Sustainability in Strata: Cutting through the Complexity

Sustainability in strata is such a critical area of advocacy and reform in Australia right now as governments and citizens globally and locally increasingly recognise its importance and technological advancements put more and more options within reach each year.

There have been some options provided to lot owners and strata managers about how to introduce sustainability measures, but there is not much information about why they may not have been introduced within a scheme already.

The complexity of strata, legislation and regulation, existing knowledge gaps and access to innovative solutions are some of the areas that create barriers to sustainability in strata and this article will try to shed light on these areas as well as detail SCA’s work to address them.

Complexity

There is no avoiding it, introducing sustainability initiatives and measures to strata schemes is just more complex than for other dwelling types. It is no wonder 18% of houses in NSW have some sort of solar power, but the equivalent figure in strata is only 0.5% despite similar desire for solar in both groups.

It is obvious that it is easier for one person, or one household to make a decision than it is for a group of six or 20 or 100 people. Anyone who has ever tried to organise a group outing to a restaurant can attest to this.

To use the restaurant dining experience as a metaphor for strata decision making, not only is it difficult to decide where to go, but when you get there it gets even harder. What will we order? Will we split the bill, or pay as a group? What if someone ate more than me, or less? And of course, the inevitable, ‘well, I didn’t want to go there anyway.’

This will not be news to strata managers, who navigate group decision making daily. However, the restaurant example is worth bearing out in relation to sustainability decision making. Eating as a group is an activity most people have done many times before. There is a general understanding about the process and the goals.

Group decisions involving sustainability measures do not start with this luxury.

Often, the sustainability products are new, the process to implement them within a building is not straightforward, their equivalent products outside strata schemes are much less complex. Additionally, there are competing goal, such as saving money or reducing environmental impact. If the goals are not shared, the process not understood and the outcomes fuzzy, it is difficult to move forward as a group.

In the face of this complexity, four areas must be addressed to achieve good outcomes for sustainability in strata: education, regulation and intervention, innovation and advocacy.

Sustainability Education

The single greatest obstacle to strata buildings achieving greater sustainability is a knowledge gap. Closing the knowledge gap for lot owners and committee members closes the distance to implementing good sustainability initiatives. This can only happen when strata managers, strata lawyers, insurers, banks and finance entities, environmental organisations, governments and regulators work collaboratively and share information effectively.

Pointing out that common areas account for a large proportion of a scheme’s overall energy bill, and that inefficient utilities are a drain on administrative funds is good ammunition. Better again is having the ability to suggest specific changes such as individual water metering and LED lights with timers with costed savings over time based on those changes.

Regulation and Intervention

Targeted programs and smart changes to regulations can be the catalyst for change that lot owners and strata managers need to take positive sustainability actions. The surge in demand for rooftop solar that a decade of generous tariff feed in rates helped create stands out as an example and so do programs such as installing smart devices in people’s homes to monitor their electricity usage or incentivizing the introduction of water saving devices within homes.

Ratings programs such as those run by NABERS or the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) simplify many sustainability measures and gives reference points to everyone considering sustainability measures.

Some schemes can collaborate with cooperative councils to sign progressive waste management plans. Solar providers are developing techniques of power distribution that are fair and equitable through smarter distribution mechanisms where allowed by better regulations. Smart timing and smart metering are bringing savings to private and common areas on utilities bills. Any moves forward have been a combination of new technology and reimagining or realigning a process.

Innovation

When SCA talks to members around Australia and New Zealand, we hear of innovative measures to drive sustainability in strata complexes. Some strata managers have encouraged residents to form a Facebook or WhatsApp group to bounce ideas including sustainability around. Others have been able to successfully start a shared ‘good library’ of books, items and appliances to share between residents, cutting down on wastage. Others again have elected a sustainability champion to their strata committee. So many of these actions also have the handy benefit of increasing social cohesion at the same time.

Advocacy

SCA is currently undertaking and planning a significant amount of work in the sustainability space following its adoption as one of our priority areas.

The Strata leading Change Forum on sustainability earlier this year was a success, attended by a strong mix of strata, legal, energy, insurance and sustainability services and stakeholders and shed light on the challenges and charted a path forward for sustainability in strata.

We have held meetings with stakeholders who have offered their partnership in developing resources for strata managers and services to use as part of their work. We will be developing a submission for the GBCA consultation on energy rates this year and in the first half of 2021, SCA is invited to be one of the first consulted parties on their strata specific consultation.

SCA will be working with members to generate and distribute resources that will help them have the conversations that lead to greater sustainability, including case studies, fact sheets and webinars.

SCA is coordinating a group exercise with members and partners built around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their application to strata in Australia. The goal of the series of sessions is developing a set of actions that will help foster sustainability in strata in Australia.

Overcoming complexity to implement sustainability in strata is not an easy journey, but with the right tools, actors and supports, it is both realistic and achievable.

By Shaun Brockman, SCA National Policy Manager

Strata Community Association 

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