Craig Roussac: “Ultimately, there is nothing that will be kept secret”

By Tina Perinotto

– 24 July 2009 – Investa has established a leading reputation for greening its existing building stock. Now it wants to share its knowledge through its initiative, the Investa Sustainability Institute, launched on Wednesday.
According to Craig Roussac, Investa’s General Manager, Sustainability, Safety & Environment, the Institute will create a platform for deeper research into what makes a property tick more sustainably and it will be available to “everyone and anyone.”

He said the Institute would collaborate with research, academics, industry, professional bodies and government organisations to better understand the processes and results of greening existing buildings.

The move followed a growing demand to share results of environmentally friendly work on buildings, Mr Roussac said.

“It came about because over the years we’ve had a lot of researchers wanting to get hold of our data and lamenting that they couldn’t.

“We realised we could partner with people and identify research objectives, take the theory and apply it and disseminate the results, so it’s very knowledge-sharing and it’s giving researchers access to a living laboratory, and giving ourselves improved performance by being more progressive.

“Ultimately there is nothing that will be kept secret.”

Mr Roussac said installing equipment or systems could be highly effective but in practice there was very little monitoring to test the proposition.

“To be quite honest you don’t know if you are successful or not because people don’t go and check.

“We’ve found that in our new portfolio we did two almost identical projects on opposite sides of the street and they had vastly different outcome, but we didn’t know about it until two years later.”

“It says something about the rigour we apply that we found out. Engineers don’t have fees to go back and see if their project works as it is meant to. The industry is not set up that way.”

Mr Roussac said that having research objectives introduced a new level of discipline. And if an intervention or project didn’t work, “then that’s a good outcome because you know what to do about it next time.

“And next time you put up a business case for something, you have a much more solid basis.”

One of the academic groups Mr Roussac is currently holding talks with is Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, a leading group whose members have included 11 Nobel Prize winners, including former director, Steve Chu, also a Nobel Laureate, recently appointed to the Obama cabinet as Energy Secretary.

For Lawrence Berkeley the Investa portfolio presents a variation on its regular property work. Importantly it will ask whether achievements can be replicated, Mr Roussac said.

“We’ve got a rock solid paper, reviewed by KPMG, that says we’ve reduced emissions by 24 per cent in the last four years across the portfolio.

“But the question is can it be replicated?”

“Stationary energy use in Australia just keeps climbing – and pretty much everywhere –
so the question is, can some of these experiences be replicated?

“What are the public policy implications?

“What we are going to do is use all of our operations as the laboratory – and rather than dumping data in a meaningless indecipherable sort of way onto a platform for others to wade through, we are forming collaboration with leading experts to make sense of the experience.

Partly the idea will also feed into the Green Building Fund grants through which Investa will receive funding for 88 discrete projects in a number of buildings.

Melbourne skyline: Investa is holding talks with academic institutions such as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, on collaboration through the Institute

“All of these Green Building Fund projects, we’re obliged to monitor and report on their success at the end of 12 months but we will go a lot further and treat those as experiments [within the institute].”

There will be four key areas of focus – construction and development, land development, and master planned estates and building operations.

“Building operations is where we sort of cut our teeth,” Mr Roussac said.

“An additional focus is around responsible investment methodology and also the broader public policy.”
For examples, the Institute would look at how many green jobs were created for “each dollar spent across the portfolio.

“It provides policy makers with direct evidence they can use.”

Australia had some special advantages over other countries in testing energy efficiency measures in buildings, Mr Roussac said because of the way metering separates base buildings and tenancies.

Mr Roussac said one of the issues that the Institute was interested in was the value of non-technical intervention into building efficiency – that is, human processes and systems.

This  follows Investa’s participation in the Low Energy High Rise project, which found that the most valuable interventions in buildings were often human-led, rather than through expensive technology (see our coverage).

Another company providing public monitoring is Szencorp with it headquarters at 40 Albert Road, South Melbourne. Its most recent results were negative (see our coverage).

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