Erin Brockovich

We need you Erin Brockovich

17 February 2011 – While the year is still fresh, here’s a call to all readers: tell us what you know. Share the investigations, the research, and the truth about sustainability with the rest of this industry.

Let’s throw it out to the public domain and seed it into the collective firepower of the very impressive people working in this space. Let’s see if it doesn’t flower into some fast-track change.

Think: what’s truly sustainable?

See the article from Treehugger  that asks, is a house sustainable just because it’s got a green grass roof and looks neatly at one with the landscape, when in fact it has taken truckloads of concrete and hammering into solid rock to build?

What about prefabricated houses? Are they as sustainable as they seem?

In housing, how is it we still don’t know the true sustainability profile of the various types?

Lynne Blundell dug into this minefield for her first special report of the year, still reeling a little from a short trip to China where the meaning of true high density had a big impact.

Prompting the piece was a comment by Tony Arnel, chief of the Victorian Building Commission and chair of the Australian and World Green Building councils on the results of an Allen Consulting report on the issue. After three storeys, he said, they start to use a lot more energy.

The report has not been officially released so we don’t know yet what else was discovered, and there might be other sides to the story.

Deo Prasad, director of the Centre for Sustainable Built Environments, mentioned the damaging impact of urban sprawl, for a start. Think transport problems, the cost of petrol that can wipe out the savings associated with cheaper houses many times over, and the social impact.

“People who travel long distances to work spend less time with their families and their health is impacted,” Prasad said.

“Then there are increased emissions and health costs associated with urban air quality.”
And why not make tall buildings more sustainable anyway? This is certainly possible.

This is tough stuff. Constant questioning and switching to new techniques is not the path to a stable and orderly industry.

You might invest in a technique or skill and suddenly find it’s redundant. We all push forward assumptions about sustainability that sometimes get blown out of the water.

One such example was our parade in The Fifth Estate of wind generators on the rooftops of city buildings.

Then one specialist engineering company contributed an article that showed the only wind available in such areas was turbulence, which is pretty useless at producing energy.

Now we hear the worm has turned again and amazing leaps in technology have come up with some genuine winners in the field.

Any contributions here?

There’s loads we need insight into: types of housing, planning, land use issues, building materials, ratings for building materials, renewable breakthroughs for buildings and precincts, the value of trees, are houses with loads of trees worth more than those without? Think leads, tips, articles, secret phone calls, WikiLeaks, whatever…

Erin’s coming
That arch crusader for the environment, Erin Brockovich, subject of a 2000 movie starring Hollywood’s Julia Roberts, recently announced she had turned her attention to Australia, with the launch of the Environmental Justice Society (EJS).

She wants dual citizenship here too.

“This country is at the beginning of a period of huge growth that will continue for decades to come and it’s all driven by resources in the ground,” Ms Brockovich said at the Brisbane launch for the EJS.

“The EJS will act as a guardian of people’s rights for a safe and healthy environment and is aimed at helping preserve Australia’s pristine beaches, waterways, rainforests and wilderness for generations to come.

“Sometimes it takes an outsider to come back in and just gently remind you of what you have that a lot of places don’t.”
Brockovich also launched a campaign to find “Australia’s own Erin Brockovich”.

Don’t we need an Erin Brockovich for the property sector? Or several? Or how about a whole new outfit?

Any Erins out there in the property world?

Tina Perinotto

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum

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