Tania Crosby, left, and Melissa Houghton

Let’s get back to sustainability 101

18 May 2012 – Walk into a room full of sustainability people and you can’t help but be energised by the sense of intelligence and positive thinking bubbling through.

It’s exactly the antidote you need after weeks of so many politicians, economists and anti climate activists trying to talk us all into a labyrinth of gloom – and ignore the ridiculously privileged assets this country enjoys.

On Wednesday night the occasion for a sustainability get together was the launch in Sydney of a survey of industry sentiment by Tania Crosbie and Melissa Houghton’s Sustainability at Work consultancy.

The results of the Australian Sustainability Manager Report presented the same choices available to us all at the macro level: a not so good short term outlook and sentiment, bumping along a trajectory of longer term trends that show a clear path upwards, whichever way you twist and turn the viewfinder.

The survey focused on indepth interviews of 20 sustainability managers in leading companies, most from outside of the property industry.

Houghton says the research was designed to give sustainability managers an insight into their roles and how their activities shaped up in comparison to their peers.

Kelly Morrison, GHD, left, and Shauna Coffey, Deloitte at the survey launch for Sustainability at Work

Yes, the survey found the austerity pinch is getting more vice-like, but it also found no change in the long term sustainability drivers – logic and the big daddy of all drivers: self preservation.

Of course it all depends if you want to survive short term or long term.

The leaders of the corporate world know that whatever the political and short term static they need to brush off day to day they need to focus on the underlying and long term trajectories such as rational efficient use of their assets.

In the Sustainability at Work survey, this manifested as resource efficiency and how sustainability can enhance staff morale and corporate image.

But there’s also the requirement to be seen to be rational and efficient, whether through mandatory reporting and carbon accounting required by law, or the growing number of voluntary programs from the world’s corporate leaders.

“Our research has found that whether they are in the health, construction, manufacturing or finance industries, sustainability managers must have a well-reasoned business case for investing in sustainable programs and activities,” Crobie says.

Short term, managers are finding “budgets being squeezed and scepticism growing about the sustainability agenda within the workplace,” the report finds.

Ah, the scepticism card again. And again.

Melissa Houghton

Those who have started calling for new language to describe sustainability might be right: instead of climate change, say productivity, instead of energy efficiency, say cost savings, and instead of a green economy, jobs growth.

It’s sad not to call a rose by its name, but what the hell ­– two can play the spin game.

Isn’t it time for the sustainability/green climate change movement to “man up” as the not-so-pc younger crowd might put it, and start using some serious well researched tactics?

And how about cosying up to the clever spin merchants and asking for some help? The people who do so much effective work for the mining industry, the coal fiends and the dirty polluters – and tap their inner souls? Many of these people believe this planet is in grave danger (these guys tend to be really smart) and they would probably be delighted to be asked, even pro bono (they tend to be very well paid in their day jobs).

At the Victorian Property Council’s sustainability conference last year, advertising guru and Gruen Transfer panelist Russell Howcroft wondered why his industry was not being asked to do this work.

“Where the hell are you?” he might have said.

Too much timidity and good manners.

Residential still in the dark
There are shifting sands everywhere but for now in the residential space WA, NSW and ACT need a round of applause for their attempts to bring the residential sector out of the Dark Ages. These are the states which want to go to six star minimum ratings for new homes, based on NatHERS, while the others have either flatly refused (Queensland and Tasmania) or are playing the “Yes Minister” game of saying it’s absolutely on the agenda, but can’t explain why that it never gets to the front of the queue (Victoria).

In mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency, it’s far worse.

Other than the ACT no jurisdiction has this requirement and Queensland has recently dropped its albeit poor excuse for disclosure – a “tick and flick” form to be filled in by the vendors of houses, with no checks.

The Association of Building Sustainability Assessors’ Rodger Hills, acting chief executive, is a refreshing voice in the debate. He makes his views clear: you can’t buy a fridge or a washing machine without a declaration of how much energy and water it is likely to cost you, but not a house.

And by the way while so many developers spout sustainability agendas, why are we still using dark tile roofs and black roads?

See our article ABSA: Qld pushback on energy efficiency in housing is nationwide

Tax Breaks broken And speaking of a refreshing voice, see the clear and certain tone from Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council president Tom Roper in his open letter to the federal government following the axing of the Tax Breaks for Green Buildings program.

This man is on the warpath.

More diversion came on Thursday: the first round of energy efficiency grants for businesses and community groups,  for a total $20 million.

At least this is a real and useful program.

What we need now is for all the feds to come up with a very fast replacement program for the tax breaks to help upgrade Australia’s secondary commercial property.

There’s not much time left, Ms Gillard.

Andrew Stoner: Droughts, flooding, polar ice caps melting…”I’m sorry, none of this has happened”

See no evil
Is NSW following the leader in Queensland? Spotted this week in Sydney Morning Herald,  (a “family paper”):

The acting NSW Premier, Andrew Stoner, has dismissed extreme weather predictions for NSW by the federal government’s Climate Commission as ”alarmist”.

The report, The Critical Decade, overseen by Tim Flannery, predicts a rise in heatwave events and flash flooding.

”I think most people find alarmist suggestions by people like Mr Flannery and his commission,” Mr Stoner said yesterday.

”They are sceptical about them. We have heard of all our dams drying up in the past. We’ve heard predictions of the central coast and other coastal parts of the state going under water, the polar ice caps melting. I’m sorry, none of this has happened.

Did we say something nice about NSW?

Mmmm… better check all that.

editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

“We can’t wait for the future!”