FADLife: Dr Larry Hu
By Bronwyn Watson
For over 30 years there has been discussion and debate about sustainability and ‘building green’, but despite this, there are still failures in the way commercial buildings and residential houses are designed and constructed. Many homes, for example, are poorly insulated, poorly shaded, and constructed with unsuitable building fabric. This means they cost a fortune to heat in winter and to cool in summer. The majority of houses built before 2005, for instance, have a poor energy performance rating of between 1.5 and 2 stars (https://www.nathers.gov.au/).
For this reason, the built environment remains a major contributor to climate change. The United Nations Environmental Programme observes that in both developed and developing countries, the built environment is responsible for over 40 percent of global energy use and about 30 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions worldwide. Furthermore, The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction reports that the global building sector CO2 emissions are up three percent since 2010.
The built environment, however, is considered a possible solution to the climate change crisis and may hold the key to cutting Australia’s carbon emissions (https://research.csiro.au/climate/themes/cities/). In 2018 the Australian government acknowledged the importance of transitioning the built environment to a more environmentally sustainable future (Development of Cities Report). And in order to promote sustainability, a number of sustainable buildings have been constructed in Australia such as Donaldson House in Sydney, and in Melbourne, the Nightingale Housing project, and Council House 2. The World Green Building Council, also notes that green buildings in Australia have been shown to produce 62 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than average buildings and 51 percent less potable water than if they had been built to meet minimum industry requirements.
It is evident there is a demand for healthier and more resilient buildings and people are starting to see sustainability as a long-term benefit instead of a drain on their bank account (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jul/23/this-builder-used-to-be-sceptical-about-green-homes-now-hes-a-convert). As part of this rethink about sustainable buildings, leading-edge research is currently underway at the University of Canberra to provide an innovative framework to measure whether buildings are green and sustainable or not, and thus measure their performance.
The first step in conducting the research, titled A critical review of performance measurement of sustainable buildings, is being undertaken under the auspices of UC’s Built Environment Research and Innovation Group (BERIG) in the Faculty of Arts and Design.
The project’s lead researcher, Dr Larry Xiancun Hu, is Assistant Professor in Building and Construction Management at the university. The project is related to his PhD research, titled Construction industry performance measurement with carbon reduction. Generally, Hu’s research has aimed to promote sustainability in construction such as using smart construction technologies, effective construction project management, and progressive development of built environments. His research provides pathways to promote cost reduction, value creation, and carbon reduction together in the construction industry. Other UC researchers involved on the project include Associate Professor Dr Hitomi Nakanishi and Professor Charles Lemckert.
Hu says that the research project is in its early stages but is expected to be finished next year. It will, he says, take a multi-disciplinary, “holistic approach” that will “measure the entire life cycle of the building from the design, through to when the building gets demolished”.
“The research will examine the costs of a traditional building compared to a sustainable building,” he says. “The construction costs for sustainable buildings are more expensive than traditional buildings at the beginning. But if we check for the entire life cycle, for all the years that we use the buildings, compared to traditional buildings, they could save money and be more cost effective.”
Hu says that some buildings are designed and claimed as sustainable buildings but sometimes this is not correct in other stages. “Currently we love green and sustainable things, but we need to check that they are truly sustainable. Measuring the performance of sustainable buildings would present the efficiency and effectiveness results of building design, construction, operation, refurbishment, and disposal, and accordingly could support the sustainable improvement of building production.”
The research project will critically review the literature of performance measurement and then develop an efficient and effective performance measurement system to promote sustainable development for residential and commercial buildings. Strengths and weaknesses of previous measurement frameworks and techniques will be investigated, analysed, and the shortfalls identified. Case studies, cost benefit analysis, and observation analysis will also be conducted to examine the aptness of the new performance measurement system.
The aim of sustainable buildings is to meet the needs of building residents with exceptionally low or even zero carbon emissions. The concept of sustainable buildings, Hu says, is that they are “designed, constructed, operated, refurbished, and disposed of in accordance with ecological principles to minimise the environmental impact of the built environment, promote occupant health and resource efficiency and produce economic benefits”. “In sustainable buildings, effective performance measurement can promote the improvement of building production performance and the reduction of energy consumption and carbon emissions.” In the next step, a framework system towards constructing sustainable buildings will be provided for academics and practitioners, including strategies, rules, policies, innovations, practical experiences, and other management factors.