Romilly Madew

By Tina Perinotto

2 February 2012 – This year will mark the Green Building Council of Australia’s 10th anniversary and chief executive Romilly Madew has no plans to waste the opportunity this presents.

Yes, the GBCA has been massively successful in changing the game for commercial buildings. Yes, it’s now a solid operation with a strong team and a seat at most of the important national political tables convened on the built environment.

But looked at in the cool harsh reality of climate change and impending resource scarcity it’s not enough, Madew reasons.

“The stats say we can capture 14-15 per cent of the market but if we truly want to have sustainable places for everyone in Australia we have to scale up,” Madew told The Fifth Estate this week.

By scale up she means reaching the massive swathes of the virtually untouched residential market. As well as the commercial market that is unconcerned with a certified Green Star rating.

It’s a powerful agenda, but Madew says it’s not something that will happen overnight.

What shape a residential rating tool would take, what partners would be involved and how to influence a broad swathe of consumers and the residential development market was all up for grabs.

What was certain, she said, is that the residential market needs to be the next frontier in the journey of transforming the built environment.

“The key thing is our 10th anniversary at the end of the year. It’s made us really reflect where we’ve been and where we need to go,” Madew says.

“When I started in 2005 [and as CEO in 2006] there was a team of 10, now there is a team of 60 plus.”

There’s now stable leadership and a good strong board now happy to leave operational matters to the executive.

On Friday the leadership team will enter a strategy session with the board to hammer out the possibilities and the potential.

The team has been preparing well in advance.

“For the last three months we’ve been working with people such as [facilitator] Kevin Nuttall.

“We could either do same old same old or we could fundamentally look and take environmental scan; what’s happened that we didn’t think about?”

The revamp of the Green Star tools is well on the way and will include the custom tool, one for interiors and the big one for performance now due in August or September, Madew says.

“That’s the Green Star revolution. But what about Green Star evolution?”

Despite its best intentions however, Green Star won’t fundamentally change the urban environment and the built environment, Madew says.

Sure you can achieve your “four, five or six stars”, she says, but what about the people who say they have built to Green Star standard but haven’t had their buildings certified, she asks?

Madew says there needs to be a place in Green Star to accommodate this part of the market. The US Green Building Council was also looking at the same issue, she says: how to bring different versions of Green Star into the fold, without devaluing the brand.

“The challenge is working out how to do it. Do we really need to rethink how we certify, do we need to have self certification?

“Not everyone is going to be in a position to get four, five or six stars, so we need to change our thinking.”

But changed thinking is a process that the GBCA is  already familiar with.

It has changed from pure environmental concerns to also include broader notions of social sustainability, Madew points out.

In the process of developing the residential communities tool it has embarked on partnerships that it has found valuable and wants to continue with.

“When we work with other industry associations, it’s more effective –  Green Star Communities was a great example of that,” Madew says.

“We couldn’t have done it on our own,” Madew says, nominating partners such as the Planning Institute of Australia, Residential Development Council and all the land development agencies around Australia.

Other items on the strategic agenda will be a little harder to pin down but for good reason, Madew says.

These she sums up as the increasingly unpredictable or volatile scenario that is evident on the economic and political scene.

“Before, the economy would ebb and flow but now economists are saying that the trending is more difficult to predict and that has implications politically.”

If you are in the business of influence you need to be finely attuned to these changes, she reasons.

“We have to be nimble and work out how the future will impact.”

Madew points to the ascendance of the Tea Party in the US as an example. This conservative force has pushed back many of the gains in environmental concerns and unleashed a reactionary trend.

“A similar thing that might happen here.” Madew says.

In the US the GBC has responded with a change in the language, to appear less threatening. Water and energy efficiency become “productivity and employment growth and economic opportunity,” for example.

“If they talk in the language of the last decade the conservatives get frightened. There are benefits [of sustainability] we know and the benefits are huge.

“But many industry associations need to make sure that the language is expressed so you are not being pigeonholed.

“The language has changed.”

But hopefully not the ultimate goals.