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New Zealand Green Building Council Speech

Hon Chris Penk

Minister for Building and Construction

Kia Ora, good evening and thank you for the introduction.

And thank you for having me here tonight at your launch of the Practical Guide to Upfront Carbon and to learn from the success of Argosy Property and BECA on their award-winning project, 8 Willis Street.

First, I’d like to acknowledge the work that has gone into this guide, the latest in a suite of tools produced by the New Zealand Green Building Council (“the Council”) designed to reduce emissions and encourage more sustainable buildings.

I understand that this guide will help to assess upfront carbon, including how to set targets and highlight effective strategies to reduce emissions.

It will provide practical examples of the process from around the country.

Around 21% of New Zealand’s long-lived greenhouse gas emissions are from construction activity and the energy and water used in buildings.

We also know that a building constructed today will exist and continue to be in use for many decades to come. This makes decisions on up-front carbon relating to the design, approach and choice of materials vitally important in determining future climate change impacts.

I understand that MBIE published an embodied carbon technical methodology in 2022, providing guidance on a consistent approach that the sector could use to measure the embodied carbon of a building, across its life cycle.

It is excellent to see the industry increasingly choosing to adopt embodied carbon assessments and incorporating the MBIE technical methodology into their projects.

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I congratulate the Council on making new resources available to the sector, which help build on that methodology, and provide practical advice for considering the ‘up-front’ carbon of a project.

Thank you for the work that you are therefore doing to lift performance and productivity in the industry, foster innovation and strengthen engagement.

I will now offer reflections on three key ways that I see this work aligning with the aims of the incoming coalition government, namely:

1. improving affordability;

2. maintaining engagement with the sector; and

3. measuring progress and achieving accountability.

In relation to affordability, it is commonly accepted that reducing construction wastage will improve economic as well as environmental performance. That being so, greater consciousness about the carbon embodied in building products must surely be positive for the financial plan as well as the planet. Housing and other building types can be made more affordable as a result.

As for maintaining engagement with the sector, our government commits to listening carefully to the issues raised – and solutions proposed – by those closest to the action. A hard-headed assessment of reality is most likely to be provided by someone wearing a literal hard hat. I assure you that we will be engaging, even though this engagement will look different than the Industry Transformation Plan for Construction established under the previous government. We intend to retain elements of the Construction Sector Accord – which of course pre-dated the ITP project – that are working well, albeit again potentially in a different form.

Finally: measuring progress and achieving accountability. A cold-blooded assessment of upfront carbon will be most valuable in understanding the threats and opportunities posed by product X or practice Y. The time for sweeping statements of aspiration and transformation that are unlikely to be realised is over. Let us all – government, NGOs, and private sector players alike – be unafraid to be judged on our actual performance. We will adjust as necessary along the way to a cleaner, greener future.

In any regulatory change made by our government, know that we intend to take a “light touch” approach, not a heavy-handed one, and provide maximum certainty for planning purposes.

If we are correct in believing that it will be in the best interests of the sector itself to adopt green building practices – for reasons of competitive advantage, as well as “doing the right thing” – then our shared task is simple: we must find ways to encourage enlightened self-interest.

Methodologies for assessing carbon impact will be a key enabler of that. These assessments allow the necessary levers to be pulled to achieve the win-win scenarios of lower costs and a smaller carbon footprint.

Briefly on me as your new minister: in my time before entering the political arena I served as an officer in the NZ and Australian navies. I experienced a variety of built environments in that time – including living in Government House for a year, as I found that aide to the governor-general was slightly more luxurious than the Iraqi oil terminal in the Northern Arabian Gulf on which I spent Christmas in 2007.

And I have never been more conscious of the value of a warm, dry home than when I spent a few years in submarines across the Tasman.

I also practised law before becoming an MP, a large proportion being property work. I am motivated to reduce delays and costs as I have seen the effects these have.

Let me close by acknowledging again the work that the Council has been doing, including not only the publication of resources on calculating embodied emissions but also workshops across the country.

Congratulations on your launch of the Guide and the success exemplified by today’s case study.

And thanks again for this opportunity to join you tonight.

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