Sustainable = cheaper?

Well… sometimes.

David highlights some Economist stats that demonstrate that sustainability doesn’t necessarily cost more. In fact, sometimes it can save money.

David makes the point that although overall these measures are cheaper, often the decision makers are not the ones who benefit from the reduced costs. And as a result they don’t actually implement these simple measures that have a societal benefit, because they don’t get to see that benefit on their bottom line.

I’ve kind of had this thought before, but never fully put two and two together. In buying our unit in Newtown we were really aware of the poor water management and lack of sustainability features like water recycling, rain-water tanks, solar panels or motion sensor lighting (the body corporate did look into installing a motion sensor lighting system after the fact but the cost was too high to install then – no doubt it would have been significantly cheaper if it had been incorporated at build time). We had limited options due to our financial situation – but mostly it was a case of the “green” options simply not existing.

Virtually every place we looked at neglected the simple measures – which was immensely frustrating for us as buyers. We did end up in a place that was north facing and has good insulation, but had to forgo some of the other things we were aware would have saved us money and been better for the environment.

My view, much as I hate to admit it, is that the buyer has no influence on this – we can ask about it, but in the end we kinda have to accept what’s available (“no influence” is probably too strong – but it certainly is negligible in the grand scheme of things). Even if we chose not to buy, waiting for an enviro-friendly place to come on the market – the market (i.e. developers) don’t know this, and aren’t incentivised to do so. A market failure caused by lack of information perhaps…

I wish there was a way for us all to flag what we were looking for so developers could take heed (assuming we could get sufficient numbers interested in sustainability measures). But there is no such mechanism as far as I can see. So ultimately I feel that government intervention is the only way.

If I were building or buying a house it would be a different story – I’d have a lot more options and choices and my dollar could be focused more effectively. But living in Sydney I can’t see any way that I can afford a house, let alone build one – so I’m stuck relying on developers of apartments and other urban housing. I think the situation is even worse in high density buildings.

But I’m not holding my breath – as I understand it the BASIX laws have actually been clawed back to support developers who claim that it’s too expensive (i.e. too much of a hit on their profits) to do some of these things. It’s really so short sighted and neglects the state of the environment in the name of profit – two steps forward, one step back.