Bruce Precious, GPT

25 July 2013 — This week’s Green Building Day keynote speech by GPT’s sustainability manager Bruce Precious summed up six key trends that will shape the property sector over the coming decades.

The non-exhaustive trends were formulated through a research partnership with CSIRO, and released in a report, Our future world: global megatrends that will change the way we live.

“As a property company we wanted to shape our future,” said Precious, “and not just be subject to everybody else’s whims.

“There are significant structural changes occurring in the world. We need to be cognisant of them. We need to incorporate those identified changes into our planning – convert threats into opportunities.”

The first of the six trends to affect the property industry was called Spaced Out, relating to the rapid changes brought by technological innovation.

“The implications for the property sector is that technology advances will radically change the ways people work and shop. We’ve already seen the growth is online retail and the effect that has on price harmonisation for retailers,” Precious said.

He said “free range working” was also part of the trend. Laptops and smart phones had removed the shackles of the office desk, and the office.

In the office sector, we’re no longer tied to

our little battery hen cage desk

“In the office sector, we’re no longer tied to our little battery hen cage desk,” he said. “We’re no longer tied to a particular desk, so are we tied to a particular office? We’re not.”

“We looked at the kind of office space we build to support a free range worker,” said Precious, and found that those desks could be used by anyone.

GPT has now started trialling free range working in the head office, and has found satisfaction with the space has grown significantly, and hit the highest benchmarks of occupant satisfaction they’ve ever seen.

It has also invested in the start-up LiquidSpace to offer unused office space, whether meeting rooms or desk space, through a special app that works in a similar way to Airbnb.

The second trend was More From Less.

Precious said this was an obvious one for most people working in the sustainability field.

“We have this global population that is expanding in its standard of living yet we’re constrained by the earth’s resources. The pressures are significant.”

He identified six “capitals”: financial capital, manufacturing capital, human capital, social and relationship capital, intellectual capital and natural capital.

Natural capital is down

but intellectual capital is up

He said natural capital was being depleted rapidly, but our intellectual capital was growing at an extraordinary rate, and we could harness it to solve the problems of our dwindling natural resources.

As an example of GPT’s efforts, he said in 2012 alone GPT had saved $4.2 million in water bills through a 42 per cent reduction in water use through better management, metering and equipment, and expected to continue reductions.

Waste

For waste, the story was a little different. GPT became suspicious of the data being given by waste services providers, regarding how much waste was going where. They’re now working on better means of measurement, and are “very keen” to know exactly where their waste is going.

There was a suspicion that they were not really recycling, but downcycling – products being used for a lesser purpose.

“If anything, we should be aiming to upcycle products,” said Precious.

He gave the example of glass from the deconstruction of a fitout.

“If it’s just ground up and used as roadfill, I’m not sure that we’ve achieved that much,” he said. “We’ve avoided the landfill but we’re not using the product for its highest purpose.”

He gave a great example of waste management by referring to Veolia’s contracts to do street sweeping around the UK. It turned out that in the tonnes of dirt collected, there was valuable titanium, palladium and rhodium, which could be recovered and sold for millions of pounds.

“It’s an extraordinary view on what we consider waste,” he said

Next he spoke about cooperation being the third great evolutionary force, referring to the book SuperCooperators by biology and mathematics professor Martin Nowak and New Scientist editor Roger Highfield.

He referenced the Better Buildings Partnership’s work in energy, water and waste savings as an example of the benefits of collaboration.

“It has the opportunity to make significant ongoing differences,” he said. “This cooperation and collaboration will allow a great success for the City of Sydney, and serve as a benchmark for others to follow.”

The third trend was The Orient Express, the shift in economic centre of gravity moving from the West to the East.

“This is not news to anybody,” said Precious. “China’s developments, moving out of poverty, the burgeoning middle class.”

“This economic shift will build new export markets, trade relations, business models and cultural ties for Australia,” the Our Future World report says.

“It may mean that Chinese investment in Australian property is something we would realise.”

The fourth trend was Behind the Scenes.

This talks to logistics and efficiency of moving products around the world.

Precious said GPT’s immediate response to this trend was to upweight their logistics portfolio, selling off some of their retail holdings to invest more in logistics.

The fifth trend was Tangible Intangibles.

“It’s the experience now; it’s not just the product,” said Precious. “Customers, whether they’re retail customers, retail tenants, retail shoppers, whether it’s office tenants, office workers – they’re now looking for a more complete experience.”

GPT has responded by internalising the management of their offices to be closer to the tenants.

“We think that’s a means to better relationships, better outcomes and over time, better returns.”

Shopping centres are also changing their offerings, including theatres, libraries, community centres and restaurants, which Precious says are “growth areas”.

“It’s about people being able to socialise, meet together and enjoy experiences.”

The final trend was Forever Young – the aging population.

“We know that the number of Australians older than 65 will quadruple between 2010 and 2050,” Precious said. “A whole new range of needs will evolve around that, whether it be medical, educational opportunities, socialising.”

“Megatrends has tried to narrow the cone from what is plausible to what is possible to what is probable,” said Precious.

“The exciting bit is we get to choose what becomes plausible and possible. It’s our action that really will make the difference.

“The property industry itself has been part of some significant trends, particularly the Australian property industry – world leaders in so many of the green building aspects. Let’s be world leaders beyond that and use green buildings as the catalyst for more successful outcomes and greater change.”

One reply on “Green Building Day 2013: megatrends for the property sector”

  1. Sounds like an interesting address by Bruce Precious. On the waste issue I can comment that as a waste auditor for the past 20 years and someone who is active in the waste field (through worm farming, composting and waste reduction as well as education) I have been appalled by the way industry in general has misled the public regarding the so-called waste stream. Over 20 years ago we could have banned organics from landfill while we implemented the first recycling programs. Had we done so the picture in Australia would by now be completely different with many more jobs in the burgeoning sector of resource recovery rather than phony waste to energy propositions based on ‘converted’ landfills. Our soils would be healthier and our food sector more abundant and our secondary industries would be innovating new products upcycled from the embodied values of the recovered assets. Instead we have massive increases in landfilling costs, fuelled by this outdated model and government’s desire to tax it mainly for its own bottom line. To continue the old model while the level of resource recovery continues at barely over 50% instead of approaching zero waste is sheer folly and the property sector is beginning to wake up as it plays ever closer attention to the utility impacts on its bottom line.

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