I recently joined an inspection of two certified ‘Green Star’ buildings in the heart of Melbourne CBD: EPA Victoria at 200 Victoria Street, Carlton and 567 Collins Street, Melbourne. This outing was facilitated by Rob Catchlove of Wave Consulting.

Environmentally Sustainable Design (ESD) is becoming of paramount importance at planning permit and design concept stage for many local Council’s, developers, architects and policy advisors. ESD seeks to achieve the most sustainable building design possible through reduced embodied energy, stormwater management, passive design and reduced energy loading – amongst other techniques.

Green Star is a certification of a buildings environmental and sustainable attributes and is a voluntary process that largely sits outside the planning system.

The EPA building has a 6 Star Green Star rating, incorporating a tri-generation plant (production of electricity, heat and cooling in the one process using a gas fired generator), internal light-filled atrium, open plan design with central stairs, rainwater harvesting from the rooftop, recycled/sustainable fittings & furnishings, kill switch at each workstation, double glazing and a sustainable waste management system. This signifies world leadership best practice ESD.

This retro-fit design includes staff bicycle spaces, lockers and showers, over 1,000 internal plants and various ‘break-out’ areas, which all contribute to the ‘wellness’ of staff, in addition to the sustainability of the workspace.

The building is by no means perfect – extensive glazing providing natural light can increase glare within the work spaces, the open plan design leads to a nosier environment, the building is struggling to meet its water use requirements and a recently announced increase in staff numbers means staff break-out areas may be compromised (a solution to moving to hot-desking is proving to be a difficult culture shift to embrace).

At 567 Collins St. a private venture saw this site developed with a 5 Star Green Star 26 storey building, representing Australian excellence ESD. This office/retail/leisure building also incorporates a tri-generation plant and rainwater harvesting, in addition to energy efficient lighting, double glazing and extensive bicycle parking facilities .

Its location on a tram line and within walking distance of Southern Cross Station allows for sustainable transport options to be well utilised.

An additional feature incorporated into the building design is the function of the air and ventilation system which provides 100% greater intake of fresh air to each level than required by building standards. This is in addition to a carbon dioxide monitoring system which is specified to track and adjust ventilation rates to ensure low carbon dioxide levels.

Internal office lighting was designed for zones of not more than 100m2 and for all individual spaces, with individually addressable lighting system provided for tenants specific needs.

Again, this development is not without its downfalls. There was no solar PV installed on the roof, a missed opportunity which will hopefully be retrofitted in the future. In addition, the roof garden element is limited to a mid-level balcony area and tokenistic in size.

Sustainable and ‘Green’ buildings are becoming more important in the quest to achieve reduced emissions, waste and water consumption. In addition, they reduce energy consumption and increase the liveability and usability of buildings. Not all new developments need to go to the extent of Green Star certification, however ESD is now an important feature to be addressed in the planning process.

In November 2015 six Council’s had Local ESD Policies incorporated into their respective Planning Schemes: Banyule, Moreland, Port Phillip, Stonnington, Whitehorse and Yarra City Councils. In September 2016, Monash City Council also received gazettal of the local ESD policy. Many more Council’s are either awaiting approval from the Minister or are in the process of amending their local policy.

A review of 1715 VCAT decisions between 2003 and June 2016, undertaken by the Council Alliance for a Sustainable Built Environment (CASBE), has identified that:

  • 51 hearings covered the applicant challenging the need for an ESD report.
  • 33 of these resulted in VCAT removing the requirement, while in 18 hearings the requirement was retained. Since the beginning of 2011, the results are 7 removals and 13 retentions.
  • A clear trend has emerged at VCAT over time, reinforcing the legitimate role of Sustainable Design Assessment in the Planning Process (SDAPP). (Source).

Since working on The Commons, Brunswick in 2011 during my time at Moreland City Council, I have continued to keep abreast of ESD principles and policies in the planning process. Following completion of my recent Masers project which reviewed ‘The Climate Change Problem’, I have become more acutely aware of the need of the planning industry to support ESD initiatives and advocate for better design outcomes.

Developments with good ESD principles are now becoming more appealing in the property market. ‘The Commons’ model is being taken up by other developers who see such apartments more in line with modern market expectations. It’s clear the market is shifting in this direction. With a wide choice of apartments available in Melbourne, developers need to stand out and provide something different. Increased liveability and reduced energy costs are key factors that will sway more savvy purchasers.