Why Sydney’s green building is not doing its job

A new study has found that Sydney’s Green Building Initiative is not a panacea for tackling climate change, and instead exacerbates the problem by forcing developers to build buildings that do not address the city’s growing urban water and sewer systems. 

The study, conducted by a coalition of groups including the Australian Council of Civil Engineers (ACCE), is based on data from the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and New South Wales. 

“It is clear from the research that the Green Building initiative does not solve the water and sewage issues,” said ACCE senior researcher and Green Building Partner, Chris Jones. 

While the initiative has been lauded for its water and wastewater projects, it has also been criticised for the way it is designed and implemented, including by developers who are encouraged to build a new building without any consideration for the environmental impact, said Jones.

The report, commissioned by the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), also highlights the need for greater public participation in building design and construction, which it calls “one of the greatest challenges of building and design today”. 

“There are many aspects of the Green building initiative that are not well understood or addressed by the government,” said Jones, who is also a former senior architect for the NSW government.

“It appears that the Greens government is prioritising the need to increase public engagement in the design and implementation of their schemes over the environmental impacts of the schemes.”

The report found that there is little public awareness of the environmental effects of the Greens’ green building initiative.

“[W]hen it comes to the water systems, the Greens appear to be particularly neglecting the impact on sewer and wastewater systems,” said the report.

However, the report found the Green Buildings Initiative has a long way to go before it can truly be called a green building. 

It found that the scheme has a “low rate of success” in the “challenges of designing and building large scale green buildings” with the exception of Sydney.

“Despite this, the Green Bodies have identified a number of key initiatives that will be key to reducing the impacts of these projects, including: improving and extending existing facilities, building more efficient, environmentally friendly buildings, and improving the existing infrastructure,” the report said.

While the scheme does not address many of the citys biggest water and sewers, the study found that developers are encouraged by the Green Builders to build in areas that do.

In other words, the scheme encourages them to build structures that do little to address the water system, which is one of the reasons that the plan does not provide any funding to address Sydney’s water and sanitation problems.

The report also highlighted the fact that while the scheme is intended to provide green building infrastructure, developers are now increasingly being directed to build more conventional buildings. 

According to the report, a significant number of new high-rise buildings are being built in the ACT over the past three years, which were built without any consultation with the local community or the environment.

“The Green Building scheme was designed to be more of a ‘conventional’ building that did not have environmental impacts,” Jones said.

“But over the last three years we have seen a number more large scale, mixed-use buildings built without planning for their environmental impacts, and without having the same level of public engagement as we would expect from an initiative like this.”

The Greens have long promoted the need “to build green buildings and create a world-class environment” and are “not interested in any other solution”, Jones said, adding that he was concerned the scheme will not be effective in reducing the city of Sydney’s environmental footprint.

With a population of more than 30 million people, Sydney is already one of Australias most polluted cities.

But the Green Buys scheme is a “huge” project and has the potential to increase Sydney’s pollution levels by a third in the next 30 years, according to the study.

A number of other projects have also been proposed for the ACT, including a $5.5 million plan to build “more than 40,000 homes” in suburban areas, but those plans have been stopped in their tracks by the ACT Government.

If the Greens are serious about addressing Sydney’s growing water and waste issues, Jones said they need to address more pressing issues such as affordable housing and a new rail link. 

In the meantime, the Government must work to ensure the scheme continues to receive public funds, which could include the funding for the new rail line.

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