Over the past 7 years, RMIT has been turning ‘green’ through a variety of sustainability initiatives. The University has made sustainability a core focus throughout the development of new infrastructure aiming to achieve 5 Star rating for all new buildings. These ratings are awarded by the Green Building Council of Australia which RMIT joined back in 2002.
Three recent buildings to the university include, The Design Hub and Swanston Academic building both located in Melbourne as well as a new addition to the Saigon South campus located in Vietnam.
All these buildings meet a 5 Star standard and feature a range of sustainable initiatives. For example The Design Hub’s cleverly designed façade reduces artificial light by 85% and has an underfloor ventilation system to reduce energy use of traditional heating and cooling systems.
The ‘Sustainable Urban Precincts Program’ is the underlying force driving RMIT’s sustainable focus. The program outlines the university’s $128 million commitment to cut energy and water use and greenhouse gas emissions over an 8 year period. This equates to reductions of 263 million kilowatts in electricity use, 32,000 tonne in greenhouse gas emissions and a 53 million litres in water use. This program places a renewed focus on optimising existing practices to ensure the reductions are met.
Now with the introduction of RMIT’s New Academic Street (NAS) it looks as though the green streak will continue. The NAS project manager has confirmed that the new buildings are set to achieve the 5 Star rating once completed.
With sustainability in mind, the project team decided to transform existing buildings rather than completely demolishing and rebuilding. By transforming Buildings 10, 12 and 14, originally constructed in the 60s, NAS has saved many resources that would have been lost through demolition. The redesign of these buildings opens up the existing space by creating more entrances from Swanston Street and incorporating light wells and more windows. One of the strongest examples of the ‘repurposing’ concept can be seen through the transformation of old lecture theatres in Building 12 to multi-level tiered student working spaces.
Another key sustainable element of the NAS development is the new onsite co-generation energy system that will provide low-carbon electricity and efficient precinct level heating. To support this, automated louvers have been installed on the façade windows that will open and close to regulate internal temperatures.
Not only has NAS implemented initiatives to create a sustainable operating building, it has also utilised sustainable techniques throughout the construction phase. This is evident in The Garden Building where a new low-impact material called ‘Glulam’ was used. This material has a far lower carbon footprint than other building materials and is created in a zero-waste production process. In addition, all timber used in construction is certified under the Forest Stewardship Council which ensures that it’s sourced legally and sustainably.
As well as utilising sustainable building materials, NAS has ensured that all new furniture has been given the green tick of approval. All furniture items are certified by either ‘Green Tag’ or ‘Good Environment Choice Australia’ some of which can be seen in the reopened spaces in Building 10 and 12 already.
Despite the disruption of construction around campus, students have been benefitting from the sustainability initiatives already. In September 2015 a furniture recycling event occurred whereby over 100 pieces of library furniture were rehomed. Students flocked to the site resulting in many office chairs being wheeled down Swanston Street with their new owners. Any other unwanted furniture was donated to Humanity for Habitat for reuse in community projects.
As well as receiving free furniture, some students have had the opportunity to contribute more to the sustainable development of NAS. In 2016 RMIT launched the ‘National Sustainability Challenge’ whereby students pitched ideas to find a cost-effective waste management system for NAS. Around 70 RMIT students participated in the competition which formed the ‘Work Integrating Learning’ (WIL) component of their course. The winner of this competition, Environmental Engineering student Leona Tsai Jia Lin is now working with RMIT Sustainability. Their goal is to find a solution to the waste management challenge with the aim of ultimately diverting all RMIT’s food waste from landfill.
NAS is also creating opportunities for student involvement once construction is complete; this is reflected in the rooftop gardens. These will provide a growing space dedicated to students in programs such as Landscape Architecture, to test soils and plants that work well on urban green roofs. It is the intention that this research, paired with that of the 100 sustainability researchers in the Design Hub will contribute to finding sustainable solutions for future cities.
The NAS development has also created a ‘Sustainability Space’ that encourages reflection on RMIT’s sustainability initiatives and conversations between staff and students. This space will provide further opportunities for students to be involved in sustainability events and projects with alternating displays throughout the year.
Outside of NAS, RMIT students are also given other opportunities to contribute to the university’s ‘green streak’ such as the ‘Green Innovators Competition’. The winner of the latest competition, Ruby Chan was a recent Master of Design Innovation and Technology graduate. Ms Chan won $2000 for her product ‘Moducware’ featuring a range of compostable food containers made from naturally sourced materials.
As well as this competition, RMIT has awarded 10 PhD scholarships to students as a part of the Sustainable Urban Precincts Program. These students are now a part of world-leading research projects providing them with strong industry connections and future career prospects.
It is evident throughout the multitude of sustainability initiatives that RMIT and NAS are committed to creating a greener world. The green streak has been propelled by student involvement through both sustainability focused WIL programs and competitions. It will be interesting to see what new projects the university and its students develop in the future – watch this ‘green’ space.
Images sourced from New Academic Street website.
This piece is a student work, some details may not be completely accurate.