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22 November 2019

Moving Towards Sustainable Building Design in New Zealand

nz summer

As we get close to rounding off the year, it is always a good time to reflect on what has happened and what is to come in the new year. We get assailed with endless rounds of top 10 of this and top 50 of the other. So, without putting a ranking to this list here are some important milestones and springboards from the perspective of designing all buildings suitable for 2020 and beyond.

Kiwi architects declare climate and biodiversity emergency

An open letter has been published and signed by dozens of architectural practices in Aotearoa NZ stating:

The twin crises of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are the most serious issue of our time. Buildings and construction play a major part, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions whilst also having a significant impact on our natural habitats.

Together with our clients, we will need to commission and design buildings, cities and infrastructures as indivisible components of a larger, constantly regenerating and self-sustaining system.

Great work Duncan Sinclair, Black Pine Architects and Sian Taylor, Team Green Architects, for erecting this flag pole for Kiwi architects to hoist their respective colours and seek to design to the eleven key points outlined.

Visit the Architects Declare website and sign up if you’re haven’t already (88 practices had by mid-November), and discuss with your peers how the eleven points may change your recommendations, designs and decision making.

A zero carbon road map for Aotearoa’s buildings from NZGBC

The NZGBC published a clear, concise and practical call to action on why and how we can decarbonise the building sector in Aotearoa NZ. It’s clear that when the organisations paying for the report include Argosy, Bayleys, Precinct Properties, Resene and Warren & Mahoney, this is a serious piece of work and isn’t a flight of fantasy by a marginalised pressure group. Plus some senior management at the NZGBC have been seconded to MBIE so expect government policy to flow along a very similar course very soon.

To complement the seriousness of the climate situation there are some seriously sobering deadlines in the document. This includes deadlines that have an immediate impact on buildings currently under construction and design, for example:

To ensure zero carbon buildings in Aotearoa, the government must include the restricting of fossil fuel combustion in new buildings by 2026 and eliminating their use in new buildings by 2030 through the Building Code updates.

Take it as read this is the new norm. Ask your clients how much are they going to want to reinvest in expensive plant or redesigns to meet minimum requirements over the next 5 to 10 years? Solutions are readily understood and available now so design them in now.

School students’ climate strikes

It would be hard to live in Aotearoa NZ this year and to have avoided noting the incredible groundswell of student climate activism. This has been inspired by the actions of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, whose tireless activities have dramatically stimulated emotive responses from all ages and levels of society, both positive and negative.

When we see such a groundswell of mass engagement and vocal advocacy from an age group that is often (rightly or wrongly) accused of apathy and self-interest, we are prompted to question our own opinions and activities. As intelligent grown-ups in charge of important decisions, that will often have consequences felt more intensely by the generation asking if we are doing enough, we have to ask, “are we being bold enough?”

Are we taking kaitiakitanga seriously enough and delivering on that responsibility?

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon Act) 2019

To understand the intent of government for legally mandated climate change action, the unanimously voted, cross-party Zero Carbon Act is a good place to start:

The purpose of the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill … is to provide a framework by which New Zealand can develop and implement clear and stable climate change policies that contribute to the global effort under the Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

  • Leadership at home and abroad
  • A productive, sustainable, and climate-resilient economy
  • A just and inclusive society


  • Establish independent Climate Change Commission
  • Set new greenhouse gas emissions reduction target to:
    • Reduce gross emissions of biogenic methane are at least 24 to 47% below 2017 levels by 2050, with an interim requirement to reduce emissions to 10% below 2017 levels by 2030
    • Reduce net emissions of all other greenhouse gases to zero by 2050
  • Establish series of emissions budgets as stepping stones towards 2050
  • Establish range of climate change adaptation measures to ensure New Zealand understands the risks we face, and has a plan to address them

Chin up, solutions are available now

There is a massive range of solutions available that start and end with good design and implementation. These cannot possibly be adequately represented in this brief blog post so here’s an easy three to knock off:

  • Debate within your offices what the points in bold above really mean in your design and specification decisions on projects you are working on now and in future
  • Get in touch with NZGBC about their courses and certification support
  • Read some more on the detail for improving the sustainability, performance and health of our buildings through design and specification from past EBOSS Detailed blog posts:

Fantastic festive season and sunny new year everyone. Take a break ready to come back to make a difference.

If you are considering sustainable solutions for heating homes, buildings and hot water, contact Marcus to discuss requirements, and discover the most effective solution for your project.

View more information on Apricus NZ Eco Energy, including contact details.
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