Suddenly there is a scramble for education and training in sustainability for just about anyone associated with the built environment, from accountants to electricians to real estate agents and valuers.  When the valuers asked for help to construct a new course not one professional declined. In terms of the getting of knowledge in the emerging low carbon future, it’s game on. Lynne Blundell reports.

Special report: 11 October 2010 – There has been a lot shuffling going on in the green skills training sector over the past couple of years. First there was the global financial crisis. Then there were inconsistent messages from government, with constantly fluctuating incentive schemes and policy announcements – all of which deterred investment in training.

Now with the very real risk of a green skills shortage, some innovative courses are emerging, often through collaboration between universities and industry associations. And many are using government funding to do it.

The slowdown in “green” training in the past couple of years is a worldwide trend. US survey Beyond Grey Pinstripes, which reviews Masters in Business Administration courses worldwide for their social, ethical and environmental content, reveals that while the number of MBAs with a sustainable bent has increased significantly since 2001, the growth slowed markedly between 2007 and 2009.

Professor John Cole, director of the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development at the University of Southern Queensland told The Fifth Estate that uncertainty over government policy on climate change has stalled investment in training and education. Compounding this, says Cole, is that many of Australia’s best and brightest are being lost to the resources sector, leaving a dearth of talent for “green” industries.

What is emerging is a much closer collaboration between universities and vocational courses, partly driven by the resources boom but also by industry groups seeking to boost training in their sectors.

“We are seeing a rise in complementary training and shared facilities. The types of courses vary depending on the region’s demand – for example in western Queensland it is about infrastructure and training workers for growth in that industry,” says Cole.

A significant problem is that many industry expos and seminars are repeatedly attracting the same groups of people, says Cole, which means sustainable knowledge is not being spread widely enough through the community. It is this issue that Cole has set out to address through a new training course being developed at the Australian Centre for Sustainable Business and Development.

The course, called Boardroom Briefing Series, is aimed at people who need to factor sustainability into business decisions and are not sure how.

“The politics in this area [climate change] have been very fluid, which has left people confused about how much to invest in sustainability. The finance sector can see the opportunities but the ordinary person running a business is not sure. They also don’t have a great deal of time for training so this is aimed to fast track their knowledge in an intensive one day course,” says Cole.

The briefing series which kicks off on November 22 in Brisbane will cover topics such as regulatory and voluntary accounting and reporting for business sustainability and tips on how to develop a profitable emissions abatement business strategy through smart purchasing, energy efficiency  savings and the elimination of redundant technology and practices.

Expert speakers include Professor John Cole, who has more than 25 years in senior government and industry positions supporting sustainability innovation; Martin Blake, formerly head of sustainability at the Royal Mail Group in the UK and leader of one of the biggest corporate sustainability projects in the world; Professor Julie Cotter, professor of accounting at USQ and adviser to the Climate Disclosure Standards Board;  and Philp Bangerter, global director of sustainability at Hatch, an international engineering and services consultancy.

John Cole says it is inevitable that businesses will have to deal with a carbon price and other issues related to sustainability in the future. Those that prepare for and understand the changes will survive.

“There has been a shemozzle in the energy sector and nobody knows how to invest for the future. But the trends are all going in one direction and are inexorable and the serious businesses in this sector know the market needs reform as well as a carbon price. All those in the supply chain need to prepare – many don’t see the changes that will affect their business coming,” says Cole.

Ultimately, says Cole, resistance to facing up to climate change will only come about through cultural change and this may require including sustainability training in many different professions, including psychology, sociology and anthropology.

In the meantime, USQ has what Cole believes is the first green accounting course in the world, the Bachelor of Accounting and Sustainable Business. The course is run in co-operation with Seattle City University with rotation of teaching staff between the two universities.

“It is traditional for engineers and environmental scientists to be learning about sustainability but our focus is on accountants and accounting bodies both in the Bachelor course and in our advisory series,” says Cole.

“Small business is very influenced by their accountant and unfortunately some of the people advising small business are still working in a world that was built in the 1950s. Educating accountants means businesses will get the right advice – otherwise they will build businesses that are water and energy intensive and not set up for the future.”

New courses are also emerging within industry associations for both trades and other professionals. One of these is a post trade course for electricians, called Global Green Electrican, developed by the Electrical Trades Union in collaborations with training company Electrical Electronic Industry Training Ltd (EEIT) and Holmesglen TAFE in Victoria.

Currently an electrical apprenticeship does not include any compulsory ‘green’ skills and an elective on the subject in the existing course is rarely taken up, say trainers.

Graeme Watson, secretary and director of EEIT and a board member of the ETU says the new post trade course will transform the way electricians work and will lead to dramatic uptake of energy efficient products.

