14 February 2013 – So Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, Mirvac’s new chief executive officer, turns out to be one of the good guys. Among her first jobs was to appoint a new senior sustainability manager to replace Alicia Maynard, who headed to Baulderstone in September last year.
The new recruit, straight from London, is Paul Edwards, who was head of sustainability for the UK property giant Hammerson for the five years to November last year.
Edwards is not just any sustainability manager: he was recently named the 28th most influential person in the field by Building Design Magazine.
And he’s not new to Australia. Former work has included time with Lend Lease as sustainability project manager and as a mechanical engineer with ARUP.
But is this clearly high-level appointment the way that other corporates will approach 2013?
Last year leading property companies stood by and watched their senior sustainability people walk out the door. Yes, there was also a lot of culling in the top and middle ranks to ease the financial pain wrought by the GFC, but in the sustainability field it seemed that at least some of the departures were because doors were starting to get tougher to open at the board level.
The thinking right now is that the pioneering work, stage one, is done, and now it’s time for implementation, and perhaps less senior people can do that part of the job.
According to Siobhan Toohill, a Green Building Council director and former sustainability head at Stockland, there’s a new stage of the sustainability revolution in the offing.
“The way I look at it, is there’s Version 1 and Version II,” Toohill says.
Version 1 was about proving the business case. And there is no easier industry than property in which to do this.
“The return on investment is there, particularly for property, more than any other sector, especially on energy efficiency,” Toohill says.
“Where the company is in terms of its own strategic business cycle [is relevant] and sustainability has to be in tune with that strategy for the sustainability manager to be successful.”
That element of the work is now well-embedded across the leading companies, Toohill says. A little harder will be the next challenge of social sustainability, and proving the value dimensions of that next potential element of sustainability.
“Some companies think they need the best person they can possibly find to go back in [after the departures], and others think they have got their strategy and now it’s about really consolidating the strategy they’ve developed.
“Different companies take different approaches and it will be really interesting to see what happens in nine or 10 months time; they might take a different view then.”
But is there a structural change: a shift from the early pioneers (many of whom we can’t help but notice, were women)? Are there some roadblocks driven by the evolution of the sector – along the lines of, we’ve done enough; got it now, let’s move on – or simple fallout from the GFC?
One commentator who prefers to stay off the record thinks there is a danger that the sustainability industry could get a little “stagnant”; this commentator has a sense that some of the senior executive people were no longer as open to the sustainability managers as they were previously, and that scaling back programs only leads to frustrations and the departure of talented managers to other fields.
“There’s a bit of frustration. A lot of people that left had achieved a hell of a lot – and they probably thought things inside those companies were not as cheery as they used to be,” our source says.
“We’re an optimistic bunch, and always think that things are going to be better [somewhere else].”
And there are questions about salary scales, as in other parts of the post-GFC business environment.
“Some were notoriously well paid. Some surveys said it was in the high $100,000s and low $200,000s.”.
It’s a view backed by some of the recruiters who get the exit perspective from departing staff.
Is there also a gender issue at play? Now that sustainability has “grown up” in the world, the noticeable dominance of women that characterised the early days of this industry might give way as more men enter the fray.
Recruiter Lisa Tarry from Turning Green said it was hard to say if this would be the case, but it was clear that women were still vastly outnumbered by men in the more powerful senior roles.
“There’s not enough female representation on the boards of these companies and we know those that do have women on boards outperform those that don’t,” Tarry says.
On the outlook for this year, Tarry is optimistic.
“There seem to be a lot more jobs on offer,” Tarry says. “It was really dry last year and this year, so far, it’s been pretty good.”
Among her current crop of jobs to fill is a mid-ranking role with one corporate, a senior ESD manager for a corporate property role with a non-property company, and a senior directorship in a philanthropic organisation.