13 March 2013 – Green Cities is the industry’s yearly default opportunity for some benchmarking. And this year, The Fifth Estate‘s fourth birthday!

It took only a couple of hours for a powerful challenge to the green property industry to emerge at Green Cities 2013, held at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre last week.

From the back of the auditorium, a New Zealander [we think], shot a question through towards the close of The CEO Circle with Daniel Grollo of Grocon, Dan Labbad of Lend Lease and John Flecker of Multiplex. The sentiment, if not the exact words, went like this: Here you are telling us all how green your offices are, yet most of your staff then drive for an average of an hour and half to reach totally unsustainable suburbs and houses.

Gossip central, Green Cities 2013 (and no, none of these people have been quoted in this article…)


The residential elephant in the room is becoming increasingly noisy. Why is the entire industry – and governments around the country – scared to tackle the sad excuses for industry lobby groups that are the Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Australia?

Sad, because they are resisting the potential their members have to innovate in the area of sustainability.

If helping “struggling working Australian families” is really a concern, then why not improve the lives of these families with lower bills and houses that aren’t made of cardboard?

“Oh,” we hear, “this is a commercial property industry, so it’s not going to do resi.”

Nonsense, many of these guys and gals are doing resi.

“Oh,” say others, “these developers just do the land development and someone else builds the houses.”

Nonsense, said delegates during the conference breaks: “They put covenants on estates all the time – why not green ones?”


But while the comment from the NZ delegate gave us pause for guilty thought, Gunter Pauli, galvanised with the excitement and potential of donning a new set of eyes.

His vision of a Blue Economy is about finding abundance in the waste and inert stuff around us by bringing innovative finance, some new science, or a clever entrepreneur who can cobble the elements together and create something valuable.

Rock, for instance. Useless? Think again. It can make paper that can be recycled infinitely instead of just a few times. (So if you need to chop it up to make paper, does that make the game “scissors, paper, rock” the new symbol of cradle-to-cradle sustainability?)

Pauli mentioned mines that can be reafforested to become sources of clean water. And flies, bred for maggots that can be converted into lucrative cures for ulcers or protein for fish stocks.

It’s no miracle cure for the supposed six degrees of separation between us and a burning planet. But it’s a start.

Tim Horton


The key ingredient in Pauli’s thinking is collaboration.

It’s a concept that’s part and parcel of sustainability but is increasingly in the front line of thinking.

Tim Horton, former Integrated Design commissioner for South Australia (also a presenter at GC13) has some great ideas on how collaboration could lift the game for the entire built environment.

He shared them at  the “Design Friday” gigs held by Siobhan Toohill and Adrian Wiggins, in Newtown, also last week.

It’s simple, really – well, Horton’s presentation made it seem so – a handful of people who could act as orchestral conductors of sorts, to bring together and optimise  design, planning and delivery resources that already exist in Australia.

The right people in the right room at the right time.

Again, the notion of a set of fresh eyes working on what’s already available.

Again, the frisson of “this is so right”.

Joanne Jakovich

In the future wars will be won with ideas.

Joanne Jakovich, a senior lecturer in the School of Architecture at University of Technology Sydney  and another of the speakers that evening, was also on the collaboration trail. She talked about changing the ways people innovate by “changing the structure” in which they innovate and “crowd-share” innovation.

Her team’s current research project is a kind of collective creativity.

“As human beings, we don’t just evolve: we transcend,” she said.
“It might make us all inherently designers.”

Love it.

Design Friday March 2013

So in the midst of such wonderful talent, can you believe that university departments are forced to compete with each other and not share because of the way funding is allocated and points awarded (like gold stars)?

This is a time when we need to work together. What we don’t need is some dumb, raw competition in some sort of slavish devotion to a 1980s rationalist model.

Ayn Rand-style individualism isn’t going to save the planet.

If the future depends on creative solutions, then design: the sophisticated interaction between elements that can create magic – something from nothing – is what we need.

Everyone knows that two plus two equals 500.

Peter Verwer, Property Council of Australia (left) and John Connor, Climate Institute, Green Cities 2013

Good Rottweilers

Green Cities had some fun, too.

One session was on how to replace the word “sustainability”.

Sure, it’s a question straight from the advertising department, where attention deficit disorder is actually a KPI. Still, it was a chance to deconstruct and to think.

The only thing actually wrong with the word is the meaning we give to it. Remember Burberry? It used to be a staid and plaid-ugly brand (maybe it still is).

As critic and author Elizabeth Farrelly says, sustainability needs to be sexy and aspirational, like an iPhone.

So the replacement word that won the day for those so easily bored was “good”.

Plain, simple, nice “good”. Thanks to Ben Peacock, founder and partner of Republic of Everyone.

“Good” works. Says it all. A shortcut to putting everyone on the same page.

Even the Alice in Wonderlanders could not object to wanting a “good” outcome. Of course, you have to watch what bottle they were drinking from at their tea party down the rabbit hole. (See the film Greedy Lying Bastards)

The other cute word of the day was Rottweiler. Sustainability needed its Rottweilers to start and take hold, said the Property Council of Australia’s Peter Verwer. And it needs them still, he said.

Let us never forget the Rottweilers.