been proven that green buildings have lower operating costs. These reduced costs can be realised directly by the building owner and the tenants.

Green Star NZ Example

The Meridian Building was New Zealand’s first completed 5 Green Star building certified under the Green Star NZ – Office Design v1 tool and it is Meridian Energy Ltd’s head office. The building was the first to be constructed on Wellington’s waterfront in a decade. The owner and the tenant wanted a landmark building, befitting the capital and the site overlooking the harbour, coupled with leading-edge environmental performance.

A comprehensive Environmental Management Plan and Waste Management Plan were executed during construction, resulting in over 60% of waste generated being diverted from landfill. Indoors, the building has a ‘mixed mode’ ventilation system that oscillates between natural ventilation or energy efficient HVAC depending on conditions. Furthermore, over 90% of office area is within 8m of an external view, with high levels of daylight to over 60% of all office areas. Other features include low VOC carpets and paints to office areas, and low formaldehyde products. The building’s façade is climate responsive, automatically adjusting to suit ambient weather conditions. Solar hot water heating provides 80% of domestic hot water requirements. Non-toxic materials, insulants and passive cooling have been considered throughout. The building encourages public transport and cycling by providing cycle racks, lockers and showers but no car parking. There are waterless urinals, sensor taps and rainwater collection and recycling to flush toilets.

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