Why has the City of Sydney developed the draft Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan?

Apartment buildings currently contribute 10% of the city’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, consume more than one-third of our water and generate 14% of our waste. By 2030, 80% of the City’s residents will live in apartments and 90% of all new homes built will be in high rise apartment buildings.

The actions outlined within the draft Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan will reduce GHG emissions in apartment buildings by 40%, water consumption by 7% and divert 70% of waste from landfill within the next 6 years.

These actions will save residents and owners money, increase efficiency and environmental peformance and ensure apartments are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

How does the draft plan fit in with the City’s other green infrastructure plans?

The draft plan sits under the City’s suite of green infrastructure plans including renewable energy, advanced waste treatment and decentralised water.

The draft plan will form part of a series of strategies that address energy, water and waste across sectors including commercial and accommodation.

Together, the plans provide guidance for how the building sector can contribute to Sustainable Sydney 2030.

How was the draft plan developed?

The draft plan draws on an extensive range of studies including reviews of the BASIX program commissioned by the NSW Department of Planning and studies by Energy Australia on energy and peak demand. It uses reports from the City’s Smart Green Apartments pilot program and studies commissioned by the City from Pitt and Sherry on GHG abatement cost curves for the residential sector.

The City also consulted with building owners and managers from the Smart Green Apartments program, and stakeholders from key external agencies via the external reference group.

Who is the draft plan for?

The draft plan is for anyone interested in improving environmental sustainability in apartment buildings including building owners, strata managers, owners’ corporations, residents and developers.

What are the key challenges for increasing sustainability in apartment buildings?

No benchmarking - there is no credible benchmarking process providing independent assessments and reports on environmental performance. A benchmark would demonstrate to prospective buyers and tenants good environmental performers are less costly to live in. This would drive consumer demand and provide incentives for developers to invest in sustainability. It would also give owners corporations reason to invest in upgrades;

Low BASIX standards – all new residential apartment buildings in NSW must comply with the Building Sustainability Index (BASIX) standards for water and energy consumption, and thermal performance. BASIX standards are far less stringent for apartment builidings than for other kinds of dwellings – for instance houses must reduce their GHG emissions by 40%, whilst apartment buildings only need reduce their emissions by 20%;

No monitoring of BASIX compliance – no  investigation has been conducted into how buildings perform once they have been built and occupied. This makes it difficult to know whether BASIX standards are effective, or whether developers have complied;

Centralised equipment in common areas – lifts and heating, ventilation and cooling systems in common areas of high rise apartment buildings consume large amounts of energy. This means high rise apartment buildings emit more GHGs per person than low-rise or single houses;

No individual water meters for each apartment - most buildings have only one main water meter. This means residents can’t measure and manage water consumption within their own apartments;

Insufficient space for waste management – apartment dwellers recycle around half the amount of people living in houses and semi detached dwellings;

Slow decision making processes and insufficient independent information - Decision making by owners corporations can be slow and complex. Many are unaware of the benefits of sustainability initiatives or the grants and subsidies available to them.

How does the draft plan propose to increase sustainability in apartments?

The draft plan outlines five outcome areas for increasing sustainability. Each outcome is supported by actions the City can take in the short, medium and long term. They:

  • Foster innovation – developers voluntarily innovate beyond minimum environmental performance standards. Proposed actions include promoting voluntary sustainability in design competitions and voluntary planning agreements;

  • Raise the bar – strengthened BASIX compliance and increased BASIX targets. Proposed actions include incorporating waste management into new development control plans, investigating the actual performance of BASIX certified buildings and advocating for increased targets and compliance;

  • Building capacity – ensuring there is independent support and expertise around sustainability initiatives for apartment buildings. Owners approve and implement sustainability projects. Proposed actions include delivering workshops on energy efficiency technology and subsidising water sub-meters for individual monitoring and management;

  • Activate upgrades – owners actively upgrade environmental performance of their apartment buildings and residents engage in environmental performance initiatives. Proposed actions include seeking funding to deliver a High Rise Leaders Retrofit Program and providing incentives for water-efficiency upgrades inside apartments; and

  • Empower communities – owners and residents seek apartment buildings with better environmental performance. Proposed actions include developing a recognition scheme to promote environmental performance in apartment buildings and reviewing strata communication networks to how to increase their effectiveness. 

Will the City need to work with others to implement the draft plan?

Many of these measures will require collaboration with other tiers of government and external organisations. The plan provides clarity around the City’s role in implementing each measure.