On tenants in the dark and elections that ought to be on fire

15 August 2013 –UPDATED: Don’t you love the mix of good guys and bad guys in this story of climate change and sustainability? Can you think of a more suspenseful whodunit? Well we know whodunit and why; what we don’t know yet is how to catch them and make them stop.

This week we’ve had the good guys and gals with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors launching its new tenant app with support from the newly national CitySwitch.

There’s been the optimistic and “let’s just do it” energy of green building council founder David Gottfried visiting Sydney from the US this week to talk about expansion of his Regenerative Network into Australia.

Launch of Leasa by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, in conjunction with CitySwitch Customs House, August 2013

There’s been the scary thanks to Peter Droege visiting from Liechtenstein for some presentations for AECOM in Sydney and at Curtin University in Perth. Such as a picture of Venus with its average temperature of 460 degrees Celsius, which is we’re heading right now.

But also the hopeful, with a strategy for change.

In late breaking news there’s been the positive with the appointment of former Babcock and Brown wind energy chief Geoff Dutaillis as group head of sustainability. Some people were watching LL a little askance for what it would do in sustainability after the loss of high profile Maria Atkinson and Ché Wall last year. Now we know, and a huge sigh of relief will ripple through the ranks of the good sus people.

Left to right: Esther Bailey, CitySwitch; John Goddard, J goddard & Co; Nick Hudson, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

And we’ve even had the bad guys – yes, the fossil fuel industry itself, in the shape of a former Shell Oil president based in the US contact us to help spread the word (can you believe this?) that his industry needs an orderly segue into…some other way to make squillions of dollars. He’s spruiking a Reserve Bank for energy in Oz and the US, worried that the move to renewables is too much, too soon.

You can almost feel the anguish of these fossil fuellers. On one side they can see the mushrooming solar panels on millions of roofs. On the other can see  the capital markets and their bankers, like a battalion of tiny galloping redcoats disappearing over the horizon. But more on that soon.

Questions from the audience

All up this is an exciting industry. And a nice contrast to the pre-election media dribble of… dribble, with no inspiration, no fire in the belly. Especially given the urgency of things with the planet and daily news of polluted soil and air. All the major parties and the Greens too are tossing away a major opportunity to galvanise and excite. Gosh, if you can’t galvanise and excite at election time, you ain’t ever gonna do it.

What they all need is some political Viagra.

Tenants coming in from the dark

Left to right: John Goddard, J Goddard & Co; Deb Noller, Switch Automation; James Vesper, Goodman

For a while now tenants have been kept in the dark. About a lot of things perhaps, but in particular about how much they are signing up for in electricity bills, especially the lighting component.

For instance, on one floor in a Sydney office building the tenant pays $5500 a year in electricity for the lighting. On another identical floor the poor sods have been paying $23,000 a year for the same deal.

Thank goodness the tenant on the “badly” performing floor have now moved out. The owner (who’s name shall not be revealed), we are told, will now do the right thing and change the lights so the new tenant can save money, too.

Virginie Vernin, CitySwitch

In this market where commercial office vacancy rates are now in double digits and seem to be trying to outdo the rise in the residential markets in Sydney and Melbourne, you would think changing the lights is the least the owner can do to attract or maintain a tenant.

In the past they used to – very strangely – offer inducements to the agents to cajole a tenant into their building. During the boom times this got to the ridiculous and highly indulgent, such as holidays and even cars.

On Tuesday morning, something happened that could make sure those inducements never make a comeback. RICS launched an “app”, and it could well turn out to be the mischievous little online urchin for the part of the market that prefers to stay in the Dark Ages.

The app is called Leasa (with an “e”) and it can quickly call up key tools related to the building: such as the Building Energy Efficiency Certificate, or BEEC, which includes a tenancy lighting assessment and the NABERS rating. All the things that will matter once the monthly bills start flowing in.

