- Architects are driving sustainable design in buildings and have the capacity to further benefit from the green building revolution that is underway.
- Architects who choose to embrace the opportunities that the transition to net zero, adaptation to climate change and the push for sustainable outcomes create, will also face risk.
- Architects could be exposed to liability if they fail to explain the meaning and implications of sustainable design to their clients, the intended outcomes of sustainable design are not properly documented, risky untested designs and materials are relied upon, and architects providing the relevant services lack adequate expertise and experience.
- However, failure to invest in green architectural services could result in non-compliance with burgeoning regulation to facilitate mitigation and adaptation to climate change risks.
- Compliance with professional standards obligations in this context will assist architects in overcoming challenges and managing risk.
180. In its 2022 report on ‘Our Future World’, which identifies global megatrends that will impact the way we live over coming decades, CSIRO notes that climate change is causing extreme and unprecedented weather events with increasing frequency and scale of impact. The report asserts that adaptation of infrastructure and settlement patterns to climate change and extreme weather conditions will become a growing reality for many countries in the years and decades to come, including Australia.
181. Yet, the bulk of Australia’s infrastructure has been and continues to be built and maintained to standards based on historic – not future – climate patterns. Based on modelling undertaken by the Climate Council of Australia in 2019, the property market is expected to lose hundreds of billions of dollars by 2030 due to the impact of climate change and extreme weather on infrastructure, and will continue to lose value in the following decades while carbon emissions remain high. There are a range of climate change effects that may affect the stability, operation and, potentially, the ongoing viability of buildings, including floods, bushfires, and degradation and failure of building foundations and building materials.
182. In addition to being vulnerable to physical hazards caused by climate change, buildings are also significant emitters of greenhouse gas emissions. The inevitable transition of economies, including Australia, to a net zero future and the imperative to ensure resilience of infrastructure in the face of climate hazards are likely to require continuous changes in the way buildings are designed and built. A 2020 UN report states that strategies to make buildings net zero are a key part of the global decarbonisation strategy and must become the primary form of building construction across all economies.
183. In tandem with increasing concern about climate change, a global transition to a more sustainable future is currently underway. CSIRO explains that, as the size of the global population continues to grow and as more people transition from lower to higher income brackets, there will be escalating pressures placed on finite food, water, mineral and energy resources. At the same time, there will be increasing pressure to ‘do more with less’. According to CSIRO, this megatrend is pushing us towards a more sustainable future. A 2016 report prepared by the World Economic Forum also suggests that sustainability is becoming a requirement, rather than being discretionary, and that its pursuit is bound to affect both the construction process and built assets. Priorities that are likely to emerge include more efficient use and recycling of raw materials, optimisation of space, more efficient methods of heating, cooling and lighting, distributed power, and resilience of assets.
184. Climate change, sustainability and the transition to net zero are driving new government incentives and regulation, including many that apply to the built environment. Stakeholders in the construction sector are also demanding proactive, environmentally conscious design and construction.  These stakeholders include clients, non-governmental organisations, employees and the general public. The AIA Client Survey (2021) finds that 60% of clients feel pressure to keep up with new trends and advancements, particularly in the areas of climate change and the demand for more sustainable design. In fact, the market for ‘green buildings’ – that is, buildings for which specific measures are incorporated to provide healthier environments for their users and mitigate their negative impact on the environment – is reportedly expected to grow and could outpace demand for ‘standard’ buildings in the near future.
185. There is evidence to indicate that architects are at the forefront of this green revolution and that there will likely be many new opportunities for architects to diversify their services to include ‘green architecture’ – that is, architectural design that has the aim of minimising harm to the environment and ecological systems, along with human health. However, as outlined in this chapter, as the sector transitions, architects are also likely to face increased risk, at least in the short term.
B. Key issues
Architects will face more regulation resulting from initiatives to mitigate and adapt to climate change
186. Data available to the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) indicates that, in Australia, buildings account for around 19% of total energy use and 18% of carbon emissions. Most of these emissions are associated with common building materials, such as steel and cement. However, design that affects the longevity and energy efficiency of a building will also affect emissions.
187. The Commercial Building Disclosure Program is among various existing regulatory regimes designed to reduce the level of emissions generated by buildings and thereby mitigate the effects of climate change. It is a national program that requires sellers and lessors of commercial office spaces over 1000m2 to provide energy efficiency information to prospective buyers and tenants. Similar regulation for residential buildings is likely to follow.
188. Regulatory measures affecting buildings to facilitate adaptation to climate change are also likely. For example, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB), which writes the standards in the NCC, is currently carrying out work to make buildings ‘fit for the future’. This work includes consideration of how the resilience of buildings to climate risks and extreme weather events like bushfires, floods and extreme heat could be improved under the NCC.
