An early mover to promote sustainability to the c-suite, Cromwell Property has a growing sustainability team with the likes of Amber Tattersall driving the agenda. The Fifth Estate spoke to the Brisbane-based real estate investor’s sustainability manager about her team’s priorities, and the advantages of a sustainability team made up of more than just building engineers.
Like nearly everyone else in the country, Amber Tattersall was working-from-home when The Fifth Estate rang her on Wednesday.
The company separated into two teams this week to limit contact with each other, with each group rostered in or out of the office on alternate days. This setup means people work with 50 per cent of their colleagues on one day of the week, with the rest spent working from home.
Outside of the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic gripping the world (the company’s chief executive officer, Paul Weightman, told the AFR in late February that the COVID-19 pandemic was already disrupting its business activities), her day-to-day is dominated with the team’s biggest piece of work around climate risk and resilience disclosures.
“We’re working pretty hard to respond to the TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) with as much coverage as possible.”
This includes scenario analysis for both Australian assets and funds under management in Europe.
“ESG reporting is becoming relevant and expected by institutional investors as well as retail investors.
“If you want to excel in GRESB (environmental, social and governance benchmark for real assets), or DJSI (Dow Jones Sustainability Indices), it needs to be evidenced that it isn’t just surface-level green washing.”
As an asset owner and manager, the company is generally dealing with older buildings, which means “getting them to run as best as they can.” Developers, conversely, can build from scratch to the highest standard.
“We try and get buildings to run as efficiently as possible until you can refit.”
Adaptable reuse is too often overlooked
In general, Tattersall says it’s all too common to “rush out and tear down a building and build something brand new and shiny”.
From a sustainability perspective, this overlooks the embodied carbon in buildings and creates unnecessary waste.
This is common practice in Brisbane where brutalist buildings that aren’t “easy on the eye” are replaced with a “really big glass skyscrapers”, adding to the urban heat island effect. While considered unsightly, the original buildings are generally set further back and tend to have more natural heating and cooling.
Big things in senior living
One of the most interesting projects the company is involved in is a retirement village project in Tuggeranong. LDK Greenway Seniors’ Living Village will be owned and operated by LDK Healthcare, and is a joint venture between Cromwell Property Group and senior living operator Aspire Group.
The project involves turning an unused office park in a southern Canberra suburb into as an energy efficient aged care and retirement village for up to 450 people.
The project has managed to secure funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has invested $60 million in the village.
“That’s a really interesting case of government funding going towards a large scale project for an aged care group.”
The village will feature more than 700KW of solar PV across rooftops and car parking areas, as well as energy efficient lighting and smart controls.
Modern slavery legislation triggers broader movement
Another key body of work is responding to the Modern Slavery legislation, which has gone well beyond mandatory reporting.
She says that the legislation, which was passed in 2018, is no longer box ticking exercise but has triggered the pursuit of corporate best practice on human rights. This involves internal audits of supply chains beyond immediate suppliers.
The road to sustainability
Before Tattersall joined Cromwell nearly five years ago, she worked as a paralegal in project and infrastructure teams in and around Brisbane. This involved work in land acquisition for pipelines and other infrastructure.
It dawned on her at some point that she was “working on the other side of the deal for the bad guy, and that it didn’t sit well with my core values.”
Although she wouldn’t consider herself a “greenie”, she grew up in New Zealand where “it’s a different game”.
“I’d say I’m environmentally conscious.”
When she joined Cromwell in 2015, she started working on real estate acquisitions and disposals where she became interested in acquisition due diligence – looking at “how to assess the future plans of buildings, and why we chose them.”
This led her to work with Phil Cowling in the sustainability team (now the company’s chief sustainability officer, making it among the first major companies to appoint someone to this c-suite role) at a time when sustainability was becoming increasingly important to the business.
There’s now a team of four based in Brisbane and a couple of others in different offices.
You don’t need to be an engineer to work in sustainability
Tattersall doesn’t have any formal tertiary qualifications but a number of technical qualifications, such as NABERS and Green Star assessment accreditation. She’s also completing her WELL Standard accreditation at the moment.
She believes the fact that she’s landed in sustainability without university-level qualifications reflects the rapid changes in the industry. The emphasis used to be solely on the “E” in ESG, and the industry dominated by building services engineers focusing on energy efficiency.
She says she’s a “good test case” of a sector that’s now made up of diverse range of skillsets.
“Sustainability is broad, and it requires a diversity of thought to drive the level of change we need.
“It’s incredible to watch how the industry is blossoming and growing out through the environmental side of it.”