By Elena Bondareva
13 May 2011 –
In the spirit of keeping a healthy debate alive, two KNOWCHANGE* events were run (Melbourne, 10 March and Sydney, 16 March) to facilitate reflection on what GreenCities 2011 tells us about the state of the property industry.

Even though its organisers would not doubt it, many of us would concur that Green Cities – and a couple of other annual events – are reasonable indicators of where our collective headspace is.

The discussions commended the conference on a number of things, including the introduction of a formal debate, the quality of the keynotes and overall, a more open (rather than what has at times felt as premeditated) discussion.

In KNOWCHANGE style, we continued to focus the reflection on what wasn’t being talked about; in other words, on the “elephants in the room”. And there were a few:

  • Small-scale “greening”rather than “hero projects”, which seem to have most of the airspace
  • The fundamental changes needed within the BCA
  • The structural obstacle to transformation in the fact that much of Australian tax comes from mining
  • Lack of authenticity: most of us, including industry leaders, haven’t made fundamental changes to their lifestyles and yet continue to claim (however subconsciously) the high ground for “us” and shift the problem to the “them” who are not in the room even though they may very well have lower environmental and social footprint
  • The physical impacts of climate change, and the need for climate change adaptation within the existing built environment
  • The likelihood that some professions, business models or whole industries do not belong in the “sustainable future”, and the denial of this will keep them on “life support” at our expense
  • The new uses we must find for what emerge as obsolete buildings or communities
  • The new skills and professions  that need to emerge as the industry shifts
  • The models needed to sustain – not just create – diversity in communities, when case studies illustrate that over time, livable communities tend to become unaffordable for most
  • The new generation intentional communities as an alternative for mainstream residential development, as they can provide social and environmental benefit without the “hippy open love commune” associations
  • The need for a new aesthetic as much as many other adjustments we are making to enable sustainability, for example, should we really hold on to the look of marble, men’s ties or bleach-white fabrics?
  • The critical perspectives (and skills without which progress will remain incremental) still missing from the table: electricians, plumbers, facility managers
  • The paradox that facilities managers are expected to care about the tenants indoor environment while working out of lightless, airless basements
  • The ethics of green building such as decision-making, negotiation approaches, interface with politics
  • The real stories behind carbon zero (or whatever the lingo of the day) developments
  • The lack of genuine political discourse
  • The interface – and conflict – of affordable housing with affordable living

Some of the elephants related more specifically to the GBCA, Property Council of Australia and rating tools, such as the potential unintended consequences of the GBCA continuing professional development program and the ongoing struggle to navigate the gap – and reasons for it – between predicted and actual performance.

In addition, the discussion suggested elements  that would indicate a shift on the above , if somehow included in Green Cities 2012:

  • More robust discussion on what a sustainable city – and a property industry that supports it – would look like; in other words, we are still not hearing a well debated vision for our movement!
  • A requirement for presenters to tell the whole story, not just the pretty bits; the industry can understand that not everything works out, but if those aspects are concealed then there is a danger of the whole project being discredited
  • A panel of major insurers and re-insurers, to discuss risk modelling as it relates to green, climate change adaptation and the rest
  • Presentations of productivity studies, which are mostly kept confidential once conducted and yet as an industry, we seem to defer to the productivity argument as one of if not the strongest in the business case toolbox
  • A transparent correlation between Green Star and NABERS databases
  • A discussion on disaster relief, including temporary accommodation (such as by individuals involved in Christchurch, Japan and Brisbane)
  • More rapid prototyping during the conference, to use participants to generate solutions for pertinent issues, especially for non government organisations. For example, innovation around rapid response in disasters
  • A debate panel on council authority – regulated and implied – to prevent development in high-risk areas
  • A case study of a good example of community engagement (as opposed to many presentations on how important it is, and how to do it)
  • New construction technology and materials innovation
  • Open calls for papers (which we understand the GBCA/PCA are re-introducing), to get a wider range or presenters and content
  • More student participation, perhaps through running a competition
  • Attention to behavioural economics, business model innovation and other useful strategies from outside the property industry
  • A debate on green skills and an assessment of current graduates
  • A panel of agents and tenant reps on the issue of climate sensitivity
  • International best practice

KNOWCHANGE* What is it and what is its focus in 2011?
KNOWCHANGE is a platform for change agents to engage with each other around what sustainability makes possible. It aims to enable individuals to maximise their impact in leading transformational change towards truly sustainable cities.

Engagement with nearly 300 individuals around Australia in early 2009 aimed to identify what was fundamentally in the way of large-scale transformational change towards sustainable cities. It revealed that there was no shortage or organisations or projects, but a lack of: a robust debate, a compelling vision for sustainable cities, and support of the individuals advocating for change.

KNOWCHANGE was established in February 2010 to combat these three identified roadblocks.
This year, KNOWCHANGE aims to a series of events (including fringe events around major conferences) in Australian capital cities to first define where the cities agenda should be in a year, and then to tackle the hindering elephants in the room, spinning off initiatives where appropriate.

KNOWCHANGE is 100 per cent grassroots with no commercial agenda and open to individuals who would like to use this platform to support particular endeavours,  tackle a particular elephant in the room, host a discussion or co-facilitate a debate.

Elena Bondareva at GreenCities 2009 where it all started

How does it work?
KNOWCHANGE is a platform, not a campaign or ogranisation – but it aims to amplify the impact of many. It is the heart+headspace of change agents.

KNOWCHANGE can be contacted through its LinkedIn and ideas and suggestions and additions to lists are open to anyone.

Elena Bondareva is one of the founders and facilitators of KNOWCHANGE, and in her day-joy, a principal of Thinc Beyond, a business within the Thinc Group. Contact ebondareva@thincprojects.com