On green buildings  – time for the evidence; the iron lady with the green lungs and who (really) sacked Paddy Manning?

12 April 2013 – Well someone was delighted to see Jerry Yudelson’s new book had finally made it to press, judging by Friday morning’s twittersphere activity.

The book, The World’s Greenest Buildings, (£29.99 from UK publisher Routledge) tackles the most critical issue of the green building revolution: do these buildings actually deliver on what they promise? Does the hype of their environmental and sustainability ratings match the reality?

It’s a critical question because now, 10 years on, the green building revolution, largely led by the Green Building Council of Australian in this country, has transformed the landscape for premium office developments. And the potential is to take this vastly further.

Even more impressive is that the message on green is starting to seep through to the capital markets. They can see the evidence that these buildings have better financial performance, thanks to the work of passionate academics like Professor Nils Kok and many others in this field.

Much of Kok’s work has found its way into the new index for green buildings under way in a collaboration between the US FTSE Group, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts and the US Green Building Council.

In Australia Kok has collaborated with Professor Graeme Newell and Associate Professor John MacFarlane of the University of Western Sydney and with the Australian Property Institute to work on local research to prove the case.

And the IPD/Property Council of Australia Green Building Index now rolls out good news on green buildings in Australia and New Zealand on a regular basis.

But none of this could be possible if the performance of highly rated buildings didn’t match the hype of their design and construction.

Yes it makes sense to build for greater sustainability and long term value, but in truth it’s not easy. It’s breaking new boundaries, costs more, at least initially, and requires a huge almost philosophical commitment to kick it off. To maintain momentum the industry needs the hard cool results of academic grade environmental data to show these buildings work as intended. The financial rewards come after.

To handle the mammoth scope of his book ­– 55 case studies from 18 countries –  Yudelson partnered with co-author Professor Ulf Meyer of Berlin to compile what he belies is the “most extensive research to date on the measurable performance of LEED Platinum or equivalent buildings.”

Yudelson is an engineer, keynote speaker and prolific author, but Meyer has an impressive track record himself.  He’s authored books and more than 1000 articles on architecture and design and has taught in the US at Kansas State University and University of Nebraska.

Yudelson has kindly allowed us to reprint a generous section of his book, which is a beautiful production with A4 style format, lovely photos plenty of data graphics for the nerds.

So who was our early morning tweeter? Matt Jessup, now running his own firm Flux, a joint initiative with long term collaborator  Ché Wall.

It just so happens that Denise McNabb has an interview with the pair on their contract with the Sydney Barangaroo development.

Margaret Thatcher was a greenie

According to one recent analysis of former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher who died recently, it turned out the Iron Lady had a green lung.

She recognised that regardless whether we thought climate change was happening, it was sensible to change our industrial process, according to Michael Mathres,  co-Founder of World Climate Ltd writing in Greenbiz.

Here’s a quote he found from the Thatcher files: “It’s sensible to improve energy efficiency and to develop alternative and sustainable sources of supply; it’s sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it’s sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it’s sensible to tackle the problem of waste,” writes, Michael Mathres,  co-Founder of World Climate Ltd in Greenbiz.

It was 1990, “right in the middle of the Gulf War, when made a seminal speech at the second World Climate Conference about the threat of climate change, using the backdrop of the war as an example of how effective the United Nations could be in dealing with a global threat from a bellicose tyrant,” Mathres says.

Many things can be learned from that speech: her use of logical yet emotional language and her balanced, proactive narrative and assertive leadership.

In it, she talks about the “insidious though less visible” threat of climate change, where the “danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”

Her deep interest, understanding and passion for the environment did not emanate from her political inclination but from her scientific background. Indeed, as an Oxford graduate in chemistry and a longtime science researcher, she understood the importance of scientific research in human progress and development. More important, she also understood the difficulties of obtaining consensus from scientific bodies on a single matter or theory.

Read the whole story

Now, the job to cnvert our own conservatives true Thatcherites

And in Townsville…

It’s always good to get a perspective from regional Australia. So it was interesting to chat to Phil Whiting, who had racked up a six year  track record in Sydney as project manager in sustainable office fitouts, after moving from the UK, before the lure of the far north enticed him to move to Townsville a few years ago.

In Sydney, his biggest achievement in his own company PV Interiors was the Five Star Green Star fitout he managed for Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Oceania office.

Five years ago he recalls, “the office interiors category was seen as very difficult to achieve. These days it’s more common and more easily achieved.”

In Townsville, where he’s been working for a construction company and is now reactivating his own business, he’s found a vastly different scene, with not much call for green fitouts for offices or energy savings in houses.

“In Sydney,” he says, “there’s a lot more pressure on the built environment in terms of congestion and traffic, transport, pollution, overcrowding, the cost of living, the effect of waste and landfill. Every single aspect of sustainability is under pressure.”

Back in the UK, where he’s from, the pressures are greater.

“It’s still nothing like what it is in the UK because in the UK you have infrastructure that is hundreds of years old and there’s much more pressure on the land; issues are much more in your face.

“Coming up here the range of issues on sustainability is on a totally different scale. Here we have the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage tropical areas, it’s very rich in bio-diversity and a lot of sustainability issues are connected with marine habitat and biodiversity are encountered when they want to do big projects like mines.”

