Building Sustainability into Sydney’s Housing Boom

Once averse to high-density living, Sydneysiders are driving an unprecedented apartment boom, which should be good for the environment — but it’s costing us and our climate more than it should.

With more than 100 apartments going up in the City of Sydney a month, the market has exploded. The previously industrial Green Square district, between the southern CBD and the airport, is going through such rapid growth that by 2030 it’s projected to be Australia’s most densely populated area at 21,000 people per square kilometre.

People are moving into these areas for the convenient access to employment, shops and cultural life, and high-density living can be more sustainable. But on average, the current design and operation of high-rise apartments means they cost more to run and have a bigger environmental footprint than standalone houses.

At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive. How can so many people sharing a building be less sustainable than a family living in a free-standing house?

The answer is that up to 60 percent of the energy used in high-rise apartments is in the common areas — the lighting, the lifts, large fans running 24/7 in car park basements to maintain air quality, pool pumps and so on. Water is not separately metered, offering no incentive to be water wise.

We can fix this. What it would take is a mix of state and local policy initiatives, and there’s a window of opportunity to make those changes at the moment, with relevant reviews and legislative-reform processes underway. And in doing so, we’d be setting an example for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities.

In 2013, the City of Sydney ran a trial program with 30 inner-city apartment buildings, and the results were promising. Buildings that took part in the Smart Green Apartments program dramatically reduced —> Read More