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Sustainable Sydney

Friday, 01st June 2012

An apartment owner or strata manager could be forgiven for thinking their options for being environmentally friendly are limited to energy savings, water efficiency and a good recycling program.

However, much more can be done. An innovative program called Smart Green Apartments, run by the City of Sydney, is not only helping owners, managers and residents understand their environmental footprint, but is helping them develop creative and interesting ways to manage it.

"We are working with buildings to look at unique solutions that would suit particular buildings depending on the physical nature of the building and the individual residents," says Melissa Cook, Sustainability Engagement Coordinator for the City of Sydney.

"For example, Signature Apartments (a building in Redfern which is part of the Smart Green Apartments pilot program) have set up bookshelves near the bins and recycling where residents can share books and magazines. Others are looking in putting in clothing bins, so people can recycle their clothing on site"

"Signature Apartments have also created a rooftop garden. They are growing food communally and also doing communal composting. So in addition to obviously looking at the energy, water, improving the recycling, they are also looking at what they can do as residents living in a high density environment and what they can do in regards to growing food and sharing resources," she says.

The program, launched in September last year is part of the City of Sydney's wider sustainability program, Sydney 2030, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%, decrease the use of drinking water by 25% and increase the amount of resource recovery from waste by 66%.

Smart Green Apartments is currently in a pilot stage with five apartments - Parkridge Apartments, Darlinghurst, Hyde Park Towers in the Sydney CBD, Glebe Gardens in Glebe, Aria Apartments in Waterloo and Signature Apartments. The aim is to expand the program to up to 30 buildings. Case studies will then be shared with up to 700 apartment buildings across the City of Sydney.

"Overall our program objective at the moment is to better understand the environmental footprints of the apartment buildings and also to support owners' corporations and building managers and strata managers in creating higher performing green buildings," Cook says.

"One thing we say to everyone who owns an apartment is that we have got to get beyond the stage of where your strata manager pays the common area electricity bills on your behalf. We have got to get to the point where people are requesting to see them... we are really encouraging owners to get involved and understand what they are paying and what their building is consuming, because in high rise apartments, over 50% of energy usage is in common areas."

"Whether buying an apartment or even renting, people are interested to know what the efficiency of the building is because they are concerned about rising prices, concerned about moving into something that they are going to have to then fund as part of their strata levies, such as infrastructure upgrades because nothing has been done to manage energy and water efficiency."

"People want to live in green buildings and they want to be connected with the other residents within them."

Part of the reason behind the strong demand is that sustainability and green friendly initiatives have lagged in the strata residential space compared to residential housing and the corporate world.

Cook says communication within the pilot has been good, with building managers and executive committees being actively involved.

"In three of our five buildings, the program has really been driven by champion executive committee members who are getting really involved and helping to communicate through the building and in the other two buildings, change is really being driven by the building managers," she says.

"Obviously, the building managers are involved in all five, it is just in two of them, the committee has had such faith and trust in a really committed building manager that they have really left it up to them to drive the program."

The program also has a reference group that meets quarterly. Bodies within the group include, Strata Community Australia, the Department of Fair Trading, Owners Corporation Network, the Office of Environment and Heritage, Green Building Council of Australia and Sydney Water.

"We want them to be learning from the pilot and inputting into the program," Cook says.

Education also plays a key role, with the program including initiatives such as multilingual signage and the roll out of new commercial recycling bins. It also held a Smart Green Apartments forum at Sydney Powerhouse Museum in November which was open to the general public.

For more information on the program, or to register interest, go to the website: www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/Environment/GreenVillages/GreenApartments.asp

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