Green Cities Conference 2009

The Green Cities Conference, held in Brisbane from March 1-4, gave sustainability gurus, property professionals and politicians a chance to air their views on sustainable property and peddle their wares. We pick out the highlights:

Pollies talk social equity

Politicians were pretty thick on the ground at the conference with local, state and federal governments all represented. Putting the case for the Federal Government was the environment minister Peter Garrett, who emphasised the government’s push for increases in energy efficiency requirements for all types of buildings in the Building Code of Australia by 2010.

Garrett expects the Government’s Mandatory Disclosure Scheme to increase demand for energy efficient buildings and push up the average NABERS energy rating of Australian commercial buildings from the present level of 2.5 stars.

Social equity was also a key message of the Environment Minister, who talked up government plans to assist renters and the disadvantaged to insulate their homes:

“In the transition to a low pollution future, social equity should be – and must be – a key driver of energy efficiency policy.”

Malcom likes the bus but not the carbon scheme

Cars discriminate against the old, the poor and the young, says Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull

Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, was also pushing the social equity line, in particular through investment in public transport:

“Cars discriminate against old, poor and young. Public transport investment is investment in social equity – without it can’t we reduce CO2 from transport sector,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, Turnbull was highly critical of the Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, claiming it does not provide enough incentive for savings in the built environment or for big polluters to reduce emissions.

He cited alternatives for reducing CO2 levels, such as increasing soil carbon levels through bio char, but he didn’t provide much detail here, instead referring attendees to some of his earlier speeches on the subject.

Cool Brisbane: more trees will lower ambient temperature

Cool Brisbane

At the local level, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, talked about the large cash rebates available in Brisbane for building owners and developers aiming for 6 Star ratings. Brisbane City Council has budgeted $12million for this through its Sustainable Development Grants.

Greening Brisbane through an ambitious tree planting programme is also central to the council’s plans, said Cr Newman:

“We have planted 500,000 trees and will plant another 1.5 million over the next three years. Our intention is to increase tree cover from 32 per cent to 40 per cent over ten years – it’s about cooling Brisbane and remediating our creek lines.”

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, was on the re-election path and promised much greater reforms. Green developments would be fast tracked through a “Green Door” policy that would cut red tape from the bureaucracy and new houses and major renovations would all have to meet six star energy standards by the end of 2010, she said. Now that she has won, it’s time to deliver.

It’s a tide

Inevitably there was much discussion on the likely impact of the current global financial crisis on commitment to sustainability. The general consensus was that the sustainability tide might be slowed but it could not be stopped.

Get with the program

Charles Lockwood, US green real estate consultant, said, if anything, the economic downturn would encourage more sustainable buildings because they reduce costs and increase staff productivity. The trick, he said, was to educate people about the true cost of sustainable buildings, as the majority think they cost more than conventional buildings when in reality they cost the same or less.

But maybe energy just doesn’t cost enough. Even in America.

“The fact is companies spend 70 times more on salaries than on energy bills. If you increase the productivity of just one executive you will pay for your energy bills,” said Lockwood.

Show me the money

Sustainability is a critical business issue – Anita Mitchell

Anita Mitchell – head of energy & sustainability services, Jones LangLasalle, pointed to JLL’s Global Occupier Survey 2008, which found that 76 per cent of executives in 2008 believed sustainability is a critical business issue, up from 46 per cent in 2007.

A marked trend was a shift to quality building management and refurbishments, but with less willingness to pay a premium for sustainable buildings.

“There is less focus on doing the right thing and more on ‘show me the money’. People want to achieve lower outgoings, to get more juice out of existing buildings and to pursue green retrofits,” said Mitchell.

Recesssion ommission

Chief executive of RICS International, Louis Armstrong, believes the global push for statutory regulation of carbon emissions is recession proof, with governments around the world introducing policies to encourage emission reductions.

Governments will lead. As education and knowledge on sustainability increase so will demand,” said Armstrong.

Give back what you take

Daniel Grollo, CEO of Grocon, believes investment in sustainable practices across all industries could drag us all out the financial crisis. And, said Grollocon, the day of carbon neutral buildings that generate their own power and give back what they used during the building process, is not far off.

Buildings that give back to society what they consume during the building process are aiming high. We should all do this. I believe in the next wave – the green cycle that will follow the financial crisis.”

(Is Grollo hinting at plans for the CUB site in Melbourne?)

Techno small talk

Technology talk was surprisingly limited over the two days. A standout though, in renewable energy – from tri generation to wind towers on tall buildings. Another interesting session alighted on advanced building facades, or double skins.

In terms of energy, thermal technology, such as ground source heat pumps, was cited as offering an energy saving of around 40 per cent in buildings and a payback period of seven years on the capital cost, estimated to be 30-35 percent higher than more conventional HVAC systems.

Collaboration is gold for green

John Bilson, managing director of PTW, talked about the melding of Western and Chinese design concepts and building methods to create the Water Cube for the Beijing Olympics.

Bilson discussed the energy and material costs savings made possible by the building’s ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) membrane structure, but Bilson’s main emphasis was on the importance of collaboration:

“People are drawn to this building because of its appearance but its true success lies in the fact it was built by a team of people.. cCollaboration is a very important aspect of sustainability.”

Fire and water

In his discussion of the new Melbourne Convention Centre Mark Kelly, director of sustainability, Woods Baggott, stressed the importance of using recycled water in Australian buildings, particularly in light of the recent intense heatwave and bushfires experienced in Victoria. Flexibility of design, with movable seating and walls was vital, said Kelly:

“If you can design a building with multiple uses it is much more sustainable. You can alter the spaces and adapt the use to demand.”

Remember your roots

Dr Ken Yeang, director of Llewellyn Davies Yeang, probably best known as the pioneer of the green skyscraper, gave a fascinating keynote address on his holistic approach to urban planning.

Yang outlined how ecoinfrastructure can bring multiple benefits to a city by encouraging connectivity between green spaces, providing habitats for wildlife and helping to offset CO2 emissions. Humans needed to get things in perspective, said Yang:

“Nature has just as much right as us to exist and that includes other species.”

Click on the following link to read a  great interview with Yeang in Wallpaper magazine.

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au