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Sustainable capital works at the City of Darebin

1 Libby Hynes and 2 Dominique Hes

1 City of Darebin, 2 Centre for Design at RMIT University

Darebin City Council adopted an Environmental Policy in August 2000, which provides a policy framework for the City of Darebin to aim for its own operations to be ecologically, socially and economically sustainable and be a sustainability promoting organisation. This includes the implementation of an Environmental Management Strategy (EMS) across all of Council’s operations.

The policy aims for Council’s activities to result in: zero pollution, zero waste, zero habitat destruction, zero climate damage and zero soil degradation. Although these ‘stretch goals’ may seem unattainable, aiming for them ensures Council establishes and implements the best possible strategies, objectives, targets and actions for achieving ecological sustainability.

City of Darebin carry out a significant amount of capital projects each year and this is a priority area to implement our EMS. We are currently incorporating Ecologically Sustainable Design (ESD) into these processes to ensure that the environmental impact of the planning, design, construction and operation (including demolition/salvage) of a capital works project is minimised while the needs of users are met. This includes improving the project’s economic performance both in life cycle and capital cost terms. We are aiming for our capital projects to:

  • be more resource efficient,
  • require less energy to operate,
  • make better use of materials and consume less water.

In addition we are looking to incorporate processes that:

  • improve the comfort of the end user,
  • generate cost savings,
  • foster the growth of a strategic industry in the region and
  • provide environmental education and/or leadership opportunities for Council.

The paper will explore how the City of Darebin is integrating ESD into capital works projects and will use the Reservoir Civic Centre as a case study.

Reservoir Civic Centre

The redevelopment of the Reservoir Civic Centre, the ‘RCC Green Project’, is a major City of Darebin project with a project budget of $4 million. The Centre is located in Edwardes Street, Reservoir, a vibrant local shopping precinct. It will be home to a range of community organisations and Council services. The Centre will include community meeting rooms, function hall, community office space, Council customer service centre, Youth Resource Centre, Decibels recording studio, maternal and child health services and consulting rooms.

The design, construction and operations of the Reservoir Civic Centre will be a demonstration of Darebin City Council’s commitment to environmental sustainability and community well-being. It’s design, construction and operations are based on principles of triple bottom line, i.e. building social capital, environmental sustainability and financial responsibility. It will provide a fully operational example of a community building that incorporates significant environmentally sustainable measures.

Consultative process

To ensure the building fitted the social context of the Reservoir Community an extensive consultative process was employed to inform the design of the building. It was an important priority to ensure that the building reflected the communities needs and aspirations and instilled ownership and pride.

The consultative process also included bringing in the expertise of organisations such as The Centre for Design at RMIT, EcoRecycle Victoria, CSIRO, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Victoria, the Asthma Foundation, the Australian Greenhouse Office and the One Stop Timber Shop.


The results of the council’s commitment have already meant savings in demolition and material costs. Further savings have been modelled and will be verified on at the completion of the building. Below is a quick outline of the main lessons from the project.

Based on predictive modelling the building will save over 1,300 kL of water annually. A significant proportion of the building’s energy (20–25%) will be produced on site via the photovoltaic facade and roof. The building has also been designed to be as energy efficient as possible. Energy efficiency measures are expected to reduce energy usage by 75%. These include: T5 lighting tubes; evaporative air-conditioning; thermal mass; double glazing; insulation; high star rated appliances and an increased range for air temperature of 19–25 degrees. All the energy used will be supplied from Green Power. Materials used are from renewable resources, with low embodied energy, high recyclability, are non-toxic, and low allergenic. The indoor air quality will be high; the building is designed for user control of windows and doors, with optimal natural light and natural ventilation. Finally, the building mirrors the community’s needs, diversity and vibrancy while fitting into the streetscape and being aesthetically pleasing.

Already over $11,000 has been saved through the reuse of the original bricks from the old building. This includes the extra labour of cleaning and restacking the old bricks. The other predicted savings are summarised below:

RCC — predicted operational savings



Best case

Worst case



149,665 kWh



Energy cost 10c instead of 15c










Produce 38kW and 40 kW per day


mains water saved 1,300 Kl

sewerage saved 800 Kl



YVW costs of $0.69 per KL of water and $0.78 per KL of sewerage.

Waste (one off)

200 tonnes of waste, at $30.00 per tonne (ERVic)



already 23,000 bricks and $11,500 saved

Total yr1





Total per annum





The lessons learnt to date are:

  • For successful integration of initiatives into the design environmental information needs to be available in a format that parallels the design process. This requires a healthy mix of education, flexibility, variety, expertise and tactile visual representation.
  • The most important factor was the need for environmental issues to be raised and documented in the design brief. Imperative was that the brief reflected real commitment by the client to work with the architect on green solutions. One of the main reasons that the building energy use, for heating and cooling, was reduced by a factor of 4 was that the clients worked together with the design team to change the acceptable indoor air temperature from 21–22C to a range of 19C to 25C.
  • Another important lesson was that the brief needed to be translated into clear goals for the designers and their consulting engineers. For example the electrical engineer was given an upper lighting energy use limit of 5 W/m2 that he not only met but also exceeded.
  • All sustainable initiatives need to be supported by the appropriate specifications and contractual arrangements to ensure their success.
  • In the construction phase, pre tender inductions of the potential contractors ensured their understanding of the complexities involved but also that the fees did not include unnecessary contingencies.
  • On site contractors were inducted on environmental issues in parallel to occupational health and safety, translating any required information where required. For example the insulation contractors were allowed to feel the difference between incorrectly laid insulation and the alternative.
  • When exploring issues such as grey and black water recycling it is important to ensure the input and collaboration of all responsible authorities including the local environmental department, local council health department and water authorities.

