Challenging the environmental high moral ground of highrise living

If nothing else, the reignited political debate in Australia about a carbon tax will see talk of sustainability and green issues remain at the fore of public debate for some time.

In strata I suspect there has always been a bit of smugness on the question of sustainability – ‘we live in high-rise and have a smaller footprint than you environmental terrorists living in the outlying suburbs and driving your fuel guzzling cars to and from the city’. Well the environmental high moral ground of high-rise dwellers is being challenged.

The Fifth Estate writer, Lynne Blundell has covered recent comments by Tony Arnel, the Australian who heads the World Green Building Council. Arnel says that there is no evidence that high-rise buildings are more sustainable than conventional homes. Blundell says this is consistent with her earlier report of comments by NSW Energy Australia that a high rise apartment uses up to 30% more energy than a detached house.

This new reality might shake executive committees into environmental action. At the moment there is little executive committee talk of environmental issues but for the occasional enquiry about communal composting and replacing some public area lights with lower voltage bulbs. The more courageous initiatives; grey water treatment plants; solar panelling and complete renewable energy upgrades are not getting any air time at all.

This lack of debate and action in our strata communities will have something to do with a general apathy in owners corporations on all issues not least the environment. It will also be due in part to concerns by building and strata management that it will lead to more work for no more pay. Undoubtedly, however, it will be mainly due to the short-term capital cost of green features, which is capital most strata don’t have and, if they do, don’t want to spend.

So until the economics of short-term outlay against medium and longer term savings on power and water become compelling we can expect nothing will change in our strata communities. If the carbon tax and rising energy prices do anything they might shift the pendulum in strata from environmental inaction to action, but ever so slowly.

For some inspiring examples of strata communities that are taking environmental action visit www.greenstrata.com.au

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