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With up to 73% of its residents living in apartments, many of which are towers, Sydney is often referred to as ‘the Vertical City’. These residential buildings account for 10% of the City’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, 38% of its water use and 14% of its waste output. City data predicts that half of the population in the state of New South Wales (NSW) will be living in apartments by 2030. In response to this situation, the City launched the Smart Green Apartments (SGA) Programme in 2011 to help apartment owners and managers reduce their energy and water use, minimise waste and cut GHG emissions. The City of Sydney also plans to cut emissions from its apartment sector by 40% by 2030.

What is it?
The Smart Green Apartments programme is a scheme designed by the City of Sydney to improve the cost-effectiveness and environmental performance of 30 of its apartment buildings, while providing additional citywide benefits through knowledge sharing and dissemination.

How does it work?
Professional auditors visit selected residential apartment buildings to conduct sustainability assessments and investigate potential improvements related to water and energy and waste. Participating building owners and managers receive the following benefits:

  • Free water and energy audit1, including performance indicators monitoring and efficiency plans
  • Assessments of waste and recycling practices
  • Action plan with retrofitting recommendations
  • Business case information on capital costs, projected savings, payback periods, and government rebates
  • Knowledge and capacity building

Each building receives a tailored action plan that is then presented to apartment building decision makers such as executive committees, strata2 and building managers to enhance the capacity of owner corporations to implement upgrades.

The programme has also established a database consisting of energy consumption data, information on opportunities identified and progress on implementation. Initial learnings from the 30 buildings are being shared through a network of over 100 apartment buildings across the City through targeted communications and workshops.

In parallel to the Smart Green Apartments programme, the City has also contributed to the creation of an online toolkit called Smart Blocks, a national programme providing guidelines on how to navigate strata decision making concerning energy efficiency upgrades of common areas in apartment buildings.

CO2 reduction
The City has identified that, on average, buildings can reduce energy consumption by up to 30% by implementing a variety of cost effective measures. Together these savings amount to an average of AU$ 74,000 (£35,400) savings per year per building, with less than 3.6 years required to recover investment costs.

The programme has succeeded in stimulating retrofitting activity in apartment buildings either participating in or affiliated with the programme. Of all sustainability improvement recommendations made by the City to the 30 participating buildings, approximately 37% of these have been implemented. Furthermore, over 100 buildings have expressed interest in the programme to date.

The City has also identified that nearly 60% of energy consumption comes from the shared portions of properties such as lighting, swimming pools, heating and ventilation systems. As lighting upgrades generate the highest return on investment within the shortest payback period (usually less than two years), many buildings have saved 20-30% of lighting costs by upgrading lighting fixtures (e.g. installation of more efficient bulbs or of motion detectors). Programme data also indicates that almost 90% of water consumption in participant buildings comes from individual apartments (40% from showering, 30% from 126 bathrooms and basins). The programme identified that sub-metering of water usage is one of the most effective measures for promoting water efficiency.

Sydney’s scheme provides a valuable example of how pilot studies can be used to identify opportunities for cutting down emissions, disseminate knowledge within the community and inform future policies. Knowledge outcomes from the programme are being used to shape policies such as the Residential Apartments Sustainability Plan.

Next steps
The programme has highlighted the need for robust key performance indicators. A key next step is therefore the development of a reliable benchmarking or rating system to drive understanding in the apartment market regarding sustainability performance, particularly energy efficiency trends.

Further information
To find out more about Sydney’s Smart Green Apartments scheme, the programme’s success factors, challenges and lessons learned please refer to the report Urban Efficiency: A Global Survey of Building Energy Efficiency Policies in Cities, launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and C40 in late 2014 and updated in May 2015.


1The inspection, survey or examination of a building or facility to identify current performance and efficiency improvement opportunities.

2A system of building ownership where individuals each own a unit such as a single apartment, and share a responsibility for the operation and maintenance of common assets.