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Graeme Finlay says innovative sustainable building practice starts here.

Building green…our chance to shine

New Zealand once lagged behind other countries when it came to building green, but we’ve played a great game of catchup in recent times. That’s the word from Warren and Mahoney Principal Graeme Finlay. And he reckons we’ve now even got the goods to lead the rest of the world in innovative sustainable building practice.

Graeme believes the establishment of the New Zealand chapter of The Green Building Council is  playing a huge part in getting the country up to speed in sustainable building.

Set up in 2005, The NZGBC aims to ‘accelerate the development and adoption of market-based green building practices.’ One of the main ways it does this is through its environmental rating system ‘Green Star’, which evaluates a building’s environmental attributes and performance.


“Prior to this, there was some innovative work going on,” Graeme says, “But it was sporadic. Now it’s certainly more consistent, and coordinated.”


We’ve certainly got our fair share of red tape here in building green, and then there’s the cost factor. But Graeme says this is becoming less of an issue as awareness grows about what building green actually means. It’s not just about building a structure that’s better for the environment.


“Green building principles are good common sense. You simply end up with a better quality building, that runs better – and this has all sorts of spinoffs. A building that has lots of natural light uses less electricity, and it’s a building that people want to spend time in, so it’s attractive to a tenant.


“Productivity is a huge thing. If a vast proportion of an organisation’s cost is wages, then there’s no greater return than a work environment that improves the ability of staff to perform.  A building that uses non-pollutant materials, has lots of natural light and good air quality does that. Things that are good for the environment are good for people as well.”

Then there are the less tangible benefits.


“Like brand value. By building sustainably, you are demonstrating you do have ethics, you do care about the planet, and you care about the environment you are providing for people to live and work in. You’re also showing you are forward thinking.


One of the key stumbling blocks to sustainable building here has been the New Zealand investment structure, Graeme says.


“You often have a developer who will not necessarily benefit from building a quality building.  The end user is the beneficiary. The market for building green only comes when they demand quality – it has to be led by them.”


“This is why the Green Building Council rating system has been so successful internationally.It enables end users to make their wants communicable.  They can say ‘we want a building that has a four-star or above rating’, and the developerhas benchmarks to build to meet those demands. The council has made a huge difference in turning this around, and that situation continues to improve.”


Graeme says education of the user is key.


“As architects, we need the whole design team to be attuned to building sustainably, and see that building as a tenant. Then it’s a case of educating the end-users. If they don’t understand the benefits, they don’t push forgreen building principles, and the whole chain falls over.”


He believes we’ve made some great strides since our slow start – with inspiring examples of green buildings nationwide, including a number in Christchurch such as the new Christchurch City Council Building, the South Christchurch Library and the NZI3 Innovation Centre at the University of Canterbury which could provide some local inspiration for the rebuild of the city.


“We certainly have the skill and the know-how to lead the world in this area. And being a smaller country, we’re not held back by leaden bureaucracy and too much protectionism.

“Green principles sit well with New Zealanders too. They fit well with our attitude, our brand, our love of the outdoors, and a beautiful natural environment that we protect and look after.


“We’ve also got an inventiveness here – that number 8 wire approach of finding simpler, more effective ways to do things. This sees us well equipped to lead the way when it comes to green building.”


It’s exciting territory, Graeme says, and now we have a great opportunity with Christchurch to create a city that’s a step beyond others.


“Cities are in competition with other cities. You find yourself in an international competition to attract people to live and invest in your city. If we could offer one of the greenest cities in the world, it would give Christchurch something very sellable – a place where people want to come and work and play. It’s a very exciting time, and a very exciting place to be, and sustainable building looks set to play a very big part in New Zealand’s future growth.”




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