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Government told to 'walk the talk' on green building standards

Thursday 11th April 2019

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Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw faced criticism today for the government’s failure to 'walk the talk' on green building standards.

Delegates and even fellow presenters at the Green property Summit in Auckland took the minister to task for the government not taking the lead by mandating high environmental standards for its own buildings - including schools, hospitals and social housing.

“The MBIE procurement protocol hasn’t mentioned building energy efficiency,” someone in the audience asked via conference app “Why isn’t the government walking the talk and taking action?”

“Why isn’t the Government making all buildings they own or tenant greener by using, for example, NABERSNZ?” asked another.

NABERSNZ is a building rating tool adapted from an Australian standard and licensed to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

Shaw didn’t have time in the programme to answer the questions, but that didn’t stop them coming.

“If healthy buildings are so good for our people, how can we fast-track hospitals to be built and retrofitted to better code?”

And so it went on.

Shaw didn’t have an answer, though he said the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand would be co-locating into a 6 Green Star building in the future. That's the highest Green Star rating, but that building doesn’t exist yet.

Shaw told the summit the way emissions were reported, using categories like transport, agriculture, energy, industrial processes and waste, hid the important role buildings have to play in New Zealand’s greenhouse gas outputs.

“You won’t see buildings as one of the sectors, because we don’t count them that way - yet the Green Building Council estimates buildings make up about 20 percent of the country’s emissions, when you include emissions in the construction, and the waste to landfill. Which is extraordinary.”

The latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory, also released this morning, shows New Zealand's emissions are on the rise. The inventory shows gross emissions increased 2.2 percent between 2016 and 2017, and have risen 23.1 percent since 1990.

“That shows why we need the kind of clear policies and actions the government is proposing on climate change,” Shaw said in a statement before he arrived at the conference.

Net emissions, which are New Zealand’s gross emissions minus carbon dioxide absorbed by forestry, have increased by 65 percent since 1990.

“New Zealand’s two largest contributing sectors for gross emissions in 2017, were agriculture (48.1 percent) and energy (40.7 percent)," Shaw's statement said. “Road transport emissions and fossil fuel-generated electricity production were the big drivers for the emissions increase we’ve seen between 2016 and 2017."

At the summit, Shaw said the building industry could play an important part in the government’s broader climate change goals, particularly any carbon-zero targets. Energy efficiency is low-hanging fruit compared to some of the more challenging goals, he said.

“Better buildings mean less carbon, less waste, less water use, less toxic materials, more resilience to climate change and the effects of climate change, more sustainable building materials, and more healthy colleagues.”

But energy efficiency was just one part of the role for the building sector in reaching the emissions targets, Shaw said. The electricity sector estimates that replacing all petrol/diesel vehicles and gas and coal-fired industrial plants with other energy sources will require a massive increase in renewable energy production - and green buildings can help.

“This is one of greatest opportunities of how the property sector can contribute - not just being more efficient, but adding generation capacity to your buildings.

“Places you build should not just use energy in an efficient manner, but create energy.”

Jenny Lackey, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority's group manager for strategy and performance, is working closely with government on various projects including Shaw’s long-awaited Zero Carbon Bill.

She told the audience that the industry “shouldn’t wait for policy, we need to crack on and do.”

NZ Green Business Council chief executive Andrew Eagles criticised the government’s sub-standard building codes. Economist and commentator Shamubeel Eaqub complained that policymakers are “slow, cumbersome and often marginal”.

“If you listen to James, everything within government takes time - but we don’t have time,” Eaqub said.

“My biggest fear is that while we are talking about green buildings, we are still building the same old way. Despite having new technology available, we are choosing not to build in the new way.”

He said the government needed to implement a “massive” upgrade of the building code. But industry couldn’t afford to leave change to government, Eaqub told the summit. Instead, the building sector had to understand the economic and environmental advantages of green buildings.

"It’s a no-brainer that doing Green Star building is so much better than how we are doing it now," he said.

Tenants' costs are lower "and when you look at investment returns in the property industry in Australia, the returns are so much higher with green-certified buildings." he said. 


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