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Australia's challenge: liveable, competitive, productive AND sustainable

Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Officer
Green Building Council of Australia

Prosperity or sustainability? Liveability or prosperity? Development or sustainability? It shouldn’t be an either/or decision, but a question about how each can go hand-in-hand.

Australians are the richest people in the world by median income, and have some of the world’s most ‘liveable’ cities. But we also have some of the highest rates of greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption and car dependence, and a stark divide exists between the opportunities available to residents of the inner suburbs and those available to those on the city fringes and in regional or rural areas. 

Our challenge is to create communities that are liveable, competitive, productive AND environmentally sustainable. 

Our top position in the OECD’s most recent ‘Better Life’ index is positive proof that our sense of wellbeing, prosperity, liveability and sustainability are interconnected.

The OECD named Australia the world’s ‘happiest’ country for scoring highest on 24 indicators ranging from employment and education opportunities, health, safety, civic engagement and environment quality.

The results underscore why the natural environment makes a significant contribution to our wellbeing. We may have fresh air and clean water in abundance in Australia – and take it for granted - but as the OECD rankings show, many other countries do not.

However, a sustainable community is more than just one with low environmental impacts. During our two years working on the Green Star- Communities rating tool, we determined that sustainability also means securing the long term prosperity and affordability - both financial and social - of our communities.

Sustainable communities are prosperous communities - something acknowledged in the fact that ‘Economic Prosperity’ is one of five categories in the rating tool, and rewarded in credits which encourage affordability, business diversity, innovation and economic development. Green Star - Communities also supports local employment and education opportunities and encourages greater productivity by harnessing the emerging opportunities in the digital economy.

Similarly, sustainable communities are liveable communities. The ‘Liveability’ category rewards developments that deliver safe, accessible and culturally rich communities; it encourages the development of healthy and active lifestyles, and communities that have a high level of amenity, activity, and inclusiveness.

Our challenge is to plan for communities today that will be home to hundreds of thousands of people in decades to come. Take Ecco Ripley, located just five kilometres from the centre of Ipswich, and first project in Queensland to register to achieve a Green Star - Communities rating. The region is expected to house 10 per cent of southeast Queensland's population growth over the next 20 years. 

As more than 120,000 new residents flow into the area, they’ll need access to employment and education. And they’ll want services and cultural opportunities that enhance their health and happiness. 

The Ecco Ripley project team will now use the rating tool to guide the process of designing and delivering a sustainable, productive, liveable community. And a Green Star - Communities rating will give residents, businesses and investors independent proof that their home is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable not just now, but for decades to come.

These choices are not mutually exclusive – we are not deciding between development OR sustainability – but must be intertwined to achieve long-term success. Liveable, sustainable developments are the real objective.