Melbourne’s Bentleigh Secondary College was named Most Sustainable Educational Institution at the International Green Awards held in London in November.
Suters Architects, who delivered their services pro bono, worked in partnership with the college to design stages 1 and 2 of the school’s redevelopment.
“We congratulate the college for receiving this award,’ said Project Leader John Schout. ‘Their commitment to educating students about sustainability through teaching and the built environment is outstanding and highly commendable.
“Key ESD initiatives include shading and natural light, solar panels, water treatment and wetlands and a planned thermal heating and cooling system. A new building, a Meditation and Indigenous Cultural Centre, designed entirely of timber is an example of sustainable carbon capture principles and will be completed in 2013.”
by Richard Haynes, Director eTool Pty Ltd
The Australian construction industry is starting to realise the benefits, and indeed the necessity of LCA to drive sustainability decisions, but it still has some way to catch up with Europe, the undisputed leader in the field.
The European Committee for Standardisation was given a mandate in 2004 to establish voluntary standards for the environmental assessment of buildings, and the ensuing framework stipulates whole-of-building LCA. Although these standards are ambitious, when alternatives to LCA are considered it’s easy to understand why it prevails as the preferred method.
Quantifying the environmental impacts throughout the whole life cycle of a building eliminates the risk of poor trade-offs, highlights hot spots for improvement and improves sustainability outcomes. Moreover, a robust LCA model enables accurate life cycle cost calculations, so affordability and sustainability can be married.
Many historical barriers to the implementation of LCA are being overcome. Availability of Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) data, for example, has improved dramatically. Similarly, issues with the comparability of product LCAs will soon become redundant with the emergence in Europe of the new ECO EPD platform.
As the barriers to LCA topple, existing building ratings schemes have been quick to accept the inevitable. USGBC, GBCA, DGNB, UKGBC, Living Building Challenge and One Planet Living have integrated LCA into their ratings schemes, or are in the process of doing so, and the more evolved approaches in Europe are utilising whole-of-building LCA to characterise multiple environmental indicators.
Outside the construction sector, LCA has been regulated in France for all high volume consumer products, and the US has implemented legal standards for assessing biofuels through the use of LCA.
LCA is also set to be a key method for governments to genuinely reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet their international obligations. The State of Washington, USA, for example recently commissioned their two leading universities to explore how LCA could be implemented into their building codes.
New software tools are proliferating, with many enabling repeatable, accurate and cost-effective whole-of-building LCAs. The tools vary in sophistication and ease of use, but they are fast developing and represent a major improvement on what was available five years ago. To name a few:
e-LICCO – Cycleco (FR)
Envest 2 – BRE (UK)
eTool LCA – eTool Pty Ltd (AU / Global)
GaBi Build-it – PE International (Global)
IMPACT – BRE / IES (UK)
Impact Estimator – Athena (US and Canada)
The holy grail of sustainable building design is a 3D model showing thermal performance and embodied impacts of materials and energy sources all in a single package. Such tools will emerge in the very near future.
The LCA space is moving fast and articles like this will soon be dated as developments unfold. What’s clear for the construction industry is that it’s time to get educated and equipped to meet the growing voluntary and regulatory demand for LCA of buildings.
image: DNA Architects
A four-bedroom home under construction in northern Canberra will allow residents to track the sun by rotating the house using a touch screen panel. The “Girasole” house will be able to complete a full rotation in less than 10 minutes. The building engineers estimate rotation will consume about 100 watts, as there is no lifting involved.
Designed by DNA Architects, the single-storey house includes a sloping roof with a 10.5kW photovoltaic system, sufficient to power the home and its hot water system.
There is always good food for thought for designers and developers – and everybody else – on Australian Policy Online. Two recent additions are notable for questioning cherished sustainability nostrums: the first, that apartment living is better for the environment than low-rise living; and the second, that green building occupants are more comfortable than non-green building occupants.
How sustainable is apartment living? makes the point that occupants of “green” buildings can still live unsustainably, which is a helpful reminder that while design might be part of the solution, it is not the antidote: only behaviour change can deliver real sustainability.
