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Is sustainable development real or just a buzzword?

‘Sustainable development’ and ‘green home’ were once buzzwords and key selling points for property developers, but now they fly over our heads the more they are repeated as marketing rhetoric.

Because although we like the sentiment, no one really knows what they mean anymore.

Sustainability is still in vogue though and buyers are prepared to pay more for whatever it is. Though the consumer is younger, more aware and sceptical.

So is it a buzzword? Or is sustainability a real thing? Are developers attempting to create sustainable homes or just using it as a tagline?

Well, that depends on the definition.

According to Oxford, sustainable development is conducted without depletion of natural resources to design a house that makes a positive contribution to the environment; or at least has only a minimal negative impact.

This definition leaves room for ambiguity, as it can range from creating north-facing properties to contain heat to making the building 100% fossil fuel free.

In most cases developers have no choice but to incorporate sustainability into their plans, because:

1. It is now widely acknowledged that sustainability is an important driving force of market demand.

2. They have to. The National Construction Code and State-based building and town planning process defines ‘minimum’ sustainability features such as overall energy ratings, water sensitive urban design, appliance star ratings and so on.

Wind Turbines are a great alternative to fossil fuels

What is an example of sustainable development?

The Nightingale Village project in Brunswick appears as a poster boy for sustainable development. It claims it’s sustainable tagline for a number of reasons:

Firstly the large central courtyard that offers light and cross ventilation for the majority of apartments. It also will include two separate garden areas, one sky garden with dense vegetation to relax in and another with shared facilities such as communal dining.

It will also share other amenities, such as communal laundries and clotheslines, BBQ facilities and vegetable patches scattered throughout the designs.

Also, the designs will reference the industrial heritage of the street and will recycle bricks from the existing warehouse.

While Nightingale pushes the sustainability angle, is it really earning the tagline?

A level up is Brisbane’s West Village.

Which boasts sustainability creds such as a rainwater and greywater recycling system to ‘drought-proof’ the development, a zero food waste to landfill target through a food rescue program as well as 10 car-share vehicles, 6 electric vehicle charging stations a number of beehives to improve biodiversity.

What does this mean for people looking to buy a sustainable home?

We can’t always choose the most sustainable product on the market like Nightingale or West Village, but we can make a conscious decision by understanding what, if anything, is sustainable about a property or development.

So, here are our tips for identifying a sustainable house or development:

The basic principles 

    • Sustainable houses use the climate and site conditions to provide natural heating & cooling, ventilation, and lighting which reduces or even eliminates the need to turn on heating and cooling. Make sure the home has cross-flow ventilation, north-facing windows to living areas and uses energy rated double glazed windows. These basic principles are the most important, as they can’t be changed or are difficult to retrofit.

Often missed and can be fixed

    • Check the lighting, always go for LEDs as they use much less energy to provide the same amount of light as other forms of lighting.
    • Find out how energy efficient its appliances are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You can use to check out their energy efficiency. Also, investigate how the development collects rainwater and whether it uses solar or electric power to heat water. You can also learn about solar energy at solar quotes.
    • Make sure non-toxic building materials will be used, and that materials are sourced locally to reduce the environmental impact of transporting them.
    • Ask how the property manages food waste and garden waste and whether it has recycling facilities.

Other things to consider

    • Assess whether the development embraces the community and fits within its location. Question whether the house encourages community, is it conscious of the environment or does it stand out and seem separate from the places around it?
    • Know the developer, check their projects and reputation for how they apply sustainability practices to their buildings.

Buzzword or not, sustainable development will continue to become even more embedded in our vernacular as the world copes with climate change.

The more we know the more we can challenge property developers, councils and government so that in the future there are no blanket labels, that every new building reacts and considers its surroundings and has a positive impact on the community.

See more in our episode ‘Sustainability & Real Estate’ where we speak to three local experts and gain fresh insights into sustainability.

Words by Scott Williams for blueprint