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Accountability through transparency

Romilly Madew, Chief Executive
Green Building Council of Australia

“Build green but don’t bother with Green Star.”

This attitude is not new. There will always be those who devalue the importance of verification and validation. But choosing Green Star is not like opting for a ‘designer label’. It is independent proof that a building’s owner – whether that’s an institutional investor or the taxpayer – got what they paid for.

As sustainability becomes inextricably linked to organisational success, many companies carefully add a green sheen to their marketing and branding efforts to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable business practices.

But how can we tell which companies are genuinely green and which ones might have applied a generous coat of greenwash?

‘Greenwashing’ (a blend of ‘green’ and ‘whitewashing’) is the practice carried out by companies dishonestly claiming that their products, services or policies are environmentally friendly. The term is generally used when more money or time is spent in promoting being green, rather than devoting the money and time to actual environmentally sound practices with long-term benefits.

Green Star certification is one way to rinse off the greenwash. You wouldn’t employ an accountant who dismissed the need for credentials, arguing that “I’ve learnt the same skills, trust me.” How can you be sure?

Would you climb into the car, or let family members climb into the car, of someone who told you “I haven’t actually taken my driving test, but I’ve got the same sort of level of knowledge”? You’d want to be sure.

“We tell our clients that third party certification is the difference between having proof that your building is green and greenwashing,” says Jane Toner, Senior Associate at Sustainable Built Environments.

“We find many local councils around Australia, in particular, are mandating that new developments must be equivalent to 4 Star Green Star benchmarks – but what does that actually mean? Without Green Star certification it means nothing,” Jane says.

Some Green Star credits lend themselves to being ‘Green Star-equivalent’ – for example there are water meters fitted or there are not. However, a large number of credits cannot be claimed as ‘certifiable’ without actually undertaking the documentation. Is the level of daylight high enough? How much better is the stormwater management than business-as-usual? Is all the paint really low-VOC?

There are numerous stories of project teams that are asked to pursue Green Star ‘benchmarks’ as a condition of a tender only to discover that the green features aren’t up to scratch or have been scaled back or even removed during the construction process.

“We tell our clients that if they want the certainty that their requirements are being met, they can’t do that without certification,” Jane says.

Green Star doesn’t just provide certainty to building owners – it also provides certainty to industry. Green Star is one set of transparent rules relevant to Australia’s unique climate, market and economy. We’ve worked with many parts of the industry to set the right benchmarks that have in turn informed development of new thinking, products, materials and capabilities.

Green Star has now been around for a decade, and has certified more than seven million square metres of green building space. Green Star certification is increasingly seen as not only a measure of a building’s sustainability, but as a measure of quality assurance.

“Green Star ratings have become a trusted industry hallmark of quality design, effective delivery and efficient operation. The market now talks in ‘stars’,” says Lend Lease’s Cate Harris.

“Those investing in or occupying properties need benchmarks they can rely on,” says ISPT Super Property’s Chief Executive Officer, Daryl Browning. “We think Green Star certification is one of the quality assurance measures everyone can rely on with confidence.”

Trendwatching might call a Green Star rating independent proof that a building is ‘eco-superior’: not just eco-friendly, but superior to its competitors in every possible way. It’s about superior functionality, superior design and superior savings.

The business case for green building in Australia is now rock-solid – and the global business case continues to grow. In our current challenging economic climate, which many pundits are claiming is the ‘new normal’, people are expecting more, not less, accountability. And one of the best ways to demonstrate accountability is through transparency. Increased transparency – being demanded by governments, consumers, employees and shareholders – will drive more companies to seek Green Star ratings as they seek to demonstrate their commitment to green, not greenwash.