The new Green Star Buildings rating tool will be transformational, when coupled with a compelling sustainability brief

Unveiled in October, the new Green Star Buildings tool from the Green Building Council is a game changer, ushering in a new era of buildings that contribute positively to people and planet.

Providing a common framework for sustainability performance, the tool delivers accountability, transparency and authenticity. It represents some of the best thinking in the industry on the metrics, benchmarks and evidence required to demonstrate achievement across each dimension of sustainability. Coupling the new Green Star tool with a compelling sustainability brief, will deliver truly transformational project outcomes.

Best in class sustainability briefs are thoughtful and ambitious. They articulate a clear and compelling set of sustainability objectives, design principles, priority areas for leadership and finally a Green Star rating but with particular points targeted. It should be designed to encourage and prioritise sustainability outcomes that create value for the project and community. It needs to inspire the design team, encourage an integrated approach and create outcomes that matter to the community. Sadly, this type of brief is the exception rather than the rule. 

Asking the following questions can help provide the basis for a compelling sustainability brief.

What is important?

Sustainability is a big tent, expanding rapidly in recent decades to include outcomes in health and wellbeing, resilience, nature-based solutions and regenerative development. There are 1001 ways to achieve a Green Star rating but they are not all equal in the eyes of a project developer or project team. 

Take the time to consider the value drivers for the stakeholder community, the developer, operator, tenants, surrounding residents and ecosystems. What creates value for these organisations? What sustainability commitments have they already made? What outcomes will create tangible benefit for this community? This will require conversations, ideally in a workshop format, to gather perspectives, build alignment and consolidate ideas about what is important into a simple vision comprised of principles, goals and targeted outcomes.

What will engage the project team?

Rather than walking the project team through the Green Star credit matrix, a conversation likely to elicit much eye rolling and phone scrolling by disengaged members of the project team, instead share the sustainability vision. Inspire the project team with the bigger picture and help them to understand the outcomes that matter to this project’s community. Ask them to build on this vision by creating a safe space for innovative thinking. Foster a connection to the place where the project will be located by hosting a site walk and a kickoff meeting in the local community. Project teams are filled with smart and engaged people. With the right support, recognition and encouragement, they will be instrumental in achieving amazing sustainability outcomes.

How do you promote systems not credit thinking?

Sustainability requires holistic thinking, and this should be reflected in the brief. This means considering whole system performance; energy system, water system, materials system etc., rather than the parts. This is where the magic happens for the design team when they break down the walls between disciplines and co-design high performance systems. This is type of thinking is essential if we want to achieve carbon neutral buildings.

In contrast, Green Star is a system of individual credits, important components of high-performance systems but fragments nonetheless. This is changing as Green Star evolves and credits are redesigned to encourage more integrated thinking. The new Green Star Buildings tool is a significant step up in this regard. 

Instead of asking the design team to focus on 39 credits, the sustainability brief should establish principles, goals and outcomes that encourage whole of system performance. Carbon neutral, water balanced and zero waste are all examples, albeit challenging, that are best approached using systems thinking. 

It’s a matter of timing

The obvious question is why can't the sustainability consultant develop the sustainability vision once they are engaged? Well, they certainly can and sometimes do, but only when the client is willing to support the conversations and engagement necessary to unlock potential and foster innovation, early in a project. Such is the time and cost pressure on most projects that there is limited ability to develop a sustainability brief and have it in place early enough to influence the project team. A better approach is to develop the sustainability brief prior to tendering the project, ideally engaging a sustainability consultant to facilitate the process.

At a time when sustainability is becoming tightly coupled with the economic and social value of our buildings, we need to elevate the role of the sustainability brief. A compelling brief will provide the project team with its north star and invite them on an inspiring journey of co-design and collaboration. When you get this part right Green Star will be the outcome, as opposed to the journey.

Want to keep in touch? Sign up