On NABERS, melting icebergs, Bernard Carlon, Matt Clark.

2 May 2013 – You know when you just have a feeling that something’s afoot? We had that with NABERS boss Matthew Clark for several days. Ring Matt, the voice said; find out what’s going on with NABERS. There’s always someone trying to kick holes in NABERS. The most recent dig is from the Property Council of Australia, which conducted its own review of the rating tool, beloved of so many engineers and assessors, but managing to stir the ire of some people.

Just as we were about to hit the phone, one of our very special contacts sprang the news. Clark, director water and energy programs at NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, had announced he would leave NABERS and the OEH in June, and head back to the private sector after 10 years, possibly to private consulting.

But that’s not all. Also leaving – or had left – was Bernard Carlon, a frequent panellist and audience member at sustainable building events, who was divisional director sustainability programs with OEH.

Carlon is now ensconced as principal manager, strategy and policy at Centre for Road Safety, which though clearly worthwhile, is an unusual segue for someone who has clearly relished his role in helping to progress sustainable reform in the business and government profile of NSW.

According to our source these high level departures are just the tip of the restructuring iceberg currently ripping through the department and taking with it up to 100 staff. Our inquiries to OEH confirmed this was correct and that another 250 or staff would depart over the next three years.

So much for our hopes that Premier Barry O’Farrell was going to be as nice to the environment as his kindly uncly persona might have led us to believe. (Still there’s a school of thought that says the state is not doing too badly on the eco front when it’s lined up with its more conservative peers… but maybe that’s before the staff cuts.)

In any case, Clark, who had literally only just decided to head for greener pastures (no pun intended – promise) was glad for what NABERS had achieved and for his 10 years in the government job. Bernard Carlon perhaps even more so.

Bernard Carlon

Carlon certainly thinks the government’s got a bit to be happy about.

He joined the department in one of its former iterations, the Environment Protection Authority, 14 years ago as a head of public communications.

The thing that the government did best, he says, was the way it partnered with business in setting a new course for energy efficiency and sustainability.

“NSW has done a great job on stewardship of NABERS as a national program and in that period of voluntary development of the program there’s been great collaboration between industry and government,” Carlon says.

“Because they are voluntary, programs like NABERS live on the partnership between the government and the private sector and I think there’s been fantastic collaboration.”

Okay, there have been some “robust debates” about NABERS and how it should be tweaked or reviewed, but “if you don’t have that sort of public debate going on then it means people aren’t passionate about it.”

The debate works. It “keeps people focused and makes sure [NABERS] is achieving all the outcomes it needs to be achieving on sustainability and many people contributed tremendously to those outcomes.”

Carlon loves walking into the building he works in every day at 18 Lee Street to see the NABERS plaque in the foyer.

(Come to think of it, why are there not many more plaques being displayed on foyers with either NABERS or Green Star? Where’s the braggadocio folks?)

The Sustainability Advantage program for business was another high achiever, Carlon says. It now has more than 600 large and medium size businesses working on their performance, and providing mutual assistance. Best, he says, is that half the program members are in regional areas.

And yes, the program is still going…

Another area that worked well was the sustainable schools program. This program, that’s been going for more than a decade, is now a national program and resulted in sustainability being incorporated into the national curriculum, he says.

Carlon isn’t too fussed about the cutbacks to the environmental area. It’s all part of the cycle of politics, especially in tough economic times.

“When I went to the EPA 14 years ago there was a handful of multinationals involved in this area and now there are coffee shops and corner businesses and freight companies and manufacturers and service industries and aged care facilities who are practising how to develop more sustainably.”

So how does NSW compare with Victoria, in his estimation – hating of course, to bring the old cities rivalry into the picture?

On the contrary says Carlon. The rivalry has been very good for the sustainability business and is very motivating. But in his estimation, though, it’s NSW that has been “outstanding on the national stage.”

“Victoria has always been very good at selling their outcomes and NSW at has been very good at achieving their outcomes.”

Mr Napthine?

For his part Matthew Clark was still working on NABERS and related issues.

Should the prime minister Julia Gillard consider taking back management of NABERS, which it owns, while she still has time?

Not at all, said Clark. There was no scale back of the NABERS momentum, and it would continue to be strong. NABERS for data centres, for instance, had just been released and the results of a strategic review would come out soon, he said.

The realignment and review of the department, he said, was a separate issue and part of “a whole realignment of how we deliver services and how we do teams”.

“We are currently recruiting a manager to the commercial building team and there is competitive process internally to recruit that person.” It had been held on an acting basis by Yma ten Hoedt.

His own position would be recruited externally.

The changes, he said, were not so much bad news as an opportunity to see “how we can best deliver services, how we can improve the services and be customer-focused when we’re doing that and it means changes, not necessarily for the worse.”

His own reasons for going was that the opportunity to pursue fresh fields seemed right. “I’ve only just decided,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to pursue something different.”

The NABERS management team was now working through the Property Council of Australia’s review of NABERS, submitted late last year, to see what responses it would make.

“A lot of the things flagged were part of the strategic plan being put together for NABERS.”

And no, he would not elaborate on the content of these but the results would be published  in a few months.

Clark’s former roles include as a consulting engineer with Connell Wagner, which is now Aurecon.

So goodbye to one era. Hello to something different

Sustainability Rottweilers, en garde!

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  1. Time the KISS approach came to this convoluted and confused sector, a little more sophisticated than the ABSA clone for housing so it has lasted but not aged gracefully. Original intent was good, a shame NABERS just lost itself in the spaghetti of options and permutations.

    So much so that at the end of the day all it delivers is a subjective result based on a mix of objective and subjective data poorly weighted to deliver an outcome that unfortunately is a filtered view of what should be a real measure of energy efficiencies and conservation measures.

    Far far simpler approaches exist that yield cost effective benefits that actually increase human comfort. NABERS become a little like the cart pulling the horse, people in a NABERS rated building assume they should be more comfortable and feel happy living in a 6 stars building. Chasing stars instead of sensible energy management planning and low CAPEX conservation measures.

    A lot of people have payed a lot of money to be part of the scheme I wonder how many can quantify the impact they have had and whether the thousands invested has been a good business decision.

    Perhaps look overseas, to see what is being done!