As people become increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment, green buildings offer an attractive and sustainable alternative to traditional buildings. By reducing your property’s carbon footprint, using resources more efficiently and adopting eco-friendly processes and solutions, you can not only have a positive environmental impact but also benefit from the other advantages that green buildings offer, such as reduced costs and improved reputation.

There are many ways that facilities managers can incorporate eco-friendly practices into their everyday operations, such as by choosing sustainable painting solutions or investing in energy-efficient products. And with a growing global demand for green buildings and innovations, as well as advances in technology, sustainable building practices are becoming more affordable and accessible. So what exactly is a green building?

What are green buildings?

A green building reduces or eliminates negative impacts on the environment through its design and operation. It also aims to preserve natural resources while improving the overall quality of life for those who occupy it. According to the World Green Building Council, there are a number of features that characterise a green building, including:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
  • Renewable energy implementations
  • Waste reduction measures and recycling initiatives
  • High indoor air quality
  • Sustainable and non-toxic building and maintenance materials
  • Environmentally friendly design, construction, retrofitting and ongoing use of the building
  • Ability to adapt to a changeable environment
  • Why is improving building sustainability important?

As demand for eco-friendly companies, services and products grows, sustainability is increasingly important to building and facilities managers who want to future-proof their property. Investing in green building products and processes is attractive to new tenants. In fact, sustainable commercial buildings have up to 56% lower vacancy rates and offer a 13.4% increase in net income, according to the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). This is thanks to the numerous financial, productivity and wellbeing benefits that sustainable buildings offer their occupants, including:

  • Up to 52% increase in productivity due to improved ventilation and lighting
  • 40% increase in sales in retail environments
  • Lower energy costs with renewable and sustainable solutions
  • Improved business reputation with the possible eligibility of certification

Plus, by leading the way with green building practices, you can gain a competitive edge over others in your industry who are yet to adopt sustainable measures.

While new constructions are often touted as being green star certified and employing all the latest technologies, sustainability is not just for new builds. You can also improve the sustainability of your existing buildings through retrofitting and adopting more environmentally friendly solutions.

In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits of greening your existing buildings, give practical advice on how to green your property, outline the green building requirements in Australia and provide a spotlight on sustainable painting and how it can play a role in improving the environmental impact of your property.

Chapter 1: The benefits of greening your building

Greening existing buildings by employing sustainable practices and features can significantly lower your property’s resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved through retrofitting your current building or simply adopting more sustainable maintenance solutions and products. There are many benefits to this, such as:

1. Being better for the environment

Altogether, buildings currently consume about 40% of the world’s energy supply and use over two-thirds of global electricity, which has become an immense burden on the environment. By taking the necessary steps to be more resource and energy-efficient in your building, you can work towards creating a more sustainable future that’s better for everyone.

2. Enabling cost savings

A reduction in energy usage and water consumption, as well as the use of sustainable waste management techniques, can lower the costs of operations and maintenance.

3. Attracting new tenants

By responding to public demands and the growing interest in environmentally conscious options, your existing building can attract new tenants. Plus, cost-savings on operations and maintenance and health-related benefits that stem from non-toxic, eco-friendly processes are also major drawcards for prospective tenants.

4. Increasing the value of your property

With more and more people attracted to greener, eco-friendly spaces, the demand for green buildings will (and has) increasingly gained pace. With this great demand comes a spike in property value. A study that combined property data with green ratings across office buildings in London, Sydney and Melbourne found a sales price premium of up to 18% within green-rated buildings compared to equivalent, unrated buildings.

5. Boosting the reputation of your company

Greening your building is good and looks good. People are likely to look upon your company more favourably because of your commitment to sustainability, especially if it earns a green star certification. This is internationally recognised and highly regarded, demonstrating your company’s commitment to responsible living in the community and beyond.

Industry Benefits

While many benefits are general in nature, certain industries also stand to gain even more advantages from investment in green buildings.

Green Hospitals

Green hospitals

Having green hospital buildings offers several benefits for healthcare workers and patients. There are many international studies, including The World Green Building Council’s Business Case for Green Building, that show how healthcare facilities within green buildings provide higher quality patient care. The benefits include an 8.5% reduction in hospital stays, an 11% reduction in secondary infections and 15% faster recovery times. Patients also tend to feel calmer, more comfortable and have greater peace of mind in sustainable hospitals. Another report found hospitals that employ green building practices are more likely to receive donations, funding and subsidies through their increased energy efficiency and efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

higgins-coatings-education-industryGreen schools

Showcasing environmental stewardship can help attract new students as well as high performing staff in education environments. A school that embraces environmentally friendly design and processes creates a better teaching and learning atmosphere, which can impact a child’s academic progression by up to 25% throughout a school year.

