30 November 2012: On global movements, local iterations and inspirations

Back to Oz. After the excitement of US green buildings and exposure to countless game changers, the world and this industry suddenly look different.

It was provocative to hear Cradle to Cradle author and architect Bill McDonough who talks about how buildings should be a positive contribution, on energy biology and so on.

To have a net zero contribution or negative anything is…well.. negative, he reckons. So is the word sustainable. Think of a  “sustainable relationship”. Boring, he says. Nature is not like that. It’s abundant, beautiful and exciting. To see fantastic butterflies emerge from a tree is not “sustainable”, it is thrilling. This is what should motivate us in the built environment, says McDonough.

William McDonough

And what about ratings?

McDonough says don’t just ban something, because the chemical people will soon replace one banned toxin with another. His solution?  Require all highly rated buildings to have surfaces that are safe and healthy.

Well… this man is one of the agitators at the top of the mountain who hopes to prod a reaction from the rest of us.

It was exciting to see City of Melbourne’s Krista Milne taking her place on stage alongside the world’s most motivated cities on climate change and see that Melbourne and Sydney are so well regarded among the leaders in the pack.

And to chat with people such as Joel Makower of Greenbiz who talks about the convergence of property, technology, transport and energy and through his networks and Verge conferences helps to fertilise the cross-sparks between these previously separate sectors.

To meet at length with the restless, intelligent and driven USGBC founder David Gottfried, was illuminating; to read his book Greed to Green which he offered was to be charmed by his inspirational story and humbled by the raw honesty of his journey through conflicts and contradictions that see him now widen his search beyond sustainable buildings towards a sustainable life.

At the glittering Lend Lease party for the World Green Building Council, with hundreds of people from some of the 89 countries now part of the WGBC you could not help but feel a strange and new sense of excitement about what is possible with this apparently innocuous movement.

Here were passionate environmentalists,  no-nonsense down to earth engineers and builders, local governments who implement the policies, savvy mainstream businesspeople and hard nosed financiers, all working towards the same thing, crossing all the social, political and economic boundaries.

The Americans could be right. This is a good and sensible idea that can turn into the most important and powerful movement of this century.

The dogs of commerce
Is this advertisement (above) the tipping point of disgust?

The thing that makes the world wake up and say: enough?

Probably not.

The actual straw that broke the camel’s back is an elusive one to find.

But increasingly there are more and more people pointing to possibilities of major change. We know that technology is capable of saving the planet. What’s missing is will.

Al Gore absent for a while now since he rocked the world with his film “An Inconvenient Truth” told a US publication the signs of movement under the water are everywhere.

On top, the water is calm (if rising a little each week) – politicians chat and meet and preach as if nothing were amiss. Partly that’s their job.

Underneath they should be paddling like ducks gone mad. Hurricane Sandy has been a huge wake-up call to people to people who might previously have turned an urbane head to the tragedy and got on with their lives. The point is that Sandy hit the heart of the capitalist system as we know it. Gore points to people who were previously climate deniers starting to change their minds. Fox News was asking if these once-in-a-hundredyear events were every two years now.

This week too came reports of the melting Arctic, Where even the earth is melting.

All happening much faster than anticipated.

And now as if to rub in the message, The Economist, to date the most respectable of publications, a leader amongst the best in the world, is showing its fangs and holding a conference billed as a meeting with “150 policy makers CEOs and other influential commentators” on the emerging opportunities in the Arctic as the ice melts.

Discussion will be led by the magazine’s environmental editor.

But the message is clear: the world’s superpowers are pinning back their ears, ready for an assault on the “resource rich Arctic”.

“Due to climate change the polar ice cap is shrinking and floating summer ice is projected to disappear altogether,” the ad says. This is “setting alarm bells ringing for environmentalists, but opening up new perspectives for trade and development”.

Who are these ghouls?

Perhaps they’re related to the people in New York who, we’re told by The New York Times, are creating a huge demand for fridges that cost $7500 because they turn into power generators when the grid fails. Like it did with Hurricane Sandy and on other occasions in the past four years.

Or those who can afford to retrofit their homes for resilience; who can move to the country ahead of the next cyclone; and who pay for their own private security and health care. The same who support a wind-down of the public purse in the US.

“That’s how things often work in America,” the NYT  article says. “Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

“It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.”

In San Francisco the police force keeps shrinking, and no-one is prepared to entice officers to stay, (this is a place you can buy a gun in a street-front shop) and police cars look like they are straight out of a Blues Brothers movie; one had metal bracing to keep the door pinned together.)

Despite the city’s wonderful initiatives on green and sustainability, it’s also the city that voted to cut funding to the fire services, which raised questions recently as to why a house was allowed to burn down, with no apparent effort from the fire services to save it.

In New York, the buildings with their own trigen power just keep working through Hurricane Sandy.

As the rich and powerful start to “get” climate change, it’s likely they won’t muck around and will quickly do whatever they need to protect themselves.

It’s up to the rest of us to ensure that the response is a shared one.

Retail starts to shift

Lynne Blundell has a great story this issue that takes a glance at the big changes under way for the retail sector.

Right now it’s the way NABERS energy assesses the bigger centres, but soon it will incorporate a whole lot more changes as landlords start to respond to some of the mega trends under way. And of course they will impact on the energy use.

At the same time came another interesting report on retail, from CBRE this time, which looks at the progress on sustainability for retail property in the Asia Pacific.

It’s a mega-read…just like the malls…and well worth the read.

From a GBC founder

Ché Wall  has also contributed a stirring article on the US Green Building Council and its call to arms.

Wall was there at the start of the Australian GBC and the World GBC as well as leading the development of Green Star.

Chatting to a young greenie on Thursday it was sobering to see how comforting and encouraging she found it to consider that the GBC is only 10 years old in Australia.

Clearly this this industry come a long way.

Now the US wants to ramp it up another 10 notches.

We say, Go!