Interview – Master Builders Association of NSW

29 May 2012

Your Future Home chats 1-on-1 with Grant Daly, Manager Indigenous Liaison, Sustainability & Training Services, Master Builders Association of NSW about sustainability.

Grant Daly, Master Builders Association of NSW

Grant Daly, Master Builders Association of NSW

How does the Master Builders Association of NSW define sustainability?

We take a very broad view of sustainability. In my presentations to residential builders I invite them to think about ways in which they sustain their business – human capital, tools etc. and work inwards from there. A Builder who uses Hilti power tools has learned to invest in quality and longevity. Sustainability then is micro-focussed at the outset then globally-focussed in terms of an international perspective or charter when the builders have moved to an enabling paradigm such that the message lands.  Commercial Builders have been mandated by Section J of the BCA since 2010. They are all over sustainability – we meet with sustainability managers bi-monthly to support them and develop a professional think-tank for sustainability issues.

What sustainable goals are in place?

I would like to refer you to our strategic plan for sustainability and the environment:
Vision: Master Builders is acknowledged by industry as the pre-eminent skill and knowledge provider in the fields of sustainability and environmentally-sensitive work practice.
Mission: To elevate environmentally sustainable work practice as an integral aspect of excellence in the built form.
Objectives:
1. Provide and broker education and training opportunities for industry practitioners at all levels to raise awareness of the importance of environmentally sustainable work practices across each division and sector.
2. Organise conferences, seminars, training and education options that focus on sustainability as a viable pretext to inform all building and construction activity.
3. Encourage excellence in building and construction innovation as a function of environmentally sound and sustainable work practice.
4. Develop heightened appreciation of the ‘building envelope’ as it relates to demolition, material acquisition, resource and utility usage, and the embedded carbon footprint within all building and construction projects.
5. Foster highly evolved processes of due diligence so that practitioners are able to offer high quality sustainable solutions to meet customer building and construction needs and comprehensively address ‘cost vs. price’ considerations for the built form.
6. Facilitate cohesion among industry trades, para-professionals and professionals via education.
7. Assist in the development of knowledge and skills for sustainable work practices whether a new industry entrant or experienced practitioner.

What, if anything, is holding the Master Builders Association of NSW back from achieving sustainable goals?

Basically an enabling paradigm shift and the fusion of interested consumers with Green Living accredited Builders. We are doing this with Australian Living Pty Limited and other like-minded organisations. Builders (the residential genus) are perhaps resistant to the concept of sustainability largely because they are fearful. We look at ways to confront that fear and turn it into opportunity with the Green Living program; the outcomes achieved are nothing short of amazing because we work with Builders’ processes – the information is then absorbed into open minds.

What does the Master Builders Association of NSW see as barriers to entry into sustainability for the industry and the community?

Only attitudes really; that is strategise-able. It is also the elephant in the room and the most obfuscating attitude is indifference. This has been a function of popularised ‘tabloid’ press coverage, political brink-person-ship on carbon tax issues, and the polarisation of climate change thinking so that people don’t know what to think anymore. Who are the experts? Well, you can’t really resolve that question over a few beers at the local. It requires independent and fearless enquiry by people to find out for themselves. “They say….” is a pretty shallow analysis; actually – who are ‘they’?

What initiatives are in place for Master Builders Association Green Living builders to go beyond current energy efficiency regulations and use sustainable building materials?

Well there is an Android and iPhone app called ‘Builders Tribe’ produced by one of the Green Living program graduates which details where to go to buy sustainable materials. We are shortly going to run seminars for consumers and Green Living program graduates to add to what they already know. It is a moving feast predicated around the CoAG Mandatory Disclosure requirements, building efficiencies and a thorough ‘due diligence’ process for both sides of the sustainability equation.

What percentage of Master Builders Association Green Living builders are building 7+ stars and using sustainable building materials?

I would say the percentage is quite high going into the program and twice as high going out! Not everyone is building new homes however – more than 45% of our builders are doing renovations as a staple diet. The enthusiasm for high-level EERs however post-Green Living program is palpable!

