By Imogen Schoots

25 April 2012 – Bruce Mitchell started life as an electrician and did not expect to become a property developer.  Australia’s first enviro industrial estate completed in 2010 saw him win 17 awards and his expertise is now widely sought.

Declaring himself a self made man Mitchell is keen to share his experiences and the knowledge he gained by completing the 42,000 square metre industrial estate in Queensland’s Yatala Industrial Precinct at Stapylton, between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

It’s not hard to see why it is called an enviro industrial estate. Just over 14 per cent is set aside to nature, much of the storm water is treated on site via several wetlands and stored in five underground concrete tanks.

Rain water provides sufficient potable water for the onsite workers. It is collected from roofs, filtered, then stored in tanks located around the site. The on-site sewage treatment and water collection mean that tenants don’t pay any water or sewage bills.

Warehouses have been relocated from various sites across Australia and situated onsite to utilise passive solar principles and natural ventilation. Some tenants have elected to aircondition their offices adjoining the factories even though the need to run them is substantially less than what would be needed in conventionally constructed commercial premises.

Mitchell’s four hectare enviro industrial estate was awarded full EnviroDevelopment certification by the Urban Devaelopment Institute of Australi  in 2008, making it the first of its kind to receive sustainability accreditation at this level.

The UDIA claims its  EnviroDevelopment is a scientifically-based branding and certification system rewarding sustainable development projects with environment marketing symbols relevant to their achievements.

The development currently houses nine businesses with a total of about 250  employees and a current waiting list. But this wasn’t always the case. When Mitchell proposed the project the concept was a first and he  faced a number of financing challenges.

He used a larger bank to fund construction for Stage 1, but funding for Stage 2 proved to be much more difficult to secure. At this time Mitchell’s industrial estate had no long term tenants.

Mitchell recalls a visit from a valuer  at the time, which starkly demonstrates financial barriers to such initiatives. Standing at the edge of the site’s largest lake the valuer asked, “Why didn’t you build a shed here?”

Mitchell’s biggest financial breakthrough occurred when he came across a booth at an environment show in Brisbane where he met a bankmecu representative. Through the process of securing finance, not only did bankmecu help Mitchell feel like a trusted family member, he says, but he was also offered lower than standard interest rates, saving him thousands.

A bankmecu bank manager assessed the estate on a regular commercial basis and determined that Bruce Mitchell would be in a position to meet his financial commitments, with adequate security to cover the required lending.

Mitchell says bankmecu, which claims to be  a socially responsible lender, indicated that the environmental objectives incorporated into the enviro industrial estate tied in with the bank’s ethos and principles and that it would have triple bottom line outcomes and provide social returns for its customers.

The struggle of enforcing the value of an enviro industrial estate was evident when Mitchell engaged a real estate agent to find tenants.

After a number of weeks without tenants, Mitchell decided to bypass agents and take matters into his own hands. Through various methods including stands at conferences and articles in industry publications, Mitchell secured long term leases for the entire site. Now the largest tenancy on site brings in over $400,000 a year in rent.

One such business is the family owned and operated Anika Natural Products which re-located from Nerang. Hamish Couch, part owner said that one of his dreams was to run the business as carbon neutral.

After initially doing a handshake deal, then signing a simple Real Estate Institute of Queensland leasing contract and receiving a months free rent to assist the moving process, Anika Natural Products is now Australia’s first carbon neutral certified organic personal care manufacturer.

Reflecting on mistakes made and lessons learnt, Mitchell says he will never again use bitumen for road construction. Given its dark colour it absorbs heat and becomes soft, he says.

With high and heavy vehicle movements it didn’t take long for the roads to become damaged. All the driveways for Stage 2 were constructed  in concrete, which was more durable. Bitumen driveways which failed were replaced with concrete.

Eager to share his expertise and to spread the word on what is possible, Mitchell’s enviro industrial park includes a specially dedicated eco display centre. It is an information marketing and educational hub that contains information from each of the businesses that are on-site.

Open to the public six days a week, it has a lecture room which can be used by touring groups such as university students. The display centre also has conference facilities and a cafe that only serves food that is sourced from within a 100km radius. It is designed to promote sustainability, environmental and climate change solutions for individuals and businesses.

Left, Bruce Mitchell with Ian Bailey

Mitchell’s knowledge was recently sought for a housing development on the NSW mid north coast. Ian Bailey and Annie Georgeson, sustainable development entrepreneurs, need help completing a 66 allotment sustainable village near Port Macquarie, The Chimneys.

In developing this site new benchmarks for accountable sustainable development will be established, a challenge gladly accepted by Mitchell. This new sustainable village will incorporate some of the same principles utilised in Mitchell’s enviro industrial estate including:

  • Thermal wall technology
  • Comprehensive insulation of buildings with well vented roofs.
  • Producing an economically viable product that meets the needs of the market
  • Working with nature as much as possible for benefits such as natural lighting and ventilation
  • Allocating a substantial area of land for communal use as green open space

Imogen Schoots worked for more than 10 years in advocacy roles for various social and environmental organisations. She is now travelling the world, and along the way will be discovering and sharing initiatives in the sustainable property industry.