189. Fischer & Guy (2009) suggest that, as regulatory requirements tighten to address climate change risks, architects’ reactions may vary. Some may respond defensively, as ‘guardians of aesthetic autonomy’ in the face of regulatory intervention, or more positively, as ‘new interpreters’ as they struggle to interpret and respond to the new regulatory requirements. The challenges facing architects in complying with these new requirements will be compounded in the context of large-scale projects, where coordination with multiple entities may be required – such as the builder, fire engineer and other specialist consultants. As discussed earlier in this report, such coordination may be difficult to achieve, at least in the context of certain procurement models for building projects.
Architects providing ‘green’ architectural services may face increased exposure to legal risk
190. Despite the growth of scholarly research regarding environmentally sustainable practices in the construction industry, the concepts of ‘sustainable design’ and ‘green architecture’ remain poorly understood. Further, they are open to subjective interpretations. Even in cases when concepts may appear clear, misunderstandings may arise as to what they mean in practice. In this regard, Assaad et al (2021) note a concerning confusion among architects regarding commonly used terms like reuse, recycling, and salvaged materials. Architects may be exposed to legal risk if they commit to deliver green or sustainable outcomes without first gaining a clear understanding of what that means in practice and effectively communicating that understanding to clients.
Failure to explain
191. Even though long-term operating costs for green buildings may be less than for conventional buildings due to energy-efficient design and the use of more durable building materials, the initial cost of construction of green buildings can be greater than for traditional buildings. Further, the process to design and construct green buildings may be longer because new project participants may be involved, such as sustainability consultants and energy modelers. Architects may be exposed to risk if they fail to explain and document reasonably foreseeable impacts of sustainable design on the project schedule and cost. The duty to explain may also extend to the impact of sustainable design on operation and maintenance of a building. Architects must ensure that clients are in a position to make fully informed decisions when balancing overall cost, schedule and the quality of a construction project involving sustainable design.
Untested designs and materials
192. Green and sustainable buildings might involve the use of new and novel materials that have environmentally, socially, and economically preferable life-cycle impacts. The use of products that are new to the market, untested for the intended application, or do not possess historical performance records could cause challenges, including in relation to their availability and their performance in practice. This could give rise to increased risk of defects or unexpected safety, environmental or health consequences. For example, the insurer Allianz reports that the use of timber in construction has increased in recent years because it is viewed as a sustainable and cost-efficient material, but this may exacerbate fire and water damage risks.
193. Risk associated with the use of untested designs is particularly pronounced when the regulatory regime is silent or only contains minimum requirements to guide such designs. Green building architects may design projects that incorporate features which exceed these minimum requirements. However, by extending design efforts beyond minimal compliance, architects may also increase their exposure to risk and liability.
194. The contract for the design of a green building may need to include specific provisions to deal with the unique features of such buildings. For example, the contract may need to address the qualifications about the achievement of sustainable outcomes and any risks associated with the use of new or untried materials and products. Failure to do so could give rise to conflicts, claims and disputes.
Inadequate skills and expertise
195. Accepting a brief for a green building project without having the requisite qualifications and experience could also expose architects to risk. Architectural firms may need to spend time training their staff in green design approaches.
196. Similarly, there are risks for architects who take on projects for buildings that are exposed to climate change impacts without the requisite expertise. Allianz states that greater consideration of the impact of extreme events, such as wildfires, flash flooding and landslides on construction projects is required. Yet, one study focusing on the design of flood-prone urban projects in Europe, found ‘uneven degrees of sensitivity to manage floods through design’ among the 22 built-environment professionals who were interviewed. Some perceived flood adaptation as a technical issue outside the scope of architectural practices, to be managed only through hard-engineering measures, whereas others considered that floods risk should be embedded in design.
197. As outlined in this section, there are various risks associated with the provision of green architectural services, but these risks could well be outweighed by the benefits.
198. Architects are already driving sustainable design in construction projects and have the capacity to further benefit from the green building revolution that is underway given the rising demand for green architectural services. Failure to invest in these services could result in non-compliance with burgeoning regulation to facilitate mitigation and adaptation to climate change risks. It could also result in other professionals stepping into the breach, such as specialist sustainability design consultants.
199. However, those architects who choose to embrace the opportunities created by the transition to net zero, adaptation to climate change and the push for sustainable outcomes will also face risk. Specifically, architects could be exposed to liability if they fail to explain the meaning and implications of sustainable design to their clients, the intended outcomes of sustainable design are not properly documented, risky untested designs and materials are relied upon, and architects providing the relevant services lack adequate expertise and experience. These failures could additionally result in non-compliance with architects’ professional standards obligations.
D. Regulatory role
200. The ARBV and NSW ARB do not have a direct role in ensuring architects are ready for the inevitable changes arising from climate change, sustainability and net zero developments. Nonetheless, they have an indirect role in ensuring architects comply with professional standards reflected in the NSCA, which cover these issues. The ARBV and the NSW ARB will continue to support architects to understand their professional standards obligations in this context.
