A better, stonger, greener Christchurch

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As I write, Christchurch is still suffering from aftershocks following the 7.1-magnitude quake that jolted the city in the early hours of Sunday September 1. It tore down the city’s vulnerable homes and commercial buildings, many with historic value that can’t be replaced.

Already, it is fantastic to see the Christchurch City Council adopt a new policy whereby earthquakeprone buildings must aim for a goal of 67 percent of building code levels rather than the existing 33 percent, bringing older buildings up from about ten percent of the strength of a brand new building, to about 50 percent.

It’s also a chance for the city to consider the long term, and rebuild Christchurch sustainably through great design, sustainable materials, efficient appliances and renewable energy sources. Investing in community tools for green rebuilding will catalyse significant private sector investment and showcase New Zealand’s green building excellence.

Christchurch City Council is already leading the way with green building practices in New Zealand with the 6 Green Star certified Civic Building. Perhaps now their leadership can extend to the wider community

New Zealand’s seismic profile is unique, and what our industry will learn from this will be valuable into the future. But there is also an opportunity to build new intellectual property with business and community partners in green building practices, supporting energy efficiency and emissions reduction programmes.

Build it Back Green (BIBG, is a new global movement that offers the opportunity to break the greenhouse emissions cycle by rebuilding with a reduced carbon footprint following severe natural disasters.

Christchurch City Council is already leading the way with green building practices in New Zealand with the 6 Green Star certified Civic Building. Perhaps now their leadership can extend to the wider community.

The New Zealand Green Building Council along with BRANZ and Beacon Pathway is soon launching a residential rating tool called Homestar that will be highly relevant to the rebuilding of homes. The tool covers some basic principles about site, orientation to the sun and access to amenities. Simple options such as updating buildings with wall and ceiling insulation, effectiveness of lighting and heating and cooling systems can all increase energy efficiency. Such small-scale improvements can collectively make larger steps toward reducing the total energy usage of homes and buildings.

Similar rebuilding efforts are occurring around the world in the aftermath of natural disasters. I am sure there are also lessons to be learned from these.

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is being transformed by thousands of green homes and neighborhoods. See

Flowerdale in Victoria, Australia, is being rebuilt using sustainable reconstruction practices following the February 2009 bushfires that destroyed 2,000 homes and 3,500 structures. For more see

Greensburg, Kansas, is rebuilding green after being hit by a tornado. The entire town is rebuilding with sustainability and community development in mind, capturing the imagination of the American public.

The immediate response to the rebuilding of Christchurch has been heartening and NZGBC looks forward to following and supporting the progress.

Alex Cutler is CEO of the New Zealand Green Building Council

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