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Industry collaborates on new Green Star rules

Article written by: 
Chris Nunn, Sustainability Leader
Norman, Disney & Young

NDY is a Green Star 2014 Thought Leader.

It’s an important time in the evolution of Green Star.

Criticism of the current Green Star system has included that it is expensive, lacks clarity, and requires too much documentation. Questions have been raised about whether it creates the right incentives and continues to drive and reward real innovation. The assessment process has been seen as pedantic and bureaucratic.

None of this is news to the GBCA.  Industry has fed comments such as these in to the GBCA as part of the consultation process for the Green Star – Design & As Built rating tool, due out later this year. Draft credits are posted on the GBCA website.

Some of the key changes are:

  • A single tool for all building types (doing away with the separate rating tools for education, healthcare, retail, industrial and multi-unit residential buildings)
  • Mandatory As Built ratings and a much-reduced Design stage documentation process
  • Overhaul of existing credit wording and criteria
  • New credits covering materials, waste, cool roofs, operational performance and climate change adaptation
  • A continuous improvement process to correct problems avoid TCs and CIRs building up
  • Submission templates to clarify what documents are required
  • Online tools to improve submission, and hopefully the project management, of a Green Star certification
  • Streamlined certification process using audits and face-to-face meetings with assessors.

This is an important moment for industry to delve into the detail of the proposed credits and make sensible suggestions to overcome the problems of the past and continue the evolution of the Green Star rating tools.

If you haven’t had much to do with the development of the new Green Star Design & As Built credits and the revised certification process to date, now is the time to get involved, with submissions on the draft credits closing on 31 July 2014.

NDY has actively engaged with the GBCA to improve the Green Star tools for the future.  NDY presented at the Green Star Review committee in 2013, raising a number of issues and concerns around the current Green Star tools, and has worked closely with the GBCA as a Green Star ‘thought leader’.  We’ve played a key role in re-writing the ‘Energy’ category which sits at the heart of Green Star, and we’ve spent almost a year meeting the GBCA to work on the new credits and certification process.

Some of the proposed changes and the expected benefits of the new Green Star - Design & As Built rating tool include:

A new approach to Energy credits

NDY teamed up with WSP and Aurecon to propose a simplified way for smaller projects to comply, and we developed new guidelines for energy modelling for larger projects. The result is a new approach to the energy credits that offers project teams more choice and flexibility in how they comply: smaller project teams can keep costs low using a new approach which is like the “Deemed to Satisfy” method of complying with Section J of the Building Code of Australia. Larger projects can use energy modelling to demonstrate predicted performance versus a reference case, using new clearer guidelines about how the modelling should be carried out. There are also options that build on existing processes like NABERS for Offices or NatHERS for Residential projects. 

Single tool for all building types

Design & As Built covers both office new build and major refurbishment projects as well as education, healthcare, industrial, retail and multi-unit residential projects. This promises to bring increased consistency across market sectors. For project managers, architects and engineers it will simplify the task of complying with Green Star when working on a range of building types.

Mandatory As Built rating

A single process will cover both the design and construction of a building. This brings Green Star in line with major global rating tools such as the USGBC’s LEED and BREEAM in the UK, which have required As Built ratings for the last five years. It will also improve the credibility of a Green Star rating for clients and tenants, who will have greater assurance that the sustainability aspirations expressed at the design stage have been carried through to the final constructed building. A streamlined design stage review process is being proposed which is expected to reduce design-stage documentation requirements significantly. Reducing the documentation burden currently associated with design ratings will bring time savings and cost reductions for project teams and clients.

Industry involvement

The GBCA employed experienced consultants to develop key credits. In addition to the unprecedented NDY-WSP-Aurecon partnership to deliver the Energy category, the new ‘Water’ category features a much-improved potable water calculator. There’s also a new option to model the project’s water balance relative to a reference case. In the ‘Transport’ category, there’s a new option to calculate transport emissions and earn points relative to an appropriate benchmark based on the project’s location. Rural projects will no longer be penalised relative to city centre projects with good public transport connectivity. These sensible reforms have been developed by consultants who have direct experience using Green Star.

Overhaul of credit wording & criteria

All Green Star credits have been revised with the aim of improving clarity, limiting documentation requirements, and in some cases, raising the bar. Compliance with some existing credits will get harder – consistent with the evolving state of best practice. Key changes and improvements relate to:

  • Materials: there is a new compliance option is based on Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of the proposed design versus a reference case. The new ‘Material Life Cycle Impacts’ compliance option involves a whole-building 60-year LCA process which considers multiple impacts including: climate change; ozone depletion; acidification of land and water; eutrophication; tropospheric ozone formation; mineral and fossil fuel depletion; toxicity to people; water intensity; ionising radiation and particulate pollution. There is also recognition for products bearing an Environmental Product Declaration.

  • Waste: The ‘Construction and Demolition Waste’ credit will now reward reductions in the total volume of waste sent to landfill during construction (as well as the percent recycled). This should drive best practice waste minimisation during design and construction as it has in the UK as part of BREEAM.
  • Cool roofs: A new ‘Heat Island Reduction Effect’ credit rewards the use of cool roofs as well as light-coloured landscaping materials - bringing Green Star in line with LEED.
  • Operational performance: A new focus on the ongoing operational performance includes a new mandatory credit requiring design teams to set performance targets for the building’s total energy and water consumption as well as energy budgets for key building systems. Another credit rewards teams that make an up-front commitment to the ongoing performance of the building. The ‘Advanced Monitoring Strategy’ credit encourages project teams to establish systems that identify when energy or water consumption exceed the predicted allowance
  • Adapting to climate change: Projects will be rewarded for considering the site specific impacts of climate change, developing an adaptation plan, and implementing solutions that improve the resilience of the building. 
  • Refrigerant impacts: a revised approach to minimising the impacts of refrigerant gases balances the global warming and ozone depleting potential of refrigerants which is in line with how BREEAM and LEED treat this issue.


Continuous improvement

Recognising the problems of the past, and the daunting complexity of the Credit Interpretations and Technical Clarifications process, the GBCA will incorporate a continuous improvement process. When project teams identify problems with the practical application of the credit criteria or document requirements, and the GBCA agrees that the wording of Green Star needs to change, then corrections will be incorporated into a revised version, released periodically.

Submission templates

The GBCA is focused on reducing the amount of documentation required to support Green Star certification, and more clearly explaining to project teams exactly what documentation must be produced. Borrowing a trick from LEED, the GBCA has developed submission templates that clarify what documentation is required to be submitted.  This should do away with the need to develop many of the ‘short reports’.

Online tools

The new Green Star Design & As Built rating tool will support online submission of documents. More significantly, the GBCA has signalled support for an online Green Star project management tool – like the successful BREEAM Tracker Plus or IES TaP which can be used for BREEAM or LEED. These systems are online hubs for project teams to communicate, understand the specific tasks allocated to each team member, upload documentation, receive feedback from the project GSAP, and track progress toward certification. This will be an important step for Green Star that should bring real efficiency improvements for the project team.

Certification process

An audit of a selection of credits, rather than a full review of every document for every credit, should help the GBCA reduce assessment turnaround time. Communication between project teams and the decision maker who assesses their Green Star submission will be improved through face-to-face meetings. The assessor will no longer be a mysterious unknown quantity. The project team will be able to meet with them directly to resolve misunderstandings and clarify expectations. These changes reflect a greater trust in the professionalism and rigour of the project team and their appointed sustainability consultant.

The extent of change is impressive. Problems have been recognised, and creative new solutions proposed. Credits that didn’t add much have been removed, and new credits have been introduced to keep pushing the industry forward. The new compliance options in the Energy, Water and Transport categories will improve the scalability of Green Star. The updates should make it more cost effective for smaller projects to get a rating, and hopefully extend the reach of Green Star to a greater number of building types.

The Green Star Design & As Built draft credits are on display, and are worth a look. They’re not perfect – and that’s why the GBCA needs input from industry – but there are some really good changes in there that deserve our support. I encourage you to engage with this process, as NDY has, to make Green Star a more efficient and relevant rating system.