E. Role of other stakeholders
201. There is scope for further support for architects from industry bodies and education and training providers as the sector transitions. Such support could take the form of education, training and engagement to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks. Architects need to avail themselves of these resources to ensure that they are as well-prepared as possible for the future.
F. Implications and recommendations
Implications and recommendations
The ARBV and NSW ARB
The ARBV and NSW ARB will continue to support architects to understand their professional standards obligations , which will assist them to manage risks arising from the regulatory and practical changes associated with climate change, sustainability and net zero developments.
Industry bodies should provide support to architects in the form of education and engagement to raise awareness of the opportunities and risks arising from climate change and associated drivers.
Education and training providers
Education and training providers should assess their respective programs to determine how effectively they address the challenges and opportunities arising from climate change, sustainability and net zero developments. CPD requirements should cover these areas.
 CSIRO, Our Future World: Global megatrends impacting the way we live over coming decades (2022), at p. 4.
 Climate Institute, ‘Coming ready or not: Managing climate risks to Australia’s infrastructure’ (2012), at p. 15
 Climate Council, Compound Costs: How climate change is damaging Australia’s economy (2019), at p. II.
 Maddocks, The Role of Regulation in Facilitating of Constraining Adaptation to Climate Change for Australian Infrastructure, Report for the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (2012), at pp 78.
 United Nations Environment Programme, 2020 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction: Towards a zero-emissions, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector (2020), at p. 4.
 Ibid. p. 8.
 CSIRO, n. 235 above, p. 4.
 World Economic Forum (in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group), Shaping the Future of Construction: A Breakthrough in Mindset and Technology (2016), at p. 13.
 See, for example, initiatives in relation to buildings identified on the website of the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water (DCCEEW) accessible at: https://www.energy.gov.au/government-priorities/buildings .
 P. Oluwole Akadiri & O. Olaniran Fadiya, ‘Empirical analysis of the determinants of environmentally sustainable practices in the UK construction industry’ (2013) 13(4) Construction Innovation, pp. 352–73, at 353.
 Ibid. pp. 357–8.
 Australian Institute of Architects, n. 85 above, p. 22.
 H. O’Connor, ‘Architect’s Professional Liability Risks in the Realm of Green Buildings’ (2012) 4(2) Perkins & Will Research Journal, at p. 23.
 United Nations Environment Programme, n. 239 above, p. 26.
 See, for example, K. Barker, ‘Architects need to share sustainable best practice quickly’ (2021) UK Architects Journal accessible at: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/opinion/architects-need-to-share-sustainable-best-practice-quickly.
 IBIS World, n. 8 above, p. 14.
 See the website of DCCEEW regarding ‘Buildings’ accessible at: https://www.energy.gov.au/government-priorities/buildings
 See the website of DCCEEW regarding ‘Residential buildings’ accessible at: https://www.energy.gov.au/government-priorities/buildings/residential-buildings. See also ABCB, Energy efficiency: NCC 2022 and beyond – Outcomes report (2022) accessible at: https://www.abcb.gov.au/resource/report/outcomes-report-energy-efficiency-ncc-2022-and-beyond.
 See the ABCB 2020 – 2023 Business Plan accessible at: https://www.abcb.gov.au/about/business-plan. See also the ABCB’s comments about an ‘eye on the future’ in the context of the NCC 2022 accessible at: https://ncc.abcb.gov.au/news/2022/building-ministers-finalise-ncc-2022.
 J. Fischer & S. Guy, n. 211 above, p. 2578.
 U. Iyer-Raniga & T. Dalton, ‘Challenges in Aligning the Architecture Profession in Indonesia for Climate Change and Sustainability’ (2017) 180 Procedia Engineering, pp. 1733–43, at 1741.
 P. Oluwole Akadiri & O. Olaniran Fadiya, n. 244 above, p. 354.
 R. Assaad, I.H. El-adaway, K. Baxmeyer, M. Harman, L. Job, & H. Lashley, ‘Allocation of Risks and Responsibilities in Green and Sustainable Buildings’ (2021) 27(2) Journal of Architectural Engineering, p. 04021002, at 12.
 Ibid. p. 9.
 H. O’Connor, n. 247 above, p. 30.
 Ibid. p. 26.
 R. Assaad et al, n. 258 above, p. 12.
 Allianz, n. 186 above, p. 9.
 H. O’Connor, n. 247 above, p. 25.
 R. Assaad et al, n. 258 above, p. 2.
 H. O’Connor, n. 247 above, p. 26.
 Allianz, n. 186 above, p. 19.
 L. Hobeica & A. Hobeica, ‘How adapted are built-environment professionals to flood adaptation?’ (2019) 10(4) International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, pp. 248–59.
 Ibid. p. 251.