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Green Practice: Reaching for the stars

Every Issue

If your building is not green enough you need to decide whether to love it or leave it.

Is it worth moving to a Green Star building or is it better to love the one you’re with? The arguments for having environmentally friendly buildings will only get stronger as the price of energy rises and businesses are forced to absorb new costs to offset carbon production. So the question for forward looking law firms is not so much about the merits of occupying a green building, but about how to achieve it: relocation or refurbishment?

The lack of data, among other things, makes it difficult to simply assess which of these options are more cost effective and efficient. The lack of education on and understanding of the fundamental principles of sustainable development in the property industry has resulted in limited availability of green buildings in Australia.1

The focus on short-term, low-cost construction is, however, beginning to shift and although Green Star-rated buildings make up only about a quarter of the building market nationwide, there are 80 Green Star projects now registered for certification.2

The Green Star rating was developed by the Green Building Council of Australia and is a comprehensive national, voluntary environmental rating scheme that evaluates the environmental design and achievements of buildings: 4 Stars recognises “Best Practice”, 5 Stars recognises “Australian Excellence”; and 6 Stars recognises “World Leadership”. The first rule is: don’t be deterred by cost. Although rent for a green building can be 5 per cent to 10 per cent more than a conventional one, this can be offset by lower operating costs, enhanced marketability and increased productivity. In the case of improving energy efficiency, it is usually more expensive to retrofit than to build them in, so if your environmental goals are ambitious then relocating may work out cheaper in the long term.3

Large corporate and government tenants are leading the push for green buildings,4

but options are being created for small to medium firms.

But while relocation offers a clean slate for companies, refurbishing an existing building has the benefit of lower start-up costs.

Refurbished buildings can also attain Green Star ratings. The first refurbishment awarded five Green Stars in Melbourne was a 28-level multi-tenanted building at 500 Collins Street. The building was upgraded over several years while occupied. The upgrade included water-efficient bathroom fittings, chilled beam air conditioning, solar panels and energy efficient lighting. The improvements reportedly saved the owners $15,000 annually in energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1700 tonnes a year.5

Staff said their productivity increased and there were significant falls in the rate of illness.6

However, there are challenges associated with green refurbishment, not least of which is the short-term inconvenience caused for occupants as building works go on. There is also the difficulty of finding appropriate green and reusable materials in Australia, but resources such as Ecospecifier (http://www.ecospecifier.org) and the Australian Environmental Labelling Association’s online procurement databases (http://www.greenprocurement.org.au) go some way to dealing with this. The decision depends greatly on where you are (your current tenancy) and where you want to be (your sustainability goals). If you want to be a market-leading green firm, then a new building is likely to provide the most cost-effective sustainability. However, if you are trying to make a difference, but don’t want sustainability to be a major budgetary item, a refurbishment makes a great improvement with lower upfront costs.

VALUE DRIVERS FOR OCCUPANTS OF GREEN BUILDINGS

  • Productivity and profitability
  • Organisational vision
  • Image and identity
  • Corporate brand and reputation
  • Corporate social responsibility7

LUCY TERRACALL is the LIV Young Lawyers’ Section president. This column is co-ordinated by the LIV YOUNG LAWYERS’ SECTION. For more information on the section, see http://www.liv.asn.au/members/sections/younglawyers.

1. See, http://www.gbca.org.au/resources/publications/dollars-and-sense-of-green-buildings-2006-buildingthe-business-case-for-green-c/1002.htm.

2. See, http://www.ecobuy.org.au/uploads/documents/GBC%20David%20Craven%20080207.pdf.

3. McKinsey and Company, An Australian Cost Curve for Greenhouse Gas Reduction, 2008 p13.
4. “The dollars and sense of green buildings 2006”, Green Building Council Australia. See note 1 above.
5. Per Ms Romilly Madew, chief executive of the Green Building Council of Australia, see http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/building-a-greener-future/2008/05/14/1210444527243.html.
6. See, http://www.gbca.org.au/gbca.asp?sectionid=6&docid=1236.
7. http://209.85.141.104/search?q=cache:l1NiEPUWquUJ:http://www.gbca.org.au/docs/NSC0009_ValuingGreen.pdf+valuing+green&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=au.

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