Vision for Planet Earth

By - , Build 129

Our homes are warmer and cheaper. Our office spaces are energy efficient and better to work in. These are some of the visions for New Zealand’s built environment in a project that aims to deliver sustainable global living by 2050.

For the last year, I have represented BRANZ in the Vision 2050 project run by the Sustainable Business Council. This is an on-going project looking forward to 2050 and how 6 million New Zealanders can live well and within the limits of the planet.

It is clear that business as usual is not an option. The transnational world Sustainable Business Council in its 2050 report estimates that, if we continue the current trend, we will need 2.3 Earths to support us in 2050.

In New Zealand, we have the chance to reverse this trend, but change has to happen, and the sooner we start, the greater our future will be.

The way ahead

The Vision 2050 project covers 11 different interlinked interest areas – called pathways – giving a roadmap to direct how New Zealand can navigate through the challenges and opportunities that will be faced. Rather than providing all the answers, it encourages businesses to start a much-needed conversation about what they can and need to do over the coming years to ensure a bright future.

The pathways are:

  • buildings
  • human development
  • cultural diversity
  • mobility
  • agriculture
  • marine
  • forests
  • economy
  • energy and power
  • waste and materials
  • tourism.

A positive imagination, the value shifts required, the risks of business as usual and priority actions by 2020 for each pathway have been developed.

Vision for buildings in 2050

The positive imagination vision for New Zealand buildings is that ‘New Zealand homes and commercial buildings are healthy, sustainable and durable.’ This means:

  • homes meet international health standards for warmth and liveability
  • local rating systems are mandatory for all new and existing buildings and no home or commercial building is sold, rented or leased without a national rating check
  • the rates of asthma have dropped and are now better than the global average
  • family homes are healthier and more affordable – the New Zealand addiction to home ownership has abated as the quality and liveability of rented accommodation matches those available to own
  • building a new home is easy – modular design and smart technology provide low-cost housing that meets the health, liveability and durability expectations of the New Zealand family, and all homes make greater use of solar energy and have smart water use and recycling features
  • commercial buildings have been retrofitted for energy efficiency, water reticulation systems and have waste management plans (this is a prerequisite before tenanting)
  • all new commercial buildings meet international ratings for efficiency and productivity and are easily adaptable
  • all construction professionals are registered, subject to monitoring and responsible for maintaining on-going development and training – this approach results in more buildings being smart, healthy and incorporating life and liveability aspects throughout.

Value shifts required

To achieve this in New Zealand by 2050, we need:

  • to expect buildings to be healthy, efficient and adaptable for our changing lifestyles
  • to see the benefits of building performance reporting and value its transparency
  • home ownership to be achievable and valued
  • our building and construction industry to have a reputation for quality, integrity and sustainability.

Risks if we continue business as usual

‘Living well’ in New Zealand will have a lot to do with how we feel about the spaces in which we live, work and play. We face significant challenges in making this a positive reality.


New Zealand houses are cold – on average, they are below the World Health Organization recommended indoor temperature of 18°C.

This situation has significant, negative health implications including contributing to New Zealand having one of the highest rates of asthma in the world.

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In a 2011 ShapeNZ survey, more than 50% of respondents rated housing affordability as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

The percentage of our income spent to rent or buy housing is increasing, with more spent by those renting than those owning their homes. This issue is particularly acute in Auckland. The impact of this falls most heavily on families with lower socio-economic status.

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Commercial buildings in New Zealand account for nearly a 10th of our energy use, not including the embodied energy in the materials used for construction.

Many commercial buildings standing today will still be around in 2050. As energy constraints become tighter, the current stock of buildings will need to be upgraded to ensure they are fit for a sustainable future. At the current time, there are not sufficient commercial incentives for landlords to do this.

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In Auckland, for example, at least 330,000 new homes and 780 hectares of industrial and commercial land will be needed over the next 30 years according to the Auckland Plan, 2011.

With this increase in housing comes a requirement for appropriate liveability and connection with the community.

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Priority actions

The Vision 2050 group has identified for each pathway a number of key actions that should happen this decade. For the Buildings Pathway, this includes:

  • landlords are provided with incentives to undertake retrofitting to improve energy efficiency and health impacts
  • mandatory house health rating introduced for point of sale and renting
  • Christchurch rebuild used to model sustainable building and integrated community design
  • Building Code updated to cover resilience, improved sustainability and life design
  • financial instruments and appropriate tax mechanisms are designed to address housing affordability.

Project continues

The Vision 2050 project will continue with tool development, organisation, high school and university engagement and input from industry, government or an NGO group for each of the pathways.

A review of each pathway will be carried out in December 2012. Spin-off projects will also be run by the Sustainable Business Council with initial projects covering – ‘Corporate ecosystem valuation and reporting’ and ‘Sustainable consumption and value chain’.

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