Here’s to a low-emissions built environment on both sides of the Tasman

In this second of two articles, thinkstep-anz’s Barbara Nebel looks at how trans-Tasman cooperation, common tools and reporting, and learning from one another will help businesses on both sides of the ditch contribute to a low-carbon built environment. 

While our economies, starting points and challenges differ, Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand want the same things. 

We want to reach our common 2050 target for zero emissions, strengthen our economies and keep the impacts of transition to a minimum. 

What will help us get there? 

More trans-Tasman cooperation and joint activity in the building and construction sector is a good place to start. 

Why work together? 

Firstly, there are already strong links in place. Many large companies, including ANZ Bank, Auckland Airport and Fletcher Building, are listed on both the ASX and NZX. Many smaller public companies and many private companies (including thinkstep-anz) operate in both countries. 

Supply chains across the Tasman are strongly linked. Making the most of these links will help us all move forward faster.

Secondly, the provisions in the two countries’ emissions reduction plans (ERPs) impose “transaction costs”. 

So do standards and regulations outside the ERPs. For example, understanding and using different standards (e.g. green building ratings) and regulations (e.g. reporting) is expensive in time and money. 

The more we can reduce these costs for trans-Tasman companies with common (or similar) ERP rules, standards and reporting, the better. 

Thirdly, the relationship between the two countries is special. 

Australia refers to Aotearoa New Zealand as its “eastern state”. New Zealanders call Australia the “Western Island”. While we tease each other and compete on many fronts (particularly the sports field), we share a strong regional bond. 

We know how to work together on common issues. Climate change is the biggest issue we both face.

Where we’re doing well

Common ratings

There’s a lot that’s good. The two Green Building Councils work together to promote sustainable practices in vertical infrastructure. (The NZGBC operates Green Star under licence from its Australia counterpart.) The Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC) is a single, trans-Tasman organisation that recognises and rewards sustainable practice in horizontal infrastructure like roads and bridges. (Thank you, ISC, for appointing a New Zealand general manager to work with businesses based in Aotearoa New Zealand.) NABERS, and its New Zealand offshoot NABERSNZ, use the same tools to rate the energy efficiency of office buildings.

A common EPD System

Thanks to collaboration between the Australian Life Cycle Assessment Society (ALCAS) and Life Cycle Association of New Zealand (LCANZ), our two countries share a common EPD system. EPD Australasia registers EPDs for manufacturers and producers in both Australia and New Zealand. 

In the building and construction industry, a company that produces (say) Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) can register a single EPD, knowing that it meets the needs of rating systems in both Australia and New Zealand. This common registration system means, too, that a specifier can confidently compare EPDs for competing MDF manufacturers from both countries.

Common certification for Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) practitioners 

In another example of collaboration, ALCAS and LCANZ follow common standards to certify LCA practitioners. 

Where we can improve

Common reporting

We would like to see a set of trans-Tasman reporting principles that encourage companies in both countries to reach a common “high bar”. Task Force for Climate-related Disclosure (TCFD) is one area where guidelines currently diverge. 

In New Zealand, large organisations and listed companies must disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities by the 2023/24 reporting year using TCFD. In many organisations, some of these risks and opportunities will relate to the built environment. 

Australian businesses do not yet have to disclose these risks or opportunities. Many are making voluntary disclosures, which vary in quality and consistency. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Investor Group on Climate Change (IGCC) and United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment are calling for mandatory disclosures. We support this call. 

While New Zealand is ahead with TCFD, Australia is leading the way with its Modern Slavery Act 2018. This is another area where we would like to see common reporting. 

More collaboration

We also believe there may be more opportunities for organisations and businesses on both sides of the Tasman to work together. 

For example, NABERS and BRANZ (the Building Research Association of New Zealand) are both doing good work to create methodologies to measure data consistently. NABERS is certifying buildings. BRANZ is researching and certifying the products that buildings are made from. Both organisations may be able to do more together. 

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Similarly, both countries have a “climate leaders coalition”. This is a group of cross-sector chief executives who support the Paris Agreement and have set public targets to reduce carbon emissions. Taken together, the two coalitions have almost 150 member companies. There may be opportunities for more collaboration here too. 

Conclusion

We’d love to see both countries unite across governments, industry organisations and businesses to battle our common enemy: climate change. Let’s celebrate our shared embodied carbon goals and methodologies and make our cooperation truly trans-Tasman. Will you join us?


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