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Sustainable Buildings as a Journey

Whilst the goal of Sustainable Buildings is sometimes difficult to define, there are numerous things that are more sustainable – that move us closer to this goal.

It may be easier to consider the way more Sustainable Buildings will become reality. We can only achieve Sustainable Buildings incrementally, with small “course correction” moves that can steer us closer.

Driving a car, you are constantly moving the steering wheel to stay on the road. We know that fixing the steering wheel is not safe, even on a straight road. With continuous course-correction we can reach our destination safely.

In the sustainable buildings space, there are many examples of doing “it” better. The annual ‘Sustainable House Day’ provides many examples in a more accessible fashion.

There are several obstacles to achieving “truly” sustainable buildings. What causes buildings to be less sustainable? Is it always cost? Do we give cost more importance than is eventually warranted? That is, over the whole time that a building is used, how does the total lifetime benefits of something compare with the incremental extra cost?

For elements of sustainable buildings this benefit-cost exercise can be calculated. How can we know if something is “worth it”? What do we include and exclude in the calculations? What assumptions and data do we use?

Is a solar PV system more sustainable?

For example, a potential component of sustainable buildings is solar PV. The first question to ask is: Does adding solar PV bring the building closer or further away from being sustainable?

Now we could try to define “sustainability”, but inherently the word implies the ability to “stay”, to keep doing something nearly forever, with neutral impact. Moreover, the question we can ask: is this topic clearly seen as part of a desirable future? With less of the “bad” things, and more of the “good” things (like clean air, clean and adequate water, adequate and durable building materials, etc.)? Is there a straightforward, ongoing process of upkeep and maintenance? At the end of it’s useful life, can the item be upgraded or recycled?

So back to solar PV, in many respects the ability to generate electricity from sunlight is “magical”. However the reality is: the process involves several complex parts to work together. If one of these parts stops working, then the PV system stops working. The only way for solar PV to be sustainable is by ongoing maintenance. So long as the spare or replacement parts and expertise remain available, the solar PV system should be able to last as long as the building.

What is the lifetime cost of solar PV? What is the lifetime benefit? kWh electricity generated, avoided grid power cost saving, reduced impact from generating mains electricity, and even shading of the roof by the solar panels. The answers depend on the situation. Is it a “no-brainer”, or is there more to consider?

Buildings are more sustainable now

Sustainable buildings may not include all the parts of current building design. But the good thing is that today we are building more sustainable buildings than in the past. This is partly due to Sustainable Buildings being part of the National Construction Code, and improved construction materials and practices.

We are already on the journey of Sustainable Buildings!

Anderson Energy Efficiency’s Vision Statement is:

Advancing Sustainable Buildings across Australia

In summary, this is the journey that we are on. If you think this goal is necessary and desirable, come and join us to help make this happen. The only way to achieve sustainable buildings is to stay on the journey, incrementally – by choosing better ways; one project at a time, and one decision at a time.

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