Paolo Bevilacqua
Paolo Bevilacqua

New vice chair of International Living Future Paolo Bevilacqua says there is some strong positive optimism around sustainability in the property sector as the year unfolds. But there’s room, too, for more action to match the ambition.

Mr Bevilacqua, who is also chair of the Australian branch of ILFI, the Living Future Institute Australia, is currently the head of Real Utilities for Frasers Property Australia, the property company’s carbon neutral energy retailer and utilities business.

And in yet another role, he heads a global team that’s focused on sharing some of the learnings from the local business with the company’s international operations.

There’s a lot to share, he says.

He told The Fifth Estate on Tuesday that the year had started well for sustainability, most notably for the enthusiasm for its stronger integration with business imperatives around risk and finance.

“We’re really starting to notice it and obviously internally [at Frasers],” he said.

But although the appetite is there Mr Bevilacqua said he has also been wondering what would cause a more rapid shift towards decarbonisation.

The world’s banks were shifting on how they see carbon related risk but perhaps there needed to be an event or a policy “something that will trigger a rapid change”.

People are motivated, he said “but not motivated to move quickly enough”.

He was encouraged to hear that some members of the industry were talking about what exactly the trajectory of moving to a net zero positions for buildings would look like and issues around carbon intensity.

“Good, it’s about time,” he said. “There’s been some bold commitments made as we know over the last two to three years, in particular around carbon, but we don’t have the details of how it would be achieved or measured.

“It’s good to see a focus on this; it’s also what we’re grappling with in Frasers because it affects all parts of your business.”

Big questions needed to be asked, including the level of empowerment and reach into the company to help achieve such ambitions.

Embodied energy was one of the hardest sectors to tackle, especially in the property industry and how this will play out is still an unknown.

“It’s about raising awareness and then translating that into lower carbon projects.

“One of the biggest challenges is the shift to zero carbon. How do we design buildings to produce less embodied carbon?”

There were advances in timber buildings and modular construction and some “stop-starts” in that area, he said.

Internally, Frasers expected to announce a new set of sustainability targets, possibly within a month.

In the coming year Bevilacqua expected to spend more time in his role leading a global team to help roll out a group wide approach to sustainability in its operations in Thailand, Singapore, China Vietnam and the UK which are all at different stages of sustainability.

This would focus strongly on sharing the learnings gained in Australia, which was leading the way in a number of sectors, in particular around carbon, he said.

“We’re well ahead just in understanding the pathway to zero carbon.”

This meant the conversation was naturally more challenging, he said.The UK and Europe on the other hand were probably in advance on policy.

It was hard to generalise on other markets but in Singapore the government was setting strong, and “fairly aggressive” standards on existing and new buildings and Vietnam was emerging as progressive on sustainability, something that might surprise some people.

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