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Better buildings, please

Understanding the environmental performance of a building should be as easy as understanding the performance of your vehicle via its Warrant of Fitness
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Most of us spend about 90 percent of our time in the built environment—at home, at work, at school, at the gym—yet most of the buildings we live, work and play in, are not operating as efficiently and productively as they could, both for the people that use them and the environment that they impact upon.

Understanding the environmental performance of a building should be as easy as understanding the performance of your vehicle via its Warrant of Fitness. Why do we not ask how energy-efficient our buildings are, how much water they use, how warm they are or what the air quality is like? Do we have much faith that our building code can deliver a home that performs well in all of these areas?

Building codes are standards of minimum performance. There is no reward for exceeding minimum targets of performance, and no reason to make any buildings for any function perform better—unless the market is prepared to pay. While this is starting to happen (consumers and tenants are now demanding more high-performance buildings), there’s still a need to provide consumers with clear, easy to grasp benchmarks.

The New Zealand Green Building Council has started by developing a voluntary standard for office buildings, called Green Star (NZ), which is the industry’s new definition of green. The sector is working together to develop a common language in the form of  a robust, measurable, third-party building rating system that will enable all parties in the complex building value chain to meet these standards, thus decreasing greenwashing.

These new Green Star standards include such things as the measurement of the use of natural light, fresh air rates, humidity and temperature control, the use of chemical substances, the location and access of the building. Building green has a direct impact on the health and wellbeing of the people that use them, resulting in increased productivity, reduced operating costs, and the intangible feel-good factor.

Standards are also currently being developed for schools and industrial buildings with a Green Star rating for New Zealand homes, to be available in 2009.

This enables you, the end-user or investor, to ask for a green building and be confident that this will be delivered. Your building should work for you and offer a space that maximises productivity and minimises environmental impact. This is smart investment, delivering long-term paybacks.