Blair Palese, 350.org and Gunter Pauli

13 March 2013 – It was a leaner and more sober Green Cities this year – no doubt a reflection of the tougher economic times the industry has been battling. There were fewer concurrent sessions, a smaller exhibition and noticeably fewer delegates. It didn’t diminish the determination to rejuvenate the sustainability message but it may explain why some delegates identified so closely with guest adventurers Cas and Jonesy and their engaging story of battling the odds in the wilds of Antarctica.

The mood was nailed by Property Council of Australia chief executive officer Peter Verwer when, in his usual pithy style, he remonstrated with organisations not to abandon their specialist sustainability managers, who he dubbed the “rottweilers”.

“We need the internal Rottweiler. If it hadn’t been for these champions over the past 10 years, we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Verwer said.

The Rottweiler became something of a mascot for the rest of the conference, popping up in numerous sessions and during coffee breaks.

The other catchy phrase from Verwer was the comment that the planning industry should hand itself over to animation and 3D specialist PIXAR to sell the sustainability message in a tangible way.

the planning industry should hand itself over to PIXAR

“There’s more technology in one Nintendo game than in our entire planning system,” Verwer said

And given that a new climate change version of online game Sim City was launched last week, this may not be too far fetched.

A slide from Gunter Pauli’s presentation

Big ideas
Big ideas were delivered in spades by keynote speaker Gunter Pauli, Belgian entrepreneur and author of The Blue Economy.

In Pauli’s blue economy industry innovations in all sectors, from energy to mining and medicine to banking, are the key to transitioning to a zero carbon future. And these innovations are all inspired by science and biometrics.

He backs these ideas with action, funding projects around the globe through his organisation Zero Emissions Research and Initiative, which is now a global network.

Pauli presented a dizzying array of ideas, from the seemingly obvious concept of filling buildings with plants to provide clean air and remove the need for traditional air filters, to the more radical idea of abattoirs where all waste is recycled by flies that are bred in massive maggot farms.

Questions

And the by-product of these maggots – saliva – at $1000 euros a litre, is valuable. Seven litres of saliva is extracted from every maggot for use in treatment of diabetes and ulcers, Pauli said.

A key message from Pauli was that local manufacturing can be brought back to cities so that services are located where they are needed – where people live. Innovations such as plasma technology and 3D design is making this possible:

“We have kicked manufacturing out of the cities and created industrial zones where they could pollute, over consume water and have too much energy at their disposal so they will never become energy efficient. We have to have the confidence to say we can bring manufacturing back to the cities.

“We can get the 3D designers that are needed in order to do this, the software, the broadband. It is about getting key technicians back doing key work that is needed.

“We need 3D printing without malls, without water. We need to eliminate toxins and have services fast, next door.”

Eric Knight

Eric Knight, political commentator and author, argued that implementation and adaption of technology is the key to a sustainable future on the planet. Plus reframing the way we think about sustainability.

Masdar City, in the United Arab Republic, for example, might be an eco nirvana but it is soul-less because people are not engaged with the technology, says Knight.

“The great brands have an inherent paradox,” said Knight. “Apple for example is incredibly simple but also incredibly complex.”

There is no point in having amazing technology if people don’t engage with it.

The key is to identify the customer fear and reverse it. With digital media the greatest fear is lack of time; with climate change it is lack of power.

James Redwood, Hansen & Yunken

“People feel powerless to solve the problem of climate change so we must reverse this and empower people. ….. the challenge for green buildings is to give power back to the people, to use data to activate people.”

What the CEOs think
CEOS also got to have their say in a session mediated by The Fifth Estate’s Tina Perinotto.

Daniel Grollo, Grocon CEO, was optimistic that tenants were becoming more proactive about sustainability.

“A lot of sustainable achievements in the past 10 years have been in base buildings but we’re seeing a shift. In the last 12 to 18 months tenants have been getting on board.

In the last 12 to 18 months tenants have been getting on board.

Monique Alfriss on solving energy poverty in India

“And I think we’ll see a wave where tenants look at how they’re going to run their businesses more sustainably. I think that’s an exciting thing.”

He predicted that building owners would start to take over the entire fitout, including the tenant space. This would reduce waste by removing the need for “make good” clauses where tenants rip out their fittings at the end of the lease and would encourage more sustainable fitouts.

And as for barriers to change, those operating in the built environment were often the problem:

“The biggest limiter to meeting the [sustainability] challenge in the most efficient way is our own capacity to innovate and our ability to adapt and change.

“We are the ones blocking it even though we want it to occur quickly because the biggest organisations actually have their own governance issue.

“The big changes that are going to revolutionise our industry actually

undermine current income streams as you move from one product to another –

as you transition.

The Hub, presentations

“One day we’ll have photovoltaic glass as an industry norm but the transition period will be a big difficulty. Just like with cars – moving from old to new technology – the industry itself was biggest inhibitor.”

Dan Labbard, Lend Lease COO, saw a lot of potential for improving productivity in the built sector supply chain and in procurement.