Is the Master Builders Association of NSW actively involved in educating the community on sustainable homes? If so how?  If not, are there any programs you are looking to implement in the future?

It is not specifically our brief as an industry peak-body but we are working with Australian Living and others to develop some programs presently as it happens. We have had some extraordinary information support from BlueScope Steel for example and I have been very impressed with LJ Hooker’s commitment to sustainability. I think our raison d’etre in this space is to provide linkages between the increasingly savvy public and builders who are sustainably-oriented with their building briefs. We want to have our Green Living Builders demonstrate the cost-efficiencies of sustainable building and renovations; if it is carried out successfully at this level the leadership is surely in the right place. Yes we have plans – all works in progress at this point in time!

What would the Master Builders Association of NSW like to see the government and industry do to ensure new homes are more energy efficient and are built with sustainable building materials?

The problem with increased regulation is that creates bottom-feeders. People seem to gravitate to the minimum standards – a function of the consumerist economy and drive for cheapest prices so that the quality equation gets relegated. We are already an incredibly regulated state. Maybe we need to look at incentivising sustainable building practices and materials – and show that we have learned something from the insulation debacle of two years ago by doing better incentive programs.  I think this achieves better results – I concede this does embody the need for regulation to make it work however!

Does the Master Builders Association of NSW believe that the mandatory 6 stars for energy efficiency are enough? If yes or no, Why?

Well you have to start somewhere I suppose but I am not an advocate for prescriptive benchmarking regulation – much more for publishing innovation, challenging and revitalising the way people think and I think solutions fall out of that. Lao Tzu once said give a person a fish and he will feed himself for a day; teach a person how to fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime. We (as in all of us) are not doing enough in the educating space I believe – negative attitudes are being garnered by the tabloid and popular press and energy-efficiency is termed alongside ‘tree-hugging’ as a fringe-dweller activity.  We will see a significant spike in utility and energy prices as soon as late 2012 and that may be the catalyst for change – consumers will want to look at ways of addressing costs where there are proven ways to save for sure. I am mindful of the old French caveat – the more things change the more they stay the same. Perhaps ‘transformation’ might be a better option than ‘change’ – I am not setting out to press an argument in semantics but we keep trying to pull innovation and cutting edge thinking into a frame of reference based on what we already know instead of supporting new ideas a little more to see what is possible. Einstein said that in order to get something we have not had before we must do things we have never done before; not bad advice really.

Do you have a measure/tools in place to determine the total environmental footprint (greenhouse gases produced – materials used during construction + waste) of all Master Builders Association of NSW members? Or help your members determine the environmental footprint per project?

No – this is rarefied space in our industry but it is not far away. To my way of thinking we have to change the attitudes before we can change the aptitudes. The commercial sector has been shown some leadership, ironically at the behest of section J of the BCA, so the trickle down will be how this manifests with the residential, service and civil sectors. In the Green Living program we serve this up as a good business point of entry – smart consumers make smart decisions.

Are there any mechanisms in place to test the toxicity levels (volatile organic compounds) in new homes built by Master Builders Association of NSW members? If yes, how are they used and received by consumers? If not do you think this is something that would be beneficial to consumers and your members?

While there are those within the industry who would pick up a brief like this and run with it – as I already said we are about creating ‘critical windows of consciousness’ – double-glazed and ceramic frames of course. When I was in the UK and Central Europe in late 2009 on a research Fellowship I recall being shown in rural Wales the local authority carbon-footprinting reporting requirements – the Welsh Builder said to me – “this would be just like you do in Australia” – without even flinching I said of course it is.  It was a moment of truth, a wake-up call; we are seriously lagging behind the UK and Central Europe in this area of endeavour – as an industry we must be less wasteful, more strategic and environmentally conscious. It was a boy-hood passion of mine to be involved in this area of work. I have a lot to do to fulfill that dream.

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