Sustainability transitions in Brisbane’s building sector

November 11, 2015 Sebastian Fastenrath

Research activities in Brisbane Region focused on the role of policy actions (local and state government programs and incentives), industry actors (industry bodies and organisations), and innovative projects (Green Square, Common Ground, and the Global Change Institute), in addition to various transition processes and barriers in the office and residential building sector. Initial findings are based on secondary data research (policy documents, data of Green Building Council Australia, and Property Council of Australia) and personal interviews with 28 experts (in April 2014 and June/July 2015). Interviews were conducted with a range of stakeholders in the building context including policy makers, architects, consultants, industry groups, NGOs, and other professional bodies.

The sustainability transition paths in Brisbane’s building sector are characterized by ambivalence. While there has been a significant shift towards a “greener” office building market in the last decade, there has been comparably little momentum in the residential sector. Since the mid-2000s, “Green” office buildings have become increasingly common in Brisbane. Green Star-certified office buildings have been largely realized in the Central Business District.

Central Business District, Brisbane (Photo: Fastenrath)

Central Business District, Brisbane (Photo: Fastenrath)

Increased daylight usage, cross-ventilation, PV-installations, Co- or Tri-generation systems, energy modelling systems, environmental friendly materials and water tanks are increasingly common in new office buildings. Green features of office buildings are becoming more prestigious and are commonly utilized as central marketing tools to increase the building value and rental values. Long-term visioning and planning by large institutional investors and developers and the introduction of GBCA’s Green Star certification in 2005 are seen as important influencing factors for this transition. Within the period of 2005-2011, the Brisbane City Council and Queensland Government introduced incentives and guidelines to provide policy support for the property industry. The extent to which this support had a positive effect on the green office market in Brisbane is a contentious issue amongst experts. 

In contrast to the dynamic development in the office market in the last 10 years, the residential building market is comparably lagging behind. A wide range of actors agree that changes in building design (i.e. building shape and orientation, internal layout, natural ventilation, shading), the use of sustainable materials and “green” technologies (insulation, cooling/heating systems, integration of renewable energies) should be adopted in the residential sector. As yet, a market uptake for “green” homes has not started. A number of reasons for the slow transition processes in the residential sector could be identified:

  • High transaction cost
  • Lack of (local) policy support and long term visions
  • “Short-term thinking” of different industry actors (builders, developers)
  • Policy discontinuity from government changes
  • Inappropriate regulation for energy efficiency (Building Codes)
  • General lack of awareness of environment and sustainability
  • Lack of skills (Education)
  • Lack of materials (limited availability of some products, e.g. double glazed windows)
Typical detached house, Brisbane (Photo: Fastenrath)

Typical detached house, Brisbane (Photo: Fastenrath)

Non-for-profit organisations as drivers of sustainable building projects

Despite a broader lack of sustainability approaches in the residential sector, a number of innovative “green” building projects in and around Brisbane have been completed over the last few years. In the multi-residential sector, two not-for-profit housing providers brought together innovative green building approaches and social (affordable) housing. Supported by public funding, the Brisbane Housing Cooperation developed building projects in Brisbane over the last ten years. One pioneer project is the “Green Square” building, which is located in Brisbane’s district Fortitude Valley and was completed in 2010. To guarantee lower operating costs (e.g. energy, water) green building design approaches such as cross-ventilation and the installation of water tanks have been incorporated.

The Green Square (Photo: Fastenrath)

The Green Square (Photo: Fastenrath) 

A more recent and increasingly recognized pioneer project is BrisbaneCommon Ground which links “green” building approaches and social inclusion. The building in South Brisbane which is financed and realized through public private partnership (federal and state government, private enterprise, and non-profit organisations), combines residential, commercial and community spaces. The Brisbane Common Ground building provides 146 residential units over 14 storeys for homeless and low income individuals - the rent is based on a percentage of income. Social workers, the building’s own medical unit and volunteers from the South Brisbane’s neighborhood support the tenants. In addition to social integration, the project responds to sustainable building principals, in particular in terms of energy and water use. The building is designed for the subtropical climate. The orientation, open layout and cross ventilation system eliminate the need for air conditioning in the apartments. The PV-installation on the roof helps to reduce energy consumption. Water tanks in the basement of the building hold 130.000 litres of rainwater which are used in the gardens, toilets and laundries.

“The Common Ground”, South Brisbane (Photo: Fastenrath)

“The Common Ground”, South Brisbane (Photo: Fastenrath)

Funding agencies

 Project partners

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