Dan Labbad at Green Cities 2013

21 August 2013 — Dan Labbad had two reasons to be happy on Tuesday morning during a telephone interview. One was that the Lend Lease chief operating officer had finally appointed a head of global sustainability after a very long search.

And another was that a new library going up in Docklands would be Australia’s second cross laminated timber building after the multi-level Forté, also in Melbourne.

Labbad likes CLT – a lot – and waxes lyrical on its superior sustainability qualities and adaptability.

He’s also very positive about the new sustainability head Geoff Dutaillis. As a former Lend Lease operative from way back, Dutaillis fits right into the Lend Lease “family” and as a man who led Babcock & Brown’s high profile and pioneering foray into wind energy, he’s got the right spirit of green adventure.

But ask about the coming election and the impending likely victory of Coalition Leader Tony Abbott, who has pledged to ditch the carbon tax and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation – not to mention his loud scepticism on climate change – and Labbad retreats into corporate-speak. Perhaps as befits the head of a global company with 18,000 staff on its books.

“The election is an unknown; talking to some people, not so much of an unknown,” Labbad says.

“A change in government would take time to bed down. There’s a sort of finger in the air with the Australian economy right now.”

So will an Abbott government have an impact on sustainability and property?

“There’s no doubt it will have an impact and that it will change things, but it’s too early to tell how.”

How serious could the impact be?

“I can’t speak on behalf of the property industry. On behalf of Lend Lease I want to partner with governments and if there is a policy area we disagree on we will speak up.”

In the end it’s about making the best of it.

“We operate in different markets around the world. We like to partner with government; we will obviously have a view on policy but that’s one view among many.”

Certainly the doors have to stay open. The company has “frequent conversations with all levels of government”, Labbad says.

“Rather than comment on any policy areas we will look forward to working with whatever government gets in.”

On sustainability the influence of the government is just one driving element. Labbad cites three: regulation, contractual and “what we do off our own bat”.

So what’s the global view from this man who spends much of his time looking after his global patch?

“The mood in the US and Asia is pretty good, Europe is pretty tough and here, there are definitely headwinds.

On Geoff Dutaillis, Labbad is positive. It’s an appointment that signals Lend Lease has finally jumped back to a firm and – more importantly for the rest of the industry – visible commitment to sustainability.

Dutaillis is a formidable choice for the role.

His connection with Lend Lease goes back to 1986 as a site engineer; he’s worked it the business in Europe and back in Australia has worked on the $1 billion Rouse Hill Regional Centre development north-west of Sydney.

But it was Dutaillis’s role with the high-flying Babcock & Brown that steals the limelight. He was chief operating officer of Infigen Energy spun off from Babcock & Brown Wind Partners, which was one of the first bastions of financial capital to try to remake the world in a greener tone.

Infigen Energy ended up with wind farms in a number of countries, enough to power 500,000 homes.

According to Labbad, Dutaillis brings to the job the “right balance” of technical, property and change management expertise, important for “how you pull the levers of change, which in this area is a constant”.

What Labbad is counting on too is that Dutaillis brings an “added benefit” to what is already a mature space in sustainability.

Labbad won’t be drawn on the staffing numbers that can be rightly pegged with the sustainability hat.

“I don’t even know the numbers; in some ways it’s irrelevant because more and more project managers and development managers are doing it directly.”

What about the strategic direction – surely you need a dedicated team somewhere to push those boundaries?

“To be clear, if I wasn’t looking at sustainability strategically I’d die [in the business].”

The same goes for  chief executive officer Steven McCann, Labbad says.

“When we run our annual strategy program every leader is having a sustainability discussion.”

See our interview with Dan Labbad from early this year, Interview: Dan Labbad on generational change and non-negotiable green