“There is a huge gap in knowledge of sustainability among electricians – they have never been taught about it. The national standards just don’t address sustainability in the way they should.

“This course arms them with knowledge that boosts their own businesses and benefits the consumer because they go out and advise their customers on ways to save on energy,” says Watson.

Funded by the Victorian and Federal Governments through Skills Victoria and the Enterprise Based Productivity Places Program (an initiative of Julia Gillard when education minister), the course includes eight days of classes, two days live-in training, 100 hours of self-directed projects and eight hours of business skill training. Because of the government funding the cost could be reduced to $590 from a likely $2,300 if it were privately run, says Watson.

There are currently 100 electricians undertaking the course and 135 on the waiting list for the next intake. According to Watson it has been a resounding success with several electricians who have completed the course experiencing such a large increase in their business in the past few months they have put on extra workers.

Course participants learn about energy efficiency and also gain their national solar energy qualification, Certificate 4 in Electrical Photovoltaic Systems. A major benefit, says Watson is that electricians get to see energy efficient products that are not yet available on the Australian market because of lack of demand here.

“Some of these products such as new lighting, heating and cooling technology aren’t sold here because Australia is not seen as serious about moving towards renewable technologies and energy efficiency. By educating electricians about these technologies they start demanding them and this leads to change, with companies seeing the potential for importing new products,” says Watson.

Another element of the course is teaching electricians to do free energy audits for customers. In addition to giving consumers tips on how to save energy electricians can install an energy meter which teaches consumers to be more aware of their energy consumption.


The Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating has also been busy developing two new online courses to cater to growing demand for green technical skills. One is aimed at design engineers and the other at facilities managers. Both were funded through the federal government’s Climate Change Adaptation Skills for Professional Program.

AIRAH’s education manager, Carolyn Hughes, told TFE there was a very real risk of a skills shortage in the next few years.

“There have been a number of factors that have impacted on training. When the CPRS was big that drove interest but then it was removed and of course the GFC impacted on demand.

“A lot of people don’t recognise that mandatory disclosure will boost demand for services and the time factor associated with this. There will be a bit of a scurry later on to meet demand,” says Hughes.

The online approach is a new one for AIRAH and provides exciting opportunities to educate nationally and internationally, says Hughes. The 60 hour Sustainable HVAC Design course began in July and aims to inform design engineers about the wider sustainable aspects of heating and cooling in buildings. Cost is $1100 for members and $1650 for non members.

The 40 hour Sustainable Building Operations course takes participants through the lifecycle of a building and how facilities managers impact on its sustainable operation. It includes a scenario of retrofitting the building for a new owner. Cost is $900 for AIRAH members and $1350 for non members.

Both online course are presented by technical professionals and are presented as a combination of lectures, tutorials and an interactive online classroom.


At the valuation end of the market the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors  is trying to fill what it sees as an enormous gap in sustainable knowledge among valuers and building owners.

According to building and sustainability consultant, John Goddard, who has been involved in the development of a new course for valuers with RICS the response to a call for industry input for course content was overwhelming.

“We invited 26 very senior people from industry, from major building owners, to valuers, to lawyers, and almost nobody said no,” says Goddard.

“While some in the industry get the importance of sustainability at the financial end there are many others, owners and valuers, who don’t, or won’t, get it and are looking in their rear vision mirrors. This course is aiming to change that.”

The result is a three-module course that has been developed in collaboration with the University of Technology, Sydney with funding from the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DEECW). RICS education manager Nic Hudson told TFE that 50 major organisations have committed to enrol people in the course when it starts next year.

“There will be a bit of resistance from valuers to changing the way they do things but we’ve had great support from the industry. We hope to expand this course across in NSW and then nationally, with an online version planned as well,” says Hudson.

The first module of the course looks at how to value green buildings and presents research on how sustainability adds value. The second covers the business case for a sustainable upgrade and the third on managing the performance of the asset including green leases.

Real estate
And at the coalface real estate agents are also beginning to focus more on sustainability but there is an enormous gap in training. According to research by Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute, 83 per cent of agents invited to CUSP’s sustainability in housing pilot workshop were interested in attending.

Research associate at the Institute Chiara Pacifici says the workshops identified a real need from agents for relevant and meaningful information to help prepare them for change towards a low-carbon future. This was evaluated and identified through a series of surveys and interviews during and after the pilot workshop.

“What I can’t believe is that there has been limited if not any engagement with the real estate industry so far. Furthermore, lessons are not being learnt from failures surfacing in other countries where mandatory disclosure legislation was introduced with little prior engagement with the industry as a whole,” Pacifici says.

“My research is aimed to identify ways to build capacity within the real estate profession to communicate sustainability measures to sellers, buyers, landlords and renters.”

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum

“We can’t wait for the future”

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