Implementing sustainability in the built environment

An analysis of the role and effectiveness of the building and planning system in delivering sustainable cities
Urban planning Sustainable development Building codes Australia
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This report presents the outcomes of a pilot study exploring how the building and planning system is delivering a sustainable built environment in Australia. The study was funded by the Australian Communities Foundation through the Green Cities Innovation fund and undertaken by a team of researchers from RMIT University across the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and School of Property, Construction and Project Management. The research was conducted from April 2016 to April 2017 and is intended to inform the development of ongoing discussion, policy development, and a program of research which builds upon the research presented in this report. Part of the challenge in improving sustainability outcomes through building and land-use policy settings is the limited research into attempts at implementation and the tension in implementation between these two policy domains. The aim of this project was to begin to address this gap and examine why the planning and building system is failing to achieve sustainability goals and what can be done to improve current policy and regulatory frameworks, and their implementation. In doing so, the project analysed the role of building and planning policy and regulations in delivering sustainable buildings and cities.

1 – a review of existing policy and best practice across Australian states with a focus on Victoria;

2 – an analysis of Victorian Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal data and key ESD cases since 2003; and

3 –a focus group with key stakeholders involved in the development and implementation of sustainability assessment tools.

We identify four key issues emerging from the research highlighting both the challenges and opportunities in implementing ESD in the built environment in the Victorian context. These are: 1) the gap between the planning and building system; 2) weaknesses in the planning system; 3) governance, inconsistencies, and coordination; and 4) improving the system – networks and advocacy. 

Minimum building performance regulations have been introduced in recent decades and have been critical for lifting the performance (i.e. energy, water, thermal comfort) of housing in countries like Australia. However, their current minimum requirements fall significantly short of what is required for a transition to a sustainable, low carbon future. As there is limited ability to use the building code to require improved environmental performance of housing, and almost no policy discussion on improving the minimum requirements within the building code, sustainability advocates and planners have been attempting to address this sustainability shortfall through the land use planning system.

The analysis of VCAT cases highlights the most prevalent reason for removing Environmentally Sustainable Development Management Plan (ESDMP) conditions relates to arguments that building, not planning, is the appropriate policy domain to implement ESD.

The examination of VCAT cases over time reveals re-occurring use of the argument that the building code is the appropriate way to address ESD.


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