The focus here is not on making your building more energy efficient, it’s what’s going to be the effect of this mine or port expansion on the marine life and the ground water,” Whiting says.

“It’s a different scale of issues. So talk about whether you’re going to save a few Watts on the electricity bill doesn’t have the same level of engagement.”

In housing there’s plenty of open space for greenfield development , so the pressure for density is absent.

In the commercial sphere there are two high rise offices on the way, which will aim for environmental ratings. One is for Ergon Enegy and the other for the state government.

Whiting is currently searching around for his next project, and work is not as plentiful as in Sydney, but the lure of the far north is a great attractor and he’s not keen to move. “It’s fantastic, amazing I like everything – the lifestyle…”

Who really sacked Paddy Manning?

It’s a sad day when our quality daily newsgroup Fairfax sacks one of the best environment and energy journalists, because he’s had a bit of a go at management.

But really?

Paddy Manning, as senior writer for sister title The Sydney Morning Herald, criticised The Australian Financial Review, in an article for Crikey, complaining that “churnalism” was invading the newspaper. He pointed to a “rubbishy” article sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank.

That the management at The AFR was sensitive is understandable. That The AFR clearly supported his sacking is major damage to its brand.

Of all the newspapers in the land, The AFR has at least in the past been known as a newspaper of integrity. It could be counted on to be the most reliable, the most balanced, the most well researched, the most comprehensive.

This integrity is despite the fact that its subject matter is the finance and business world and not homeless people, or solving world hunger. The point is when the AFR writes about climate change and the need to get serious about renewable energy you know that the whole of Canberra is reading it over breakfast.

In the property boom years that led to the GFC, the paper allowed uncensored coverage of scams and rorts that was deeply embarrassing to billion-dollar fraudsters and establishment alike.

The Commonwealth Bank’s use of two sets of numbers for its residential housing price index for instance. One for the mug punters (its customers) and the other, which it supplied to the Reserve Bank of Australia so the Reserve could decide on matters of critical importance – such as interest rates.

A whole range of articles showed how the big banks rubber stamped mortgages to invalid pensioners and barristers alike so they could mortgage their homes to get into dodgy property investment. Then went after their houses when the ponzi scheme unravelled.

There was never a hint the articles could be a problem with advertisers. In fact the advertising and editorial divisions of the newspaper would have embarrassed the makers of the Berlin Wall with the thinly disguised hostility between the two sides.

This week, who can be so sure?

By its actions in not being able to bear criticism The AFR has scored an own goal. When criticism really hurts, it’s usually because it’s true.

Manning said some terrible things, including clangers like:

The AFR’s business journalism is built on a fundamental contract between company and reporter: high-level access in exchange for soft coverage.

Too often — even for many of its own hard-pressed reporters’ liking — the result is PR-driven “churnalism” which shows up as “drops” (the poor man’s exclusive, or as [former SMH journalist Ian] Verrender once wrote, the press release a day early), “herograms” for business leaders, unreadable roundtables and conference-linked spreads featuring plenty of happy snaps of business leaders with a glass of champagne or mineral water in hand.

The result also has been a predictable skew on vital topics like climate change and industrial relations.

It is reporting with fear and favour. And you know what? Nobody reads it. Educated readers — The AFR’s demographic — hate it. Ultimately, even advertisers shun it. It’s a business model for business journalism that had been tried at both The AFR and The Australian. It doesn’t work.

Business readers are not fools. Very often they know more about a given story than the journalist. They want the facts, balance and genuinely independent analysis and commentary. Tell it like it is.

Margo Kingston, writing in Citizen Journalism referred to “…the terrible toll on ordinary people of big business scams and bad practice due to soft pro-business reporting and spruiking by finance journalists and editors.”

There’s huge debate on whether Fairfax was justified to sack Manning. Tim Burrowes said at Mumbrella that Manning forgot he was no longer a journo and was now a member of mangement and you should not bite the hand that feeds you.

Alexandra Wake said in The Conversation, “Just three years ago, The Age showed it still had great integrity when senior business writer Michael West wrote a piece in Fairfax newspapers that contained a similar message [to Manning’s]”.

“But times have clearly changed at Fairfax,” Wake surmises, “and an article written without fear nor favour about internal problems was always going to crash and burn.”

Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood defended his newspapers vigorously. He told ABC Radio that Manning’s actions were something the group could not allow to stand.

The question that is really annoying is, was the insult to The AFR the real reason  Paddy Manning was sacked?

His Saturday GreenBiz columns were among the most impressive, deeply researched articles on renewable energy and related issues published in mainstream media.

They were hugely popular, maybe not enough to satisfy the mandarins of the paper in terms of numbers, but certainly in terms of passionate fans. People reported fighting their partners for who got to read GreenBiz first. Passion begets passion.

But the column was dropped. With not much explanation.

Manning also spent his “spare time” writing a book on coal seam gas, What the Frack.

Clear it wasn’t to make money. The book is available for only a few dollars online.

Burrowes in his piece makes a mention of Manning’s recent hits at mining magnate Nathan Tinkler and the legal challenges he is facing over these.

But now that that Gina Rinehart, AKA the mining industry, is a significant shareholder of Fairfax, well…this is a capitalist world and as Hywood pointed out on radio his business is a commercial operation.

So the better question is, who (really) sacked Paddy Manning?