Education, documentation and community involvement

The educational element of the building has been a very high priority. Council is committed to the thorough documentation of all the green initiatives investigated (even if unsuccessful) so that others can learn from and build on Darebin’s experience. This has been translated into policy development and reporting (as discussed later in this paper), a video documentary, interactive display, student packs and explanatory brochures in the 6 community languages (including large text).

Building on the RCC experience

The Reservoir Civic Centre Project was large enough that it made sense to employ specialist advice regarding the ESD aspects. It should not be necessary to require specialist advice for each capital project and is obviously an aspect of good design. Taking stock of recent smaller projects in Darebin it was clear that many projects already incorporated good ESD principles, but some notable exceptions did not. There was a need for some more formal process of incorporating ESD. The following issues were considered:

  • local governments carry out a very broad array of capital projects — policies and guidelines regarding one part of capital works do not necessarily relate to other types of works;
  • there is generally a poor understanding of life cycle costing in the organisation and a ‘fear’ that ESD is difficult and not affordable;
  • many existing design processes were very good ESD but these were not being acknowledged and were dependent on who had been involved in the project;
  • it was important not to stifle innovation;
  • ongoing education and information regarding ESD was not freely available.

Education and a documented audit process were seen to be the keys in improving the incorporation of ESD into projects. Taking these factors into account the ESD Capital Works Checklist and Report was developed in consultation with staff involved in capital works projects. In the first year of implementation it will be mandatory for every project of $50,000 or more to complete a checklist. The checklist has been separated into 5 different areas to tailor it to our most common projects including:

  • roads and traffic;
  • drains
  • building, furniture and fixtures
  • open space and
  • plant equipment/other.

The following issues are covered in each section:

  • energy — reduce energy use and optimise renewable energy use
  • water — reduce water use and pollution
  • landscape — preserve and or encourage biodiversity
  • materials — reduce, reuse, recycle and buy recycled and from environmentally preferred suppliers
  • waste
  • construction
  • life-cycle thinking
  • environmental educational, leadership and grant opportunities and ongoing learning.

Not all items in Darebin’s Checklist are appropriate for every project; solutions will vary depending on the specific site, and project constraints, as well as the skills of the design team. Nor is the checklist inclusive of all opportunities and investigation of innovative approaches and alternative technologies beyond those referred to is encouraged. The intention of this Checklist is to present design approaches that should be considered in the course of design and construction. This approach allows design teams flexibility in their choice of items to include for their project. Officers are encouraged to minimise their projects’ negative environmental impacts and enhance positive outcomes.

Further work

The ESD Capital Works Checklist and Report is a first step in introducing the concept of ESD and its application. This reporting will help identify issues, opportunities and barriers to sustainable development. Lessons learnt will assist in the creation of a long-term policy framework, instruments and delivery mechanisms for the program. The ESD Checklist will be amended from time to time in light of experience gained. The Checklist will be distributed to all those officers with capital budget responsibilities and will be readily available on the intranet.

The education aspect has also been taken up by the Centre for Design, RMIT who have developed an education program aimed at Local Government designers entitled ‘Greening the Building works in Local Government’. This course supports practitioners in the adoption of sustainable building and design practices in their building works. Adopting the perspective of a project manager, the course provides participants with a framework, principles, practices and techniques for building environmental performance into project outcomes.

The City of Darebin and RMIT have entered into a memorandum of understanding to further investigate and facilitate the development of sustainable practices. Planned activities include research, development of training programs and data collection.


Thanks and acknowledgements must go to Darebin City Council staff, Bzowy Architecture, Sokolsky Consultants (Mechanical engineers), Neil Osborne (Electrical engineers), Steve Paul and Partners (Hydraulic engineers) and Austin Australia Pty Ltd (Construction Managers). Further support and thanks go to the various government bodies which are involved: EcoRecycle Victoria, Sustainable Energy Authority of Victoria, Asthma Foundation and the Australian Greenhouse Office.

About the authors

Libby Hynes has over 10 years experience in local government. Her experience in both the local government and private sector has been focused at developing and implementing sustainable policies and plans for the environment and local communities. Libby joined the City of Darebin in 1996 and was appointed as General Manager Environment and Amenity in 2000. Libby is a member of the Metropolitan Environment Forum, the Institute of Public Administration Australia and the Northern Region Waste Management Advisory Group.

Dominique Hes has worked extensively in the area of Life Cycle Assessment and has brought this expertise into the built environment. She has worked with the City of Darebin, Kingston and Banyule Sustainable Building projects and is currently working on a similar project with CERES. Dominique has recently returned from speaking in the US, UK and Sweden on the integrated life cycle and triple bottom line approach in design and construction using the Darebin project as a case study.

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