Published: 30 AUG 2021
Fiona Short

Warren and Mahoney’s sustainability lead Fiona Short points to the future of sustainable design in the New Zealand construction industry.

Warren and Mahoney is one of New Zealand’s leading multi-disciplinary architectural practices. It is a Toitū carbonzero certified international practice, a member of the Climate Leaders Coalition, a founding member for the New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC), and a signatory to Architects Declare a Climate and Biodiversity Emergency.

We speak with Warren and Mahoney’s Leader of Sustainability and Associate Principal Fiona Short about future thinking in the design and construction environment in Aotearoa New Zealand.


How has the conversation about sustainability in construction changed in the last five years?

The conversation has shifted dramatically, with massive leaps in thinking in design on the topics of climate change mitigation and adaptation; and the recognition of indigenous Māori knowledge of natural systems and place.

Whole-of-life carbon in buildings is rapidly becoming part of all project discussions, with an exponentially growing focus on embodied carbon.

What does sustainability mean to Warren and Mahoney?

We see sustainability as enabling population well-being and community resilience within a flourishing natural environment and we believe sustainability is synonymous with the Māori value of kaitiakitanga (guardianship). My colleague and Te Matakīrea lead, Whare Timu, describes this as ‘the exercise of stewardship in accordance with tikanga Māori in relation to natural and physical resources. The pathway to designing with tika (integrity), pono (good faith) and aroha (love, compassion and empathy) that enables us to create a better sense of both place and community while restoring balance, peace, and harmony within the environment.’

New Zealand has committed to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and reaching net zero GHG emissions by 2050. How important is it to ‘green’ the construction industry to meet these targets?

In Aotearoa, the construction sector significantly contributes 16 per cent of New Zealand consumer greenhouse gas emissions. We recognise we have a responsibility to play a part in reducing this total amount of emissions per year, which is why Warren and Mahoney has made the following commitment for our designs: By 2030, our goal – with our clients – is that all our new projects will be net-carbon zero in operation, be 50 per cent more energy efficient and have 40 per cent less embodied carbon. We want to demonstrate that it is possible to build cities in a way that reduces impact but still delivers value to community and business.

Refer to The Net Zero Carbon Roadmap for Aotearoa’s buildings by NZGBC.

What are some of the ways Warren and Mahoney is working with clients to integrate sustainable principles into projects?

Otago University building

We follow our own 10 Principles of Sustainable Design to ensure every project is a well-considered, sustainable design response, given the unique project parameters. Under each of these 10 principles we have minimum standards. At the outset we work with our clients to identify bespoke sustainability goals and targets for their project.

Technology such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) is being used to inform design decision-making and help us meet the increasing market demands for sustainable and climate change–responsive outcomes. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and carbon footprinting tools are being developed in conjunction with both architects’ and engineers’ design workflows so that carbon footprinting becomes an integral part of the design process.

What other work is Warren and Mahoney doing in sustainability and green building?

We have launched a three-year PhD research project with Emily Newmarch from Victoria University of Wellington. The research looks at how we design, measure and value low-carbon buildings in New Zealand. We want to enable data-driven decision-making for our designers and clients, and contribute towards knowledge in the local market.

Alongside carbon reduction, what are some of the benefits of green building standards and sustainable design? 

Often a co-benefit of low-carbon design is well-being for those who occupy the building and those who are part of the construction or material manufacturing. Lower-carbon materials tend to be natural materials, which are more frequently non-toxic.

More energy-efficient buildings are healthier buildings. Making our buildings more energy-efficient and well ventilated will decrease the need for heating, which will mean everyone will be more likely to be able to afford to heat their homes to a healthy standard throughout winter. Energy and housing standards are still an issue of inequality in New Zealand, and increasing our energy standards in a building will directly improve the well-being of our people.

What are some of the ways we can reduce emissions from buildings?

Wynyard Quarter

Traditionally in New Zealand, the operational carbon contributes to 70 per cent of a commercial building’s lifetime emissions. Embodied carbon becomes more relevant as the energy efficiency increases. Research into our own designs has shown that in an energy-efficient building, the embodied carbon emissions can account for 60 per cent of lifetime emissions. 

There are three main ways of reducing operational carbon in a building: 1) increase energy efficiency, 2) use onsite renewables, and 3) support renewable power providers.

There are three main ways of reducing embodied carbon in a building: 1) reduce the size of a building or make it functionally more efficient by sharing space, 2) reduce the material footprint of the building by adopting ‘lean design’ and ‘dematerialisation’ principles, and 3) opt for lower-carbon material substitutes.

Given the increasing relevance of embodied carbon, selection of materials is becoming a strong creative focus in our design process.

What investment would you like to see being made in Auckland’s green construction industry?

We would like to see more financial investment into R&D made in the construction industry concerning climate change. I'd also encourage businesses in the sector to look at the funded research pathways supported by Callaghan Innovation.

I would like to see designers and companies invest in upskilling their people, as well as growing carbon literacy and the ability to assess and verify design decisions through this new lens. And I’d like to see developers and those procuring the built environment be willing to invest in consultants measuring design decisions and building impact throughout the design process.

We would also love to see more sustainable and healthy products available in the New Zealand market to give people greater choice in the products we use to construct the places they live, work and play.

We need to increase the carbon literacy of the whole industry so that when it becomes mandatory, we are primed to succeed in creating lower-carbon projects and can avoid, as much as possible, an economic and cultural shock of new regulations.

Find out more

With Auckland reacting rapidly to the call for a more sustainable construction industry, there are opportunities for more research and development, and for businesses with innovative building methods, technologies and materials.

Contact Investment Specialist Andrew Carpenter, to learn more about investing in green construction in Auckland, New Zealand.

This article provides general information on potential investment opportunities in Auckland and is not intended to be used as a substitute for financial advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the relevant author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited and the author disclaims all liability in connection with any action that may be taken in reliance on this article, and for any error, deficiency, flaw or omission contained in it.

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