12 October 2012 – On rattling the cage of preconceptions, Queensland’s human cyclone and more rattling.

Don’t come into the sustainable property industry if you’re carrying treasured baggage, even environmentally friendly baggage. Swing the door open and put it down, right there. And be prepared to jump left or right or backwards… whatever it takes to win the day –  Churchill was right. We don’t have time to play at tea parties down the rabbit hole.

The very nature of this industry is not just dynamic but highly disruptive. Revolutionary even.

Research comes in that challenges passionately held beliefs.

Every few weeks – and increasingly, it seems – we come across people who say this road to sustainability just took a wrong turn. Go back.

Janis Birkeland and Craig Roussac, for instance.

This issue Craig Roussac elucidates some of what lay behind the Property Council of Australia’s opposition to the City of Sydney’s  trigeneration network plans. And it’s more interesting than we thought.

In a separate conversation about energy efficiency recently Roussac said, “the whole world has got it wrong”.

The International Panel on Climate Change estimated 30 per cent savings of emissions were possible from the building sector only because it stuck to what it could measure. Much greater savings can be gained from techniques that factor in human behaviour, he says. So much so that he thinks the estimated power needs factored into Sydney’s trigen plans could be over the capacity needed.

Pass the smelling salts.

But already we’ve had feedback from Alan Davis of WSP’s Built Ecology, who points to the 40 per cent of second tier buildings whose owners don’t have the capacity for sophisticated programs.

“What about those smaller property players that make up 40 per cent of the existing building stock? Davis said on Linked In within minutes of our posting the story. “Fifty per cent, through upgrades? Not within the next decade,” Davis says.  “Sydney is crying out for new, smart infrastructure that can evolve and transition from low to zero carbon energy supply.

“What about the ever increasing network charges? Where do those other 40 per cent sit? I would suggest considerably further away than they are now!”

Janis Birkeland on why sustainability is wrong

Next to rattle the cage of preconceptions was Janis Birkeland. Sustainability has got it all wrong, says this hugely well regarded author and academic – and incidentally someone Roussac studied under. (We would never have guessed!)

What’s wrong was today’s practice (thanks in part to the Brundtland Commission) to place everything we do in sustainability under the economic line.

So that all things we do for sustainability now need to have a dollar value attached. Try as we might, the environment is not one of those things that can easily have a dollar value. It’s intrinsically connected to life on this planet.

So stop thinking of buildings and urban form as a way to minimise the harmful impact of buildings and start measuring the positive impact.

Birkeland has a metric to do this. We hope to bring you this soon.

The dreaded unintended consequences

One of the reasons that we need an open mind is to deal with unintended consequences. For instance on white roofs that lower urban heat.

When you are ready for some more double takes, take a peek at this research on the Arizona Sun Corridor


that says white roofs might keep down heat but they also change the micro climate in another way, by reducing rainfall, in this case by 4 per cent.

That’s a lot of rainfall loss in an arid climate.

But are the researchers right? Is this something that would hold true in non-arid Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney. Adelaide  or Perth?

Any researchers prepared to look at whether we run with this research, or challenge it?

See what we mean?

A new retrofit book and some insights into airconditioning that is harmless to the planet

A new book hit the stands for building nerds everywhere this week, launched at the Wilkinson Building at the University of Sydney.  It is Sustainable retrofitting of commercial Buildings, edited by Richard Hyde, Nathan Groenhout, Francis Barram and Ken Yeang.

Authors include Lester Partridge of Aecom and Caimin McCabe of Cundall and yes – again – Craig Roussac of Investa.

McCabe, after the event, revealed an interesting insight into how he likes to approach retrofits. Based in Melbourne he remembers former Premier Jeff Kennett had an idea to complete the unfinished Parliament House and bring it up to modern standards.

Researching the original design or design intention in this case  – something that he says is critical to how you approach retrofits, McCabe discovered plans for a natural airconditioning system. This is late 1800s, so it would have come at no cost on the environment.

If we have this correctly, it involved an underground lake built next to the building, a labyrinth system connecting cool air from the lake and then fed into the tiered seating area of the House, and a huge dome up high above the building to collect all the hot air as it rose.

So sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards, McCabe intimated.

Queensland beautiful one day, gone the next

On the issue of going backwards, don’t miss Leon Gettler’s chilling analysis of what human cyclone  Campbell Newman is doing to the part of Australia that contains the lion’s share of our natural wealth, Queensland.

Even the economy is being damaged by his rampage, we’ve heard with scores of businesses that depended on the thousands of public servants who have now lost their jobs, forced to pack up their own kit and head back to the burbs and the midday movies.