“The notion that sustainability needs to cost more is really a challenge for the future because today there’s a lot of space that can be caught up in the way we procure in our sector. Industrialising construction processes, for example, and standardisation. Most of the buildings we live and work in today are bespoke and that should change.”

Suzanne Toumbourou, Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council

Multiplex CEO, John Flecker, said his company concentrated its efforts on convincing clients – usually tenants – about the benefits of sustainability:

“We look to the social side of occupants and productivity. If you look at a city like Masdar, we would argue it is unsustainable because it’s not used. If you allowed 20 per cent more carbon production and it was well used it would be a more sustainable solution.

“We take the view if there are people with more feet running faster, leaving a smaller footprint, it’s a more productive solution.

“And if buildings are better utilised and have higher performance, that’s worth something to a client and is going to drive some solutions that hopefully will be green.”

Politics – do we need it?
The size of our cities and the role of politics in shaping them was the key theme in a session moderated by sustainability adviser Sam Mostyn.

Simon Birmingham, left, with Adam Bandt

Simon Birmingham, South Australian Liberal senator, and Adam Brandt deputy leader of the Australian Greens said yes they did have a role, albeit different at federal, state and local government level. Brandt wanted more buy-in to planning from local communities so they could influence their own environments.

Mara Bun, CEO of Green Cross Australia, wanted people power to go much further:

“We call on governments to step back and allow the community to develop grounded solutions suitable for the environment. I’m intrigued by how in Brazil, Scandinavia, the US and Canada a new model of decision making is allowing that groundedness to come forward – it’s called deliberative democracy.

The US and Canada have a new model of decision making called

deliberative democracy.

“Innovative transport solutions in Brazil come from empowering the community to consider alternatives around them and determine how their own taxes are spent. I would like to see this happen in Australia.”

Alex Cutler, NZGBC, left, with Romilly Madew, GBCA

Green Building Councils facing the challenge

In the final session of the conference the CEOs of three green building councils discussed the future challenges for their organisations and rating tools.

Romilly Madew CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia demonstrated her inclusive style and set a great example to women juggling work and family with her opening line: “I’d personally like to welcome my three children and please ask them to behave.”

For Australia, the big things coming up are the launch of Green Star Performance tool, which will rate operational performance of buildings, a move to online rating capability, the inclusion of lifecycle assessment and an exploration of how to integrate social movements.

Madew’s New Zealand and South African counterparts talked about some of the additional issues they need to embrace in their sustainability criteria.

Brian Wilkinson, SAGBCA

For Alex Cutler, CEO of the New Zealand Green Building Council, it is seismic strength following Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquakes, while for Brian Wilkinson, CEO of Green Building Council of South Africa, it is the socio/economic aspects of the built environment.

Both organisations place more emphasis on residential ratings than the GBCA – New Zealand with its Homestar rating tool, which it hopes will help improve the quality of the country’s one million underperforming homes.

And while New Zealand has great designers, cost of construction is high and there are fewer international investors than in Australia. “We don’t build a lot of new buildings but we have so much to do in existing buildings,” Cutler said.

“We don’t build a lot of new buildings but we have so much to do in

existing buildings”

Left to right: Rachel Dixon,Viocorp; Michelle Tabet, Arup; Shauna Coffey, Deloitte

“And we also have a government that is not interested in sustainability, so that is a key challenge.”

Wilkinson said they are five years behind in South Africa so there is no tailing of interest – work has just begun.

“There is counter resistance to certification for smaller developments though so we need to be more innovative in ways to bring them on board,” Wilkinson said.

But it was session moderator, Tony Arnel, global sustainability director of Norman Disney & Young who honed in on the real challenge for Green Star with his opening question to Romilly Madew: “Some of my clients are telling me they like Green Star but they don’t care if they get a rating. So have rating tools seen better days and do they need to be more dynamic, more quickly brought to the market?”:

Madew responded: “I think there are a number of different issues. For some it is about perceived cost and for some the perceived complexity and bureaucratic nature of Green Star.

But she believed that many people who complain about these things had also not kept up to date with the changes in the tool and were not aware it had evolved.

From the WSP presentation by Richard Palmer

“The problem is we’re all so busy, we are missing the mark with communication and we need to take that on board. Industry also has to take responsibility for keeping up to date with changes.

“The final thing is we need to keep up to date with technology, which is making sure we enable Green Star online and making sure when we get it to you that you can use Green Star quickly and efficiently and easily, which we hope reduces the cost and the bureaucratic nature and perception of Green Star.”

The work currently underway by Green Star, Madew said, will allow people to rate not just one building, but 10 buildings at once.

“We’ve heard you and we’re very much listening to what people are saying about Green Star but it can’t happen overnight. But we also need the industry to tell us what they want otherwise we actually don’t know,” Madew said.

“And hopefully you won’t roll your eyes when your client says they want Green Star, you’re going to passionately want to use Green Star because it will be easy to use and will make use of all the 21st century technology that is out there.”