There are many steps you can take towards greening your school building, such as good natural lighting and ventilation, which can have significant impacts on student performance, showing up to a 15% improvement on test results, while also driving down energy costs.

higgins-coatings-commercial-industryGreen commercial buildings

Green commercial buildings can contribute to a higher return on investment compared to their non-environmentally friendly counterparts. The Australian Green Property Council found that green CBD offices could outperform non-green office spaces, with an average additional return of 10% per year. This is achieved through more efficient resource usage that reduces operating and maintenance costs.

higgins-coatings-strata-industryGreen strata buildings

52% of Australians say they want to live in more sustainable homes that accommodate eco-friendly measures. In fact, having a green home has been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of residents. As the World Health Organisation states, better air quality leads to fewer cases of respiratory conditions, allergies, heart disease and stroke. Additionally, buildings that use eco-friendly processes can help owners and occupiers save money, increasing the value of the property.

higgins-coatings-retirement-industryGreen retirement villages

Retirees are increasingly looking for residential communities that are more sustainable, cost less and promote a healthier way of living. Green buildings are therefore more likely to attract buyers and give a retirement facility a competitive edge over traditional facilities.

So now that we’ve highlighted the benefits of greening your building, how do you achieve it?

Chapter 2: Greening your existing building

There are many actions you can take to green your existing building that can have great environmental, social and economic benefits for your business. Despite this, some facilities managers or senior stakeholders may be resistant due to fears that it will be too costly or time-consuming. However, green building practices can actually save money in the long term - and you don’t have to start from scratch to see improvements. Rather, you can implement green building maintenance procedures or refit elements of your building to make your property better for the environment.

Here are nine steps to help you improve the sustainability of your existing building.

1. Environmental impact assessment

Understanding the impact your building has on its surroundings is the first step you should take towards increasing the sustainability of your property. This means conducting an assessment of the environmental impact of your building, considering, the value and quality your physical building adds to the environment (or detracts from it), the site’s connectivity to other habitats in the broader region and whether this impacts the conservation of the environment. Once you’ve conducted your assessment, you can research how to mitigate these impacts so they pose minimal threat to the environment and community.

2. Sustainable management

This is beneficial for all parties involved as it works towards ensuring the sustainability and longevity of the building throughout its entire lifetime. This can include having an approach to property management and decision-making that prioritises sustainable practices. For example, this can be achieved by implementing more energy-efficient methods which reduce the amount of upkeep needed. This makes it easier for facilities managers to maintain and more compelling for occupants with fewer interruptions.

3. Indoor environmental quality

Ensuring that indoor environmental quality (IEQ) standards are met will improve the health and wellbeing of your building’s occupants. This is achieved through adequate ventilation, reducing indoor pollutants that can affect respiration and trigger allergies, and enhancing occupant safety and comfort.

Indoor air quality forms an important part of this and can be regularly assessed by purchasing an indoor air quality monitor, testing for mould in the air and installing carbon monoxide alarms. However, IEQ goes beyond just air quality to also include other factors that influence people’s comfort indoors, such as temperature and humidity, acoustics, lighting, building layouts and cleanliness.

By gathering feedback from occupants and making improvements to these areas, you can even boost productivity by as much as 10.9% as the CH2 building in Melbourne did, saving $2 million per year.

4. Energy

Reducing energy consumption in your building will be better for the environment and save your tenants and owners money. There are a number of sustainable alternatives and practices that you can implement, including:

  • Generating energy from renewable sources, such as solar panels or hydropower
  • Choosing energy-efficient devices and products or those that operate on sensors or timers to optimise consumption, such as light bulbs, printers and air conditioning
  • Turning off devices when not in use or at the end of the day, including printers, coffee machines, computers, lights and air conditioning
  • Seeking alternative methods to heating, cooling and other high energy processes, for example. using heat reflective paint on facades to lower internal temperatures and reduce the demand placed on air conditioning
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5. Transport

Transportation is one of the world’s biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But its impact on the environment doesn’t stop there. Transport also releases other harmful pollutants into the environment, contributes to health issues associated with poor air quality, increases noise pollution and requires more roads to be built, which contributes to water and ground pollution issues.

