Sydney moves to target apartment sustainability

Increased BASIX targets and mandatory disclosure of energy performance for apartment buildings are some of the ambitious strategies the City of Sydney hopes to implement as part of its plan to cut apartment-sector emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

The draft plan, which would also see water use cut by seven per cent by 2030 and 70 per cent of waste diverted from landfill within six years, was tabled at a council meeting on Monday. However, the most effective reduction strategies – increased BASIX targets for new buildings (beyond that proposed in a recent review) and the introduction of a mandatory performance benchmark rating system similar to NABERS to cover new and existing buildings – would require state government support.

The City of Sydney has more apartment blocks than any other area in Australia, with apartments housing three-quarters of residents and growing, so tackling this sector comprising over 1900 buildings would be a huge help in reaching the council’s goal of a 70 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“Apartments are responsible for around 10 per cent of the City’s greenhouse emissions and use more than a third of the City’s water,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.

“With an increasing number of residents now living in apartments, it’s vital we strive to make apartment blocks as environmentally efficient as possible.

“This plan sets out a range of actions for new and existing apartment blocks that could help significantly reduce emissions, save water and keep waste out of landfill.”

The report said that 20,000 dwellings were set to be built in the area over the next eight years, 90 per cent of which would be in high-rises.

This dwelling type was more carbon intensive than detached, low-rise and mid-rise housing because of “the large energy consumption by centralised equipment systems on the common property of high-rise developments, which increases with building height”.

The plan to increase apartment sustainability builds on the Smart Green Apartments pilot, in which environmental assessments and support were offered to apartment owners to help improve environmental performance.

On increased BASIX targets, the council said it would move to “establish the business case for higher BASIX targets, engage developers on overcoming the barriers, and advocate for NSW Planning to increase targets”. Aside from BASIX increases, maximising sustainability through voluntary planning agreements was another way the council could work to increase energy, water and waste efficiency in new buildings.

Having mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency would be the most effective change, comprising 51 per cent of emissions reduction potential for all buildings – new and existing.

“A credible rating scheme would help owners and building managers benchmark building efficiency, encourage performance improvements and unlock the retrofit market for apartment buildings in a way similar to the commercial sector,” the plan says.

Actions in the plan include to:

Raise the bar

  • Investigate issues with building certification in regard to environmental performance
  • Investigate the actual performance of BASIX certified buildings
  • Advocate for increased BASIX compliance and targets

Foster innovation

  • Develop the business case for sustainability in new apartment developments and associated recommendations for planning instruments
  • Determine the technical and other requirements for achieving zero carbon high-density apartment buildings
  • Promote voluntary sustainability in design competitions
  • Promote voluntary sustainability in Voluntary Planning Agreements
  • Promote the business case for sustainability in new residential developments.

Build capacity

  • Initiate a leadership network for owners and their managers to collaborate, share
  • learning and develop case studies
  • Secure the long-term future for Smart Blocks and expand its scope and service
  • Deliver workshops on targeted energy-efficiency technologies and Solar PV
  • Subsidise energy audits, environmental performance ratings (once available) and water sub-meters for monitoring and management
  • Form a sustainability expert panel to support owners corporations implement cost-effective technologies.

Activate upgrades

  • Increase the resource recovery of Household Problem Waste trialling collection services for apartment buildings
  • Provide incentives for water-efficiency upgrades inside apartments
  • Deliver a High-Rise Leaders Retrofit Program

Empower communities

  • Develop resident engagement campaigns on energy and water efficiency and waste reduction
  • Develop a recognition scheme to promote the value of environmental performance in apartments and apartment buildings
  • Advocate for a credible independent performance benchmark to inform the market and drive upgrades through mandatory disclosure at point of sale or lease

A separate document tabled at the council meeting said the City would in response to councillors’ request to do more:

  • trial higher BASIX targets within the City LGA with agreement from the Department of Planning and Environment
  • investigate the release of BASIX certificates at the point of sale of apartments from developer to owner, with further investigation needed to establish the method and authority required to release this information
  • pilot Electronic Building Passports to address the erosion of environmental performance measures through the approval, construction and certification processes

The draft plan will be on public exhibition and open to comment from May 11 to June 11 on

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