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Make green buildings more focused on the immediate, local public good. Introduce an Outdoor (Public) Environmental Quality category.



This proposal is founded on the development and exploration of the value proposition of green buildings for the public. It is intended to build broad public support for green buildings through  a mechanism for embedding that value proposition in green building rating tools.

The Green Building movement has focused its attention on three main things; resource efficiency, indoor environmental quality and ecological impact. These appeal to those concerned with global environmental challenges and the mostly-corporate, private sector for whom occupant productivity is so important. But to communities, the firm boundary of privately owned commercial buildings remains as impermeable as ever. 

Most importantly, the current performance requirements only focus inwards, on to the building itself. There is very little of green building ratings that focus outward: onto how the building supports urban systems.To really bring green buildings into the collective consciousness of society, they must address the public domain. They must address public goods; shared spaces, access, amenity and social infrastructure; markets, libraries, cafés and squares; community gardens, internet access, walkability, embedded power generation. 

In short, our green buildings can and should be investing in creating place capital within their urban context.

We're proposing a broad addition to green building rating tools that introduces recognition for contribution to the public domain as well as reduced impact on it.In essence, I'm proposing an 'Public Environmental Quality' category, to bring communities on board in the same way that 'Indoor Environmental Quality' brought corporates on board.

It is only by including the adjacent public domain and infrastructure (physical, social and ecological) WITHIN the definition of green buildings that communities can genuinely be brought on board, by giving them something of real value. 

Category of the action

Mitigation/Adaptation, Changing public attitudes about climate change

What actions do you propose?

1. Develop the value proposition for investment in high quality public space for green buildings.

To build genuine public support, the value proposition of green buildings to the public must be clearly established. It is now taken for granted that improved IEQ is a genuine value proposition to tenants and landlords; but the development of that industry knowledge took broad research and collaboration between designers, NGOs and the property industry. 

Similarly, the competitiveness of cities is intricately tied to liveability, high quality public space and the ability to attract global talent. The overall value proposition for development is therefore impacted by the quality of the space.

It goes without saying that high quality public space is in the interests of the public; and so the goal of this exercise is to explore how the shared value of investment in 'place' can be demonstrably in both the public and private interest.

Building on the qualitative elements of high quality public domain, the value proposition would then be further refined in Social Return On Investment (SROI) terms to compliment other work streams already underway with a Green Building Councils. 

Preliminary steps would include the benchmarking of existing rating tools and frameworks that might contain public domain-related credits.

For example, the American Society of Landscape Architects 'SITES' tool currently includes a number of public place credits and metrics that promote community employment and capacity building, provision of community events and event spaces, and improvement of public way-finding.

We would propose a range of measurable environmental criteria that impact the success of public places, including; scale & enclosure, urban comfort assessments (thermal comfort, wind patterns etc.), public safety, vegetation and tree canopy, protection from weather and heat events,site lines and landmarks.

Many of these attributes are at least influenced but more often defined by a building's edge conditions, curtilage and infrastructure works, and the degree to which the developer engages with the local community and planning authorities.

In addition to potential new credits related to physical outcomes, the new category might also adopt a number of process-related credits, such as;

- stakeholder engagement strategies (and level of engagement), 

- community communication and transparent communications, 

- addressing community concerns, 

- health and well-being,

- crime prevention, 

- community and user safety, 

- site and context analysis, 

- urban design (and peer review of), and

-  implementation.

A key potential of the Public Environmental Quality could extend to driving local community uplift through carbon reduction strategies initiated by buildings projects.

For example, having met minimum carbon emissions reduction targets through the building's design, further carbon mitigation could be achieved through local carbon mitigation projects such as public buildings energy retrofits, urban tree canopy investment, community solar installations and the like. 

All of the above concepts and approaches combine to expand the brand of 'green buildings' to one of 'community uplift' projects, whereby attracting such a development into a local community area is seen as desirable and as a strong contributor to the quality of public space and uplift for the local economy. 


2. Facilitate GBC support to draft a category for 'Public Good' in a similar vein to the Socio-Economic working group supported by the GBCSA.

The Australian GBC have indicated general support for the concept of testing how Public Environmental Quality could be incorporated into a rating tool: "The GBCA supports, in principle, research into the value propositions offered by buildings and precincts that invest in the public domain, and would be interested to see how work in this area might be incorporated into rating tools in the future so as to reward and encourage projects that develop greater social value".

The current Innovation Challenges pathway within Green Star has been touted as a potential route to begin to test the appetite for a public good category within Green Star.

Furthermore, Ecodistricts have indicated their willingness to be involved, offering data and case studies from their Target Cities program where such data fits the development path: "We have launched Target Cities, our pilot program for building the EcoDistricts Protocol of these projects are pursuing LEED ratings, One Planet Communities and Living Building/Community Challenge outcomes. I would offer up our 9 projects to help test your ideas, where the development objectives fit with your criteria."