Encouraging your building’s occupants to find greener transport alternatives is essential to help minimise these problems and improve the sustainability of your property. There are a number of ways you can do this, such as:

  • Installing charging stations for electric cars
  • Providing plenty of on-site bike racks and bike storage
  • Subsidising public transport or bike-share memberships
  • Offering a shuttle bus service to public transport hubs
  • Disincentivising driving, such as by charging for parking
  • Allowing flexible working hours

Many of these sustainable commuting alternatives also inspire more active lifestyles, which is better for the physical and mental health of your occupants, contributing to happier, more productive tenants.

6. Water

Reducing water consumption within your building will ensure that this valuable resource isn’t wasted. You can use methods such as collecting rainwater, recycling water, and ensuring your fittings and fixtures are water-efficient. Not only will you operate more sustainably, but you and your tenants will also save money.

7. Land use & ecology

By considering the impact of your building on ecological systems, surrounding biodiversity and natural wildlife, as well as the community, you can better navigate ways to ensure your building is respectful of its environmental setting. This could include leaving native wildlife reserves untouched and implementing more eco-friendly waste management methods like recycling programs or introducing composting facilities.

8. Emissions

Reducing emissions includes actions such as minimising light pollution, ensuring you have ways to collect and filter stormwater, introducing adequate sewage systems and limiting the amount of ozone-depleting substances your building utilises. For example, if your building needs a fresh repaint, you should consider eco-friendly paints for the job that release less harmful toxins into the air.

9. Innovation

Being an industry leader should always be at the forefront of a building manager’s strategy. Pioneering new sustainable actions that promote creative technologies, designs and processes demonstrates your commitment to the environment and to a better future for all.

Many of the above categories are key criteria points for achieving a Green Star certification, which is Australia’s most trusted rating system for sustainable buildings. Green Star buildings use 66% less electricity and 51% less water than the average Australian building. And because Green Star buildings have more energy and water efficient functions, they are much cheaper to operate.

Chapter 3: Green building requirements in Australia

In Australia, the requirements for green buildings are founded on policies and codes that work to reduce the environmental impact and improve human health and quality of life. These policies include efforts to make buildings carbon-positive and create environmentally-friendly communities that contribute to a better future through smarter, more sustainable infrastructure.

Rating systems and certifications 

To ensure sustainability targets are met, various green building rating systems have been developed that incorporate a series of checks and balances to achieve independent certification. We’ve included information below on two of the main systems.

  • Green Star - An internationally recognised rating system, Green Star is administered by the Green Building Council of Australia to certify fitouts, buildings, homes and communities. For existing buildings, the performance and interiors rating tools are used to assess the sustainability of nine areas: management, indoor air quality, energy, transport, materials, ecology, water, emissions and innovation. Additionally, existing buildings can also certify their communities with the Green Star rating system, focusing on governance, liveability, economic prosperity, environment and innovation.
  • National Australian Built Environment Rating System (NABERS) - NABERS is administered by the NSW Office of Environment and includes five rating systems related to sustainable energy, water, indoor environments, waste and carbon neutrality. They provide these assessments across a range of sectors, including apartment buildings, office buildings, hospitals, aged care and retirement living, and shopping centres.

Is certification necessary?

Ultimately, this decision falls in the hands of building operators and owners. However, it’s important to note that green buildings are attractive to potential tenants, students, patients and residents. A third-party certification improves your reputation by using the accreditation trademark of recognisable standards as a proof point while demonstrating the value you place on sustainability.

Government incentives for green buildings

With the widespread shift to greener practices across Australia, there are now many government incentives to help you improve the sustainability of your building.

Financial incentives

Local, state and federal governments are trying to motivate more Australian businesses to improve their environmental impact with a range of incentives, including investment assistance, rate reductions for certified green buildings and grants for sustainable developments. Some examples include:

  • Energy savings schemes - A number of states, including NSW and Victoria, offer rebates or discounts for businesses that upgrade to more energy-efficient products.
  • Green Building Fund - In an effort to meet national emissions reduction targets, the green building fund aims to reduce energy consumption in office buildings by covering half the cost of retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy-efficient and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Renewable power incentives - By installing eligible renewable energy systems into buildings, businesses can receive the Small-scale Technology Certificate (STC) benefit by selling their energy or assigning the energy to an agent for a discount on system price or delayed cash payment.
  • Clean Energy Finance Corp (CEFC) - This government statutory authority helps finance the clean energy sector within Australia to make it easier for businesses to invest in energy-efficient resources and practices. The CEFC funds a range of programs centred on improving energy efficiency for businesses and commercial property.

