Feature image for the article 'Out of the Red into the Green'

In these times of financial uncertainty with headlines about the world financial crisis, as an architect one of my biggest concerns is the potential loss of momentum in green design. In recent years, green design has been the focus of new developments. Green makeovers have been a very exciting change for the better, breathing new life into old buildings and setting new benchmarks for development. Architectural green makeovers change the look, feel and carbon footprint of buildings. There’s also improved liveability and, importantly, a reduction in energy consumption, which also reduces energy costs. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Many property owners are choosing to go ‘green’ because it makes commercial sense and boosts workplace productivity. In addition, it is environmentally responsible, a plus for businesses and building owners. But with the downturn in the economy, I am concerned that there is a chance that we could surrender some of the gains made from green design. I would hate to see innovation in this area stopped, or worse still if we take a backward step to use old practises because it is cheaper. Yes, green design is a little more expensive, but the difference in price has dropped significantly over recent times, so that the additional cost to go green is marginal.

It is a reality that architects and developers will have to take the financial crisis into account and not just focus on green design. There is likely to be shift in focus from purely green design to sustainable design - this means that, more than ever, projects will have to be financially sustainable and socially sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable. I acknowledge this shift because it is sensible and responsive to developers’ needs and will allow progress in green design and environmentally sustainable practises. We have made great inroads with green design and we need to ensure we do not lose ground. We need to think of the long-term – what is right for Australia and future sustainability. To take a backwards step now is to undo the tremendous changes we now have come to expect and appreciate through green design.

Key changes include:

  • Owners who have struggled to let space in older buildings have found that a modest investment in a green makeover can result in increases in tenancies and an immediate increase in the value of their property. Large CBD office buildings that use considerable electricity benefit through cost reductions, improving their financial bottom line.
  • Tenants recognise the benefits of a ‘green’ building with marked savings in energy costs.
  • When assessing buildings for one of these makeovers, architects look for all the natural advantages. Skilled architects can design refurbishments to improve natural airflows which reduce the reliance on air conditioning.
  • Greater use of natural light greatly reduces daytime lighting expenses. Positioned well, daytime light can help buildings to be cooler in summer and warmer in winter, again reducing energy consumption.

These are all changes for the better. In any debate over cost, it is important to look at the long term cost savings green designs deliver. In these tough economic times we should ensure that we don’t act in a way that will provide short-term benefits only.

The future requires foresight and encouragement for developers to go the extra mile. Skilled architects need to rely on their experience and put forward good sustainable designs and custom design solutions to specific problems. Good architects will ensure they have a thorough understanding of how to make projects financially sustainable. They will ensure that green designs do provide a return on investment. If this approach is taken, progress in green design will continue. Because slowing down or stopping green design cannot be an option.

David Cooke – Director, Hames Sharley.

David is accredited as a Green-Star Professional with the Green Building Council of Australia and is chair of the Property Council’s Sustainable Development Committee. Hames Sharley is a leader in architecture, interiors, landscape and urban design and is the fastest growing architect and design firm in South Australia.