Most countries have some ambition when it comes to setting an exemplar approach for the development of sustainable buildings. Here John Gelder, formerly of NBS and now a lecturer in Construction for the School of Natural and Built Environments at the University of South Australia, assesses Australia's approach...

Sustainability in Australia is a mixed bag at the moment, with some recent controversial decisions made by the Federal Government. It recently abolished the carbon tax scheme introduced by the previous Government externallink. It has also approved the Carmichael Coal Mine externallink, which requires dredging and dumping for a new terminal close to the Great Barrier Reef and then (carefully) shipping the coal around it. These decisions have made the headlines internationally, but what else is going on?

Energy supply

Australia is blessed with energy choice: both non-renewables and renewables and domestic take-up of renewables is becoming more significant. The national use of renewables is around 11% – mostly in the form of hydropower externallink. But South Australia – with 37% of the country's wind farms – got up to 65% of its energy from wind power alone thanks to strong winds in June 2014! Victoria got up to 12% externallink. Future targets are also ambitious: the Australian Capital Territory is aiming for 90% renewables externallink, for example.

Australia earns export dollars by shipping non-renewables to overseas markets. Australia was the world's third biggest exporter of uranium in 2013, and the biggest exporter of coal. But these export figures raise the question: 'Against which country should the consumption and consequences of these materials be tallied?' The supplier, the purchaser, or both?

Building certification schemes

Australia straddles 12 Köppen-Geiger climate zones, from alpine to arid. A third of the country is north of the Tropic of Capricorn and parts of the country are vulnerable to various combinations of bushfires, termites, cyclones and earthquakes. This all makes life interesting for Australian designers, regulators and environmental certifiers.

This is one reason that Australia has its own environmental assessment scheme for buildings and other developments, called Green Star externallink, and promulgated by the Green Building Council of Australia (in the same way that LEED is promulgated by US-GBC).

However, assessment schemes from elsewhere are also in evidence. For example, the Pixel Building in Melbourne achieved what was (at the time) the world's highest LEED rating externallink (105 out of 110 points) back in 2012. Passivhaus externallink is also used.

In 2009, BREEM signed a memorandum of understanding externallink with LEED and Green Star with a view to improving the consistency of measurement of CO2 equivalents in all three schemes.


NATSPEC externallink in Sydney publishes the national master specification library, which is a good source of information on sustainability. Work sections include a global green section, 0168 Green star – as built submissions, and several overtly green technical sections such as 0184 Termite management, 0323 Straw bales and 0322 Mud brick walls. Sustainability is also dealt with in the text and guidance of many other technical sections.

NBS Create covers one of the green sections mentioned – Straw bale wall systems – and of course it publishes others, including some not in NATSPEC, such as Thatch roofing systems and Pond and wetland systems. NATSPEC publishes a range of technical guidance – NBS covers some of the same ground in some of its topic articles but doesn't publish comparable technical notes (though similar material can be found in books from the RIBA Bookshop externallink.

About this article

An unabridged version of this article was originally published in the NBS Sustainability Report externallink.
Download a free copy of the NBS-Sustainability Report 2014 download containing specialist insight and analysis. (.pdf, 2.7Mb)