Non-financial incentives 

In many local government areas, sustainability measures are looked upon more favourably and will increase your chance of receiving approval for extensions, renovations and more for your property.

Chapter 4: Spotlight on sustainable painting

Painting is a key component of building maintenance and an area where you can easily make some significant improvements to the sustainability of your products and processes. Not only do sustainable painting solutions minimise the harm you’re doing to the environment, but they can also help you manage heating and cooling in your building more efficiently and extend the life of your building materials. Below, we outline the solutions and best practices we recommend as Australia’s premier commercial painting company.

1. Eco-friendly paints

Eco-friendly paints are exactly what their name suggests - they’re better for the environment and indoor air quality, meaning they pose fewer risks to human health. They’re also manufactured in a more sustainable way, they’re more cost-effective than some non-eco-friendly options, and they have minimal or no odour.

Eco-friendly coatings come in many forms - from water-based and plant-based to low-VOC and zero-VOC - and they have a wide variety of uses across small, large, indoor and outdoor projects.

2. Eco-friendly painting processes

If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your next painting project, then it’s important to contract a painting company that uses sustainable processes. This includes using eco-friendly paints, recycling or disposing of painting products safely, and eco-friendly cleaning methods and waste management. Checking if your contractor has an environmental policy or recognisable third-party accreditations is a good place to start as it shows that they have an active commitment to sustainable painting solutions.

At Higgins, this is something that we have standardised and applied at every branch and worksite. We follow the ISO 14001: Environmental Management System, which is a globally recognised, high-quality management system built on environmental standards to create a more sustainable world. We also use Dulux’s Envirowash system, which collects and converts contaminated runoff from painting into clean water.

3. Improving energy efficiency with paint

There are many ways that you can improve the energy efficiency in your building through something as simple as paint. Heat reflective paint - also known as solar reflective paint or cool roof paint - uses nanoceramics to reflect the sun’s infrared rays and keep your building temperature cooler. This can significantly reduce the energy - and money - required to cool your building with air conditioning, which also emits harmful gases and burdens energy grids. In fact, studies have shown that in periods of peak cooling demand, the amount of energy used to cool the internal temperature of a building can be reduced by up to 93% with heat reflective paint.

4. Coatings that extend the life of your building materials

Eco-friendly paints can help extend the life of your building and its materials thanks to their high mineral or plant-based oil content, which is a natural and robust preservative, helping your building withstand the elements and resist the build-up of dirt, mould and mildew.

Depending on the type of sustainable paint chosen, it will likely involve different application techniques to traditional paints so you should consider contracting painters who are skilled in applying them and are aware of sustainable painting best practices. This can lead to less frequent and extensive maintenance work in the long run - and your tenants will thank you for it.

5. Preventative maintenance

The more durable your building, the fewer materials it will use and the lower its environmental impact is over the long term. That’s why preventative maintenance is fundamental to sustainable buildings. You can better protect your assets and improve the safety and longevity of the building, all while reducing the waste you create and saving yourself from big maintenance costs down the track.

Preventative maintenance involves the regular inspection of your entire property, including the garden areas, exteriors and interiors, plumbing and electrical work and, of course, your paintwork. By partnering with an experienced commercial painting company, such as Higgins, you can choose a preventative maintenance plan tailored to your property and budget to ensure that you get the most out of your paintwork and your building always looks its best.


The benefits of greening your building are numerous and eco-friendly paints and processes can have a significant impact on your sustainability efforts. If you're looking for help implementing some of these solutions, why not choose a contractor who shares your sustainable values and desire to protect the environment.

Higgins is committed to supporting green buildings and sustainable processes, as shown by our internationally recognised Tri-Certification Accreditation. This means that we provide an enhanced quality of service that protects the environment, promotes the values of green buildings, and ensures the health and safety of communities. With our unrivalled attention to detail, we’re here to help you deliver cost-effective solutions that meet modern sustainability measures.

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