Peter Droge presentation for AECOM in Sydney. Pictured: Roger Swinbourne, AECOM; Greg Johnson, Stockland; Jackie McKeon, Urban Growth; Lester Partridge, AECOM, James Rosenwax, AECOM

With this little gem you can also swirl your smart phone around a bit and there in quick time display will be what you can expect to pay in lighting bills, or any energy bills if you know how much your computers, printers and other equipment consume.

Leasa can also allow the tenant to plug in all the details they might like to know about – such as bicycle facilities and so on – give them a weighting and make a decision accordingly.

Nothing to do with the über charm of the agent.

According to Steve Hennessy, a director of WT sustainability, who was MC at the launch, “this is a game changer”.

Left to right: Peter Droege, James Lotherington

The app is the combined work of former software developer for Apple, Daniel Woo of Uxed, and RICS project leader Nick Hudson, thanks to funding from the federal government’s Energy Efficiency Information Grant program.

John Goddard of J Goddard & Co developed the associated guide, Choosing and Managing an Energy Efficient Space: a best practice guide for SME Commercial Office Tenants.

It’s free, of course, thanks to the grant, and available on smart phones.

The app was launched to an overflowing audience at Customs House at an event

Feedback from hell: thawing permafrost, from Peter Droege’s presentation.

co-hosted by CitySwitch, which last week went national, thanks to a $1 million grant from the same federal government program.

What’s interesting is how much information is now available thanks to NABERS and the Commercial Building Disclosure program. What’s emerged and what the market laggards might not realise is that a lot of owners are rating their buildings with NABERS and the BEEC whether they need to or not.

It’s all part of the need for the market to keep the buildings “fluid”, that is, poised for sale at the drop of a hat (more or less).

On a positive note was David Gottfriedvisiting Sydney this week from the US as part of the Regenerative

Maria Atkinson, XO; Bridgett Smyth, City of Sydney, Nicole Smith, Tin Shed Marketing; Sarah Turner, Mediaforte

Network he is building in Australia with Ché Wall, Maria Atkinson and Suzie Barnett.

Gottfried, who founded the green building council movement in the US and globally, says the future lies in collaborative leadership.

The key to future success, says Gottfried, is collaboration. His Regenerative Network idea and its spinoffs are a way to leverage and catalyse much more than the sum of the parts.

“Member-based organisations have played an important role but I think the tide is turning towards collaborative leadership approaches as the way to drive the next big shift in the green building movement,” he told a function in his honour at the FLUX offices, “particularly around the building supply chain, and my experience is that we can’t continue to go it alone.”

Left to right: John Tabbart, Barangaroo Delivery Authority; David Gottfried, Regenerative Network; Ché Wall, Flux

Gottfried established the Regenerative Network in 2010.

“The fact is that sustainable building takes more than saving energy, water and materials, boosting productivity or earning green building certification; it takes the right people coming together to lead and accelerate the adoption of genuinely green solutions,” he said.

But it’s not easy. Especially in an industry that’s pretty well addicted to adversarial relationships.

“Traditionally the construction industry has not been known for its fondness for sharing and working in an integrative and holistic manner.”

Give people a chance though, and the moulds can be broken.

“The Regenerative Network has shown that companies can be more successful together.”

Esther Bailey (left) with Peter Mould, former NSW Government Architect; Deborah Dearing, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

Barnett, who spent about 10 years with the Green Building Council of Australia and last year did a stint with The Fifth Estate, says the opportunity in the network is to sift the genuine green from the greenwash.

“While architects, engineers, developers and builders have the tools and information to design, construct, operate, measure and identify a green building, the focus now needs to be on the burgeoning green building supply chain – a market that in the US is forecast to grow by 11 per cent annually to $86.6 billion in 2017,” Barnett says.

“At the moment, those companies with an authentic commitment to sustainability are being lost in the wash, and specifiers, architects and designers are increasingly confused. It’s also hard for industry professionals to stay on top of the multitude of new green start-up technologies.”