Building designers and other building professionals can directly contribute to the effort to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Applying the principles of sustainable development and considering the context of each project ensures the construction of buildings with greater longevity and a reduced impact on the environment. This can be achieved with good documentation.
The definition of sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The term was first used in 1987 by the United Nations’ Brundtland Commission. Since then, its derivative “sustainability” has become ubiquitous.
For the past few decades, sustainability has been the subject of many more UN conventions, international agreements and national policies. As Australia ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2017, it has committed to keeping the global temperature rise to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Each individual is encouraged to make the changes they can to help lower carbon emissions, but some industries have a greater capacity to make a difference. Globally, buildings produce 40 per cent of harmful greenhouse gas emissions, use 40 per cent of the world’s energy and use 20 per cent of all drinking water. Building designers, therefore, are in a powerful position to effect change by designing sustainable buildings.
Sustainability can be hard to measure and hard to predict, especially for a building designer. The bulk of carbon emissions are generated from a building’s operation, not its construction and design. Operational carbon emissions, therefore, are a better measurement of sustainability.
If the owners and inhabitants of a building do not operate it in the designer’s intended way, or if certain elements do not function as intended, the total greenhouse gas emissions may exceed those previously expected. As Sydney’s average temperature is set to rise by 3-5° C by the 2050s, the demand for cooling energy will increase considerably. A global temperature rise has more than environmental implications; it creates and exacerbates social, economic and political issues. The temperature increase is not the same everywhere, which can mean that not everyone might have access to the appropriate cooling or heating to achieve indoor thermal comfort. For example, like in other coastal cities, eastern Sydney is about 9°C cooler than western Sydney.
Relying on renewable energy and passive systems improves buildings’ sustainability and longevity. Australia is among the top 10 countries with the highest solar power capacity, and has great potential as the continent with the highest average solar radiation per square metre. Sustainable precincts, like the Arden urban renewal precinct under development in Melbourne’s north, benefit from innovative passive and active technologies. Working in the design and development of the built environment, building designers have the opportunity to embody the principles of sustainable development and durable design in their projects.
For NATSPEC, specifying sustainability aligns with specifying quality and durability. This means using the appropriate product for the appropriate purpose and underpinning all design decisions with good documentation. The National Building Specification is an indispensable tool for building designers for setting out the durability requirements of products and projects.
Durability and quality both depend on a building’s use and context. A door may be a good quality product by itself, but considering its context is essential in order to establish just how durable it needs to be. If the door is in a school, banging open and closed dozens of times a day, it will not prove to be very durable if not constructed and installed in the appropriate manner, no matter how high its objective level of quality. Producing a high-quality door that is not durable contradicts sustainable development. Such a product would require more maintenance and potentially need replacement, costing more materials, money and time. Ensuring the durability of a building and each of its components, therefore, is very important for promoting sustainability. By using documentation to specify sustainability and durability, building designers are taking responsibility for providing appropriate, fit-for-purpose buildings.
NATSPEC documentation aligns with the NCC, Australian Standards and industry practices, thanks to its twice-yearly update service. The high-standard specifications are customisable for a variety of projects. From the first concept and design stages, specifications can improve sustainability by prescribing requirements for energy and water efficiency, selecting environmentally preferable products and identifying opportunities to reuse, repair and recycle materials.
NATSPEC specifications present information clearly and create a level playing field for all building professionals involved in a project. For building designers, this means they can clearly set out their sustainability vision and ensure that the end result meets their standards of quality and durability.
NATSPEC is a not-for-profit, government- and industry-owned organisation. It maintains the National Building Specification for Australia and has been a valued part of the construction industry for over 40 years.
For more information visit: www.natspec.com.au