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Green buildings avoid the doom and gloom trend inside Aust

14 January, 2009

Despite Wall Street's accumulated losses in the bear market reaching over US$10 trillion recently, the green building sector bucked the gloom.

In spite of some saying that it was the property sector that triggered the global credit crisis there was record attendance, over 30,000, at this year's GreenBuild Conference in Boston, up 25% on the previous year.

GreenBuild is the annual flagship event of the US Green Building Council. Attendance is a key marker of the health of the industry. It has grown every year since its inception in the late 90s and is now one of the largest industry conferences in the world. Many expected this year's event to falter, along with the rest of the economy, but GreenBuild's growth didn't skip a beat.

The strong performance of the green building sector reflects the underlying strength of the business case for green buildings. The sector is benefiting from the general 'flight to quality' in troubled times and green buildings are 'future proofed'.

The green building business case rests on a sustainable business strategy which rejects the short-termism view that, until recently, has been the dogma of the world's economic community. A sustainable business strategy is a patient business strategy. And a more powerful one. It creates sustainable profits by delivering value to customers, reducing costs and creating community benefits in the process.

This is what green buildings offer: they deliver lower operating costs from reduced energy and alternative resource consumption. Hence, they represent better life cycle value. They nurture better worker productivity and quality of life through improved indoor environment quality. They are equipped to meet the continuing community and government concern to address global sustainability issues, especially greenhouse emissions.

The advantages of green buildings were evident at Green Build in the numerous case studies of successful green buildings presented. These buildings were made from high performance materials that improve energy efficiency. There were intelligent buildings that constantly optimise the building's settings for both efficiency and comfort. There were new designs for urban communities that enhance the quality of life of residents while minimizing resource consumption. And there were new techniques to retrofit existing buildings for significantly enhanced energy and comfort performance.

The Green Build Conference also heard about market developments around the world, which showed green buildings gaining traction in both developed nations and developing countries alike; from New Songdo City, an urban extension of Seoul on reclaimed land, to the new Pedra Branca Community in Brazil and the ambitious zero net emissions Masdar development in Abu Dhabi. All of these projects are another step along the path towards a built environment that works with, rather than against, the environment.

And it was not all hype. There was honesty in reporting what did not work - like the project in rural China that stands largely empty because the planners did not spend enough time understanding the needs of the local people.

Green developers also reported significant marketing benefits and major savings in approvals and compliance costs. Local communities and planning authorities welcomed the green developments and were faster and more flexible in delivering consent and approvals. The savings on development time and the avoidance of community protest and litigation delivered very real financial benefits.

Tenants and buyers are also not averse to paying a premium for green: not just because they want to 'do the right thing' by the environment but also because recognition of the economic and comfort advantages is increasing. In tough economic times, green buildings are thus recognised as offering genuine value. They are quality assets that belong in a sustainable investment portfolio.

The advantages of green buildings are expected to increase even further into the future. Government leaders and officials from around the world at Green Build affirmed their commitment to addressing climate change.

In the US, the Obama administration-elect is leading a new charge to tackle both climate change and eliminate business activities that plunder either unwary consumers or our shared environmental capital.

Policymakers in nations around the world are recognising that green buildings offer the best long term opportunity to address climate change while sustaining economic growth. The built environment - directly or indirectly - accounts for up to 40% of greenhouse emissions. But huge reductions are available in this sector, which pay for themselves rapidly in energy savings and productivity gains.

The 30,000 attendees at GreenBuild came away with a sense of optimism and purpose that contrasted with the doom and gloom of global financial markets. In any downturn, there are stand-outs for the smart investor. Facing any adversity often gives us the time to reflect, to work smarter, and to maximize our point of difference. Builders, developers, Governments and regulators all need to consider green building which is a sustainable and sensible investment in the future.

Tony Arnel is the Chairman of the World Green Building Council, Green Building Council of Australia and Victoria's Building Commissioner and Plumbing Industry Commissioner.

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