Assessing Occupant Comfort in an Iconic Sustainable Education Building is a post-occupancy study of the Mirvac School of Sustainable Development at Bond University. Its findings tally with other post-occ studies in that it finds that while thermal comfort and air quality of green buildings is generally superior to non-green buildings, green building users tend to be less satisfied than otherwise with light and noise levels. The study concludes: “Improved occupant satisfaction and performance may be less about green design intent [than] occupant knowledge of how to manage the situational constraints presented by this new type of built environment”.
Murray River Mouth, SA (image: Wikimedia Commons)
Two landmarks in the annals of Australian environmentalism were achieved on the same day in November 2012 – Thursday 22 November. One was an agreement between forestry groups, governments and environmental organisations to protect 504,000 hectares of high conservation value Tasmanian forests. The other was the signing into law of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which will deliver annual environmental flows of 2750GL to wetlands, floodplains, forests and the Murray River Mouth to 2019.
Of course not everyone is happy, and there are critics of both plans on both sides of politics, but the fact that Federal and State governments can still achieve real outcomes despite a polarised and increasingly rancorous political context is encouraging. All parties should be applauded.
Not so encouraging is the continued failure of governments to agree on carbon abatement, nationally and internationally. And as if they needed a spur, they now have the news that the Arctic permafrost is melting much faster and earlier than predicted. If the melt continues, scientists warn, it has the potential to release tens of billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In a vicious cycle, the more gas that is released, the faster the melt will progress. We appear poised on a “tipping point”. Without urgent, deep cuts to global emissions, we face a climate catastrophe.
The third annual State of Australian Cities report was launched in Melbourne on 4 December by Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP. The report outlines the progress and performance of Australia’s 18 largest cities.
The report highlights the economic and social drag of increasing congestion, which is being driven by increasing urban sprawl and the rise of knowledge and service industries at the expense of manufacturing, which is concentrating employment opportunities in the CBD. The minister identified this as the major challenge for urban planners and policy makers: “Narrowing the distance between where people live and where they work needs to be at the forefront of urban planning in coming years. If we don’t address this, there will be major consequences for the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our major cities.”
The report reveals that new Australian home are now the largest in the world, giving a new meaning to “volume building”. To end sprawl, it is essential that designers and developers reorientate buyers to value quality (of life and design) over quantity (of house). A compelling reason for doing so is capital appreciation: in Sydney and Melbourne, a house 50km from the city centre has doubled in value since 1986. The value of a house close to the CBD has increased five-fold.
State of Australian Cities 2012 is available online at: www.infrastructure.gov.au.
Summer workshops in Design and Digital Fabrication with Wood
The UTAS School of Architecture and Design in Launceston, Tasmania, is continuing its long tradition of learning-by-making with two exciting workshops this summer.
The Digital Fabrication with Timber Studio is a three-day intensive studio that offers participants hands-on experience of digital design and fabrication processes with timber.
The Australian Timber Design Workshop is a two-week Australian Timber Design Workshop (ATDW) in which participants will design, fabricate, construct and install a small timber building from a controlled timber-rich palette in eleven days.
When: Digital Fabrication with Timber Studio, 14-16 January 2013; Australian Timber Design Workshop, 4-15 February, 2013
Where: Launceston, Tasmania
Carbon Centred Approach to Sustainable Design: 41 Exhibition Street
Presented by Russell Evans, Victorian/Tasmanian Manager of AECOM’s Applied Research and Sustainability group.
This presentation steps through AECOM’s Total Carbon Modelling (TCM) process, used in the design and construction of the Australian Institute of Architect’s soon-to-be-completed Melbourne headquarters. It presents the quantity of carbon generated by the building’s embodied materials and construction, operational energy, transport and waste; it then looks at how the TCM tool influenced the building’s design, and its role in the building’s unique Sustainability Charter.
When and where: 18 February Melbourne; 19 February Geelong; 20 February Darwin; 21 February Perth; 25 February Brisbane; 26 February Sydney/Newcastle; 27 February Canberra
Web: 41X website; National Seminar Series website
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