Sustainability is all about ensuring that the current generation needs are met without compromising the needs of future generations. With climate change, increasing greenhouse gas emission levels and global warming a common topic in today’s media and thus a well-known issue, it is important that steps are taken to reduce our carbon footprint in order to ensure the people in the future are able to meet their needs.

According to City of Sydney Council, over 73 per cent of the City of Sydney residents live in apartment buildings, emitting up to 10 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gases, consuming more than 39 per cent of potable water and generating 9 per cent of the city’s waste.

Reducing our carbon footprint by having more sustainable living quarters does not only benefit future generations, but it may also reduce the cost of living (e.g. lower energy and water bills).

Whether you live in a strata complex or a free-standing home, there are a number of ways to make your home more efficient and cost effective by targeting waste reduction, and becoming more energy and water efficient.  Although upgrades to strata titled properties may be harder, as approval from the Executive Committee and/or the Owners Corporation is most likely required and decision making for upgrades is often a slow, complex and problematic process, as someone is normally required to prepare a business case, obtain and compare quotations and options, decide on the best solution, manage the project, verify and report outcomes and savings.

There are still a number of things owners of strata titled property can do to reduce their carbon footprint without any approval. One of which is to recycle – Familiarise yourself with what can be disposed of in your recycling bin. Most councils have a recycling guide on their website if you are unsure. There are also recycling centres offered by your council around Australia that will take certain waste products to be recycled, such as electronics, furniture, chemicals and liquids, plastics and metals. To find your council’s recycling centre, go to recyclingnearyou.com.au.

Identifying and distinguishing need from want is a way to avoid and reduce consumption and waste when purchasing goods. Also, do consider other alternative to buying, such as reuse or hire goods. You’re not only reducing waste, but you may also be saving money!

As we are well and truly into the digital age, consider getting information sent to you via email. Like most banks with statements, some strata companies offer the option to send documents, such as agendas, minutes, levy notices via email. This uses less paper, which not only saves trees but also reduces waste.

To get started on being more energy efficient, obtaining an energy audit of the common property assets will identify areas of improvement and upgrades to reduce energy demands. Having more energy efficient assets such as lighting, hot water systems and pumps will generally result in lower energy costs. This may reduce levy contributions for all owners. Furthermore, lower levies and a well maintained building with efficient assets may make apartments more valuable.

By making a start to reduce the common property’s energy consumption, you may also be encouraging residents to become more energy efficient within their own apartments.

One of the easiest things to do to being more energy efficient is to replace halogen and incandescent lights to Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) or Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) lighting. LEDs and CFLs use up to 80 per cent less energy to produce the same amount of light as halogen lighting due to their efficient ability to only create light rather than light and heat, costing less to run and more cost effective in the long run. As with any change and/or addition to common property, approval must be obtained to switch over to LED lighting for the common area.

Household appliances can account for about 30 per cent of your home energy use and approximately 45 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. When the time comes to replace your existing appliances, consider the energy efficiency in addition to the purchase price, features and warranty. Choose an appliance with a high star rating. Depending on your circumstances and location, you may be eligible for rebates to help with your purchase of more energy-efficient appliances (see http://yourenergysavings.gov.au/rebates). Also consider and choose the right appliance size for your needs. Even though a larger model has the same energy star rating as a smaller one, it uses more energy and generates more greenhouse gas.

Another tip to reduce energy consumption is turning your appliances off at the power outlet when not in use, as most appliances will continue to use power in stand-by mode.

If you have central heating and cooling, fans may be responsible for the majority of energy consumed by the air circulation and ventilation systems in your building and car park. The easiest way to conserve energy is by ensuring the fans are switched off when they are not required by installing a timer or sensor. Installation of carbon monoxide sensors around the car park, as well as coupling the fans to variable speed drives will enable the fans to only run at the optimal speed to alleviate the detected level of carbon monoxide.

Installing solar systems can also reduce your energy bills for both common areas and individual apartments from day one. The payback period on the installation of a solar system can be within five to nine years, depending on the size of the system. There are also rebates available, as solar systems are eligible for Small-Scale Technology Certificates (STCs), which means that you can get an up-front discount. The rebate is normally $500 to $600 for a one-kilowatt system but varies by location. Furthermore, some local councils are offering funding for the installation of solar systems for common areas via the Environmental Upgrade Agreements, whereby the owner pays back the cost of the system via council rates.

Domestic hot water can account for more than 50 per cent of the energy used by common property in apartment buildings that have a central hot water system installed. Heat can be lost as water travels from the central hot water system through the pipes to each apartment. Approximately 30 per cent of energy used to heat the water is wasted as a result of heat loss from storage tank and pipes. Insulating hot water pipes can reduce heat loss by up to 70 per cent.

Water consumption inefficiency is a widespread issue in apartment buildings. Studies have shown that the majority of water consumption (80-90 per cent) is from residential water use in apartments (in particular showers, taps and leaks) instead of pools and gardens as often perceived.

A great way to save water is to install water efficient appliances and fixtures, such as water-efficient showerheads, dual flush toilets, and high water star rated appliances.

Keep an eye out for any leaks. One dripping tap has the potential to waste 2,000 litres of water a month. Also, have a look at the main water meter late at night (when many people are not likely to be showering). If it is spinning around at a high and constant rate, a leak is most likely present. High water consumption may also be caused by overcrowding. Managing and monitoring occupancy in the building is a way to eliminate overcrowding.
Sub-meters can be installed (with the approval of the Owners Corporation) to get a better understanding of the high water use areas, so that a plan of action can be developed to target these areas and reduce water consumption.