A booming Asia creates opportunities to export Australia’s sustainability skills and knowledge. But first, we must show through independent assessment that we can build more sustainably in Australia. Key to this will be sustainability ratings tools.

Methods of measuring sustainability are vital. It is no longer enough to merely say that you are ‘building green’. It has to be demonstrated and certified. By having your project independently assessed, you can demonstrate its accountability, efficiency, quality and governance.

The Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star environmental rating system for buildings and communities and the Australian Green Infrastructure Council’s IS rating scheme for infrastructure enable us to assess and certify best practice. These ratings credentials will demonstrate that we can create better buildings, infrastructure, communities and cities in Australia and enable us to export our skills.

Sustainability ratings tools will be vital if we are to realise the opportunities from the current scale and pace of urbanisation in Asia. The Australian Government’s recently-released ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ white paper points to the fact that Asia will soon be home to the majority of the world’s middle class, all of whom need transportation, infrastructure, housing and utilities.

Rapid urbanisation in Asia will require substantial investment in quality infrastructure – as much as US$8tn by 2020 to support the current levels of economic growth – as well as buildings. By 2025, China is forecast to have more than 200 cities with populations of over one million. In contrast, Europe will have just 35. The urban populations of other countries in the region, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Pakistan and Vietnam, are set to double over the next 25 years.

The Australian Government’s white paper argues that high urbanisation rates in Asia will shift investment activity away from building heavy industry. It will go instead to the building of infrastructure – large-scale residential construction, roads and other transport networks, container port capacity, and urban amenities such as water and electricity distribution.

Australia is well-placed to gain a position of influence in a growing Asia. Our property and construction industry has an international reputation for sustainability skills. The Green Building Council of Australia is one of the world’s largest and most influential. It has a leadership role in the World Green Building Council, mentoring green building councils in a number of Asian nations, including Indonesia, Malaysia, China and Hong Kong. 

The forecasted growth for Australian industries over the next five years shows us where our nation’s biggest opportunities lie: construction is forecast to achieve a 4.0% average growth, compared with mining at 3.6% and manufacturing at 1.2%. 

While exporting ‘rocks and crops’ will certainly boost economic growth, exporting our skills and knowledge – particularly in burgeoning fields such as sustainability – can help create more prosperous and resilient communities in both Asia and Australia. A sustainable, productive, liveable built environment will also ensure Australians are best-placed to seize the opportunities presented in the 'Asian Century'.