Commitment of resources from either orgainsation would obviously be subject to a funding mechanism and board approval.  

Our vision is that a category which addresses real public value must build in elements that are both attributes (Green Star has the best process of assessing attributes) and also processes (Ecodistricts is, I think, the global leader in addressing design processes to inform public space governance).

The industry needs a bridge between the clear benefits to the development sector of Green Star, the nascent steps Ecodistricts is taking to form the backbone of city strategy for urban renewal and generating a genuine value proposition for communities.

We hope to fashion something fun and transformational with some creative engagement and leveraging the current strong relationships between these individuals and organizations.


3. Market the new approach to major GBCs - US, Canada, Aus, UK, RSA - to build support from the commercial-property sector.

Our primary recommendation for marketing and engagement of the public is very much aligned to the process which has so successfully been deployed in bring IEQ into focus for the commercial property sector. Establish the vlaue proposition, build a framework for rewarding it, support earl adopters and 'tell the story' as successful case studies are evident.

Already there is a growing understanding of the links between liveablity public goods and competitiveness. This process seeks to formalise it for the purposes of the green building movement.

Recent evidence is demonstrating that sustainable Communities rating tools (such as Green Star Communities, Australia and LEED ND, US) are gaining traction at the municipal and larger developer level and it is not our intention to counteract this.

Rather, the intention is to craft a category that is directly related to the creation of good public place and uplift for residents outside the project boundary. In particular the new category would be an addition to existing buildings rating tools, but by significantly expanding the zone of influence created by the category we envisage that the green building rating tools will become significantly more attractive to and supportable by local planning authorities.

In effect they would see such a tool as one that can increase public place amenity, raise asset value and create streetscapes and spaces that are more inclusive and embraced by the local community. To a degree we would see this new category as the lead-in point for many local authorities, local government and community groups, in effect a 'quality public space' catalyst that is supported by buildings of high sustainability merit.

The new category would also benefit from (and require through the category working group) input from a range of professions that dwell in public place making, including urban designers and planners, public artists, landscape architects, economic planners and transport engineers, public infrastructure engineers, community engagement and communications specialists, and place making specialists. In itself we believe this broader appeal to the design fraternity would serve as additional marketing and brand development for our existing rating tools.

Who will take these actions?

1. World GBC

We look to the World GBC to kick-start a process of establishing the terms of reference for the development of a Public Environmental Quality category.

2. Australian Green Building Industry

We anticipate this initiative being led from Australia, where institutional support from the GBCA and the established relationships with Ecodistricts could best be leveraged to deliver an outcome. Furthermore, with Australian cities regularly scoring highly on Liveability rankings, there is likely to be strong public sector understanding and support.

3. Multi-disciplinary Technical Working Group (TWG)  including land economists to assist with the economics of the public good, urban designers, green building specialists and industry stakeholders.

Following the establishment of Terms of Reference and a sponsorship model, we anticipate the techincal elements being able to be achieved in 3-6 months, depending on the scale. 

Where will these actions be taken?

We anticipate this being delivered from Sydney, Australia. It is where Digby and Richard are resident and the head office of the GCBA

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

There is scope for the proposed Public Environmental Quality category to emphasise and promote carbon mitigation at the community or precinct level.

For example, a new credit might allow local carbon offset via infrastructure projects that contribute to better public space, such as creating more urban tree canopy (shade), WSUD (water sensitive urban design) initiatives that reduce energy consumption through water management and treatment, public building energy efficiency upgrades and the like.

To date our existing green buildings rating tools do not readily accommodate significant off-site initiatives that are not in some way legally or financially connected with the applicant project, confining adopters of broader non-project initiatives to the few innovators.

What are other key benefits?

As described above, a Public Environmental Quality category would, in addition to driving better investment in the creation of good public space, contribute to local community uplift through improvements to the performance of public assets, enhanced street-scaping and tree canopy (improved 'kerb appeal' for local residents), reduced heat island effect, and improved community awareness and appreciation of green buildings.

It would support: 

1. Green buildings being better able to meet the demands of sustainable cities

2. Improved public credibility of the green building movement

3. Models decentralised urban infrastructure, with potentially far bigger impacts than green buildings.

4. High quality public space, supporting the globally mobile knowledge workers of the 21st C and supporting the competitiveness and liveability of cities.

What are the proposal’s costs?

Roughly $50-150k to sponsor the development of a global Public Environmental Quality category or framework. Final budget would depend on scope and scale.

Time line

The technical development would be achievable in 3-6 months; however with scoping, fundraising, PILOTing and refinement, this is likely an 18-24 month process.

Related proposals

None that we know of.


The Sustainable Sites Initiative, Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, by American Society of Landscape Architects, 2009

Infrastructure Sustainability Rating Tool, Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia