New Zealand is a wonderful place to live. It ranks 5th on the OECD’s Better Life Index – which scores across 11 criteria including education, civic engagement and safety. But where housing is concerned the quality of pre-2000 New Zealand housing is a sore on New Zealand’s living standards.
According to a University of Otago study, New Zealand has one of the world’s highest rates of respiratory illness in the developed world, with a tenth of adults suffering with Asthma.
This is principally down to poor insulation, low interior temperatures well below the World Health Organisation’s recommended 18°C, fungal and mould spores which thrive in moist conditions and exposure to hazardous substances such as Asbestos.
Recognising this, the New Zealand government has put aside nearly $500 million of grants for house-owners and tenants to insulate and provide for effective heating for their homes.
This approach is encouraging, but some argue it is far too little, far too late, with the wider economic cost of poor housing estimated to be in the billions of dollars. Stretch this out to the wider commercial and industrial sectors – then poorly planned buildings have incalculable costs to New Zealand health, productivity and wealth.
A New Approach
This is the driving force behind the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), an international non-profit organisation striving to provide New Zealanders with a built environment that is ‘healthy, efficient and productive’.
They have developed a series of innovative, voluntary tools to support decision making throughout the site selection, design, construction and maintenance pipelines.
Whist we will focus mainly on Green Star construction in this article, see the box below to see the range of tools NZBGC has to offer.
NZGBC Rating Tools
Green Star Office Interiors – As well as applying to new building projects, Green Star can be used to rate office interior fit-outs.
Green Star Performance – This rating tool allows building owners to measure and continually improve upon their building’s operational impacts.
Green Star Communities – Entire communities and large scale developments can be assessed on governance, liveability, economic prosperity, environment and innovation.
Homestar v4 – Can be used on any residential building from stand alone homes to multi-unit dwellings.
NABERSNZ – measures and rates the energy performance of pre-existing office buildings
Since 2007, NZGBC have certified the equivalent of 8,000 rugby pitches in building space. This includes the 6* Star world beating Geyser Office Complex – which uses nearly two thirds less energy of a building the same size.
As of October 2017, industry Giants such as ANZ, Methven NZ, Oceania Healthcare and New Zealand Defence Force have joined the NZGBC, recognising the benefits of commissioning and occupying building space with Green Star accreditation.
5 top Benefits of Green Buildings in New Zealand
There are a huge number of reasons for adopting these rating tools.
Leadership of a Global Movement
There are 70 Green Building Councils across the planet. New Zealand can demonstrate leadership in the field of sustainable construction and make World-Beating buildings to rival New Zealand’s spectacular landscapes.
Meet Higher Expectations
The move towards greener building is gaining momentum. The number of homes registered under Homestar has increased 10 fold in just two years. This is driven by the demand for better housing. Buyers can be assured that the house they buy is healthier and more affordable in the long term due to the rigorous certification process.
In Auckland, despite the construction industry’s hard work, the availability of new office space in the Auckland CBD continues to remain low – at just 3.6%. According to the principle of supply and demand, this dearth of office space has pushed up rent in prime grade Auckland office buildings by almost 8.1%. The point here is that with increased costs – business is demanding more from it’s office space.
Utilising NZGBC tools allows the construction industry to adopt best practices to meet these high expectations.
“Home buyers want to know that the house they’re moving into is going to be healthy for their families, suit their lifestyle and be built to a high standard. It’s fantastic to see the number of these warm and efficient homes rise from 670 to 6,700 in just two years.”
Andrew Eagles, Chief Executive of NZGBC.
Efficiency is Desirable
By using the Home Star tool, long-term operating costs are significantly reduced. For example a 7* Homestar project was built for 6.4% more than a standard home. With the topic of affordable housing hot on the press in the recent elections – going green may appear to making houses more unaffordable. But long term reductions in bill payments makes mortgage payments more manageable.
The impact of green building will alter the way we value property. The Harvard Business Review says that investors are beginning to use entirely new valuation methodologies for commercial space, adding greater value for buildings which increase employee productivity and retention and reduce CO2 emissions, energy and water use.
Boost Brand Reputation
Employing sustainable building practises is positive, forward thinking and innovative. It’s particularly important in New Zealand to distance yourself from the pre-existing housing and building standards in order to win tenders and gain the trust of clients.
Furthermore, the inclusion of safe building materials, better ventilation, heating, daylight, external views, noise levels, respite space and furniture for learning shows you have invested in the welfare of the tenants. These desirable features enhance the marketability of not just the building but of the those involved in it’s construction.
Commercial tenants can also benefit from occupying green buildings. Take for example Kathmandu, who’s 5 Green Star support office in Christchurch demonstrates a public commitment to sustainability – a potent symbol for a brand image is rooted in exploring pristine environments.
Make Healthier Spaces
Most interestingly, improvements in Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) driven by the NZGBC tools could reduce symptoms of illness by an average of 41.5% according to a literature review of 17 studies.
Considering that employee sick days cost the New Zealand economy $1.26 Billion in lost productivity every year – this is a compelling reason for businesses to occupy green buildings.
Even designing buildings with better views can improve health. Desk bound workers suffer from greater eye related injuries due to the nature of focusing on close-by objects for extended periods. Looking out at the outside world stimulates movement in the eye and can slow eye degeneration.
Whilst Silicon Valley-like playful informal workspaces are not a viable option for most businesses, small low cost improvements in working environments can make huge savings in employee productivity. When 25% of employees, according an Ambius report, state that their workplace is ‘gloomy or depressing’ – we need a real step change in how we design work and learning space.
How are Green Stars Awarded?
NZGBC have adopted a holistic approach in assessing a building’s environmental impact.
The tool focuses on nine separate environmental impact categories. These include:
- Indoor Environment Quality
- Land Use & Ecology
For each category, credits are available. A credit is action that could improve a building’s environmental impact. For example, credit EMI-4 focusses on stormwater management to minimise pollutants from the building going into the wider environment after excessive rain.
For each credit, points are awarded depending how successfully the action is carried out. For EMI-4 points are awarded depending on how much flow is reduced after a rain event and which pollutants are treated.
A weighting factor is then applied to each category depending on the building type – educational, industrial and office.
Innovation points are then available for each category rewarding original and visionary aspects of a project such as novel technologies, designs, processes and strategies. 10 points are available for innovation.
The points total to a score out of 100.
All of this is assessed independently by at least two qualified accredited professionals. Green Star Projects are awarded a star rating from 1-6, but only 4-6 rated buildings are given formal certification. This means a minimum point score of 45 points is required.
The Green Star NZ -v3 tool can be used to assist in designing better buildings without paying fees to NZGBC- but formal accreditation and subsequent rights to market the building require undertaking the certification process.
How are Homestar Points awarded?
The Home Star v4 tool follows the same principle except that seven categories are used.
- Indoor Environment Quality