Legion House: Sydney has its pride back

On green days, evolutions and how Sydney got its pride back

It’s always great to get out of the office, charming, rustic, un-airconditioned and brilliantly located though it be, and get to a meeting or a gathering of more than a few people.

You get a gist of the spirit of things when you’re part of a crowd.

And the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Building Day 2013 crowd in Sydney on Wednesday just seemed to be the perfect size for this – not too big, not too small. And it struck just the right note as well.

We meant to dive in and out for just one or two sessions but the content was compelling from the start. So was the sense of anticipation of what was coming next. Because it was all useful, practical information.

Bruce Precious of GPT set the mood with everyone’s favourite topic: the megatrends on the horizon.

Cameron has written a nice round up of the key themes, but one trend that resonated loudly was probably was on collaboration.

In their book, SuperCooperators, Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield talk about it as the third major evolutionary phase for humanity.

You only need to hear the first few words on this to instantly feel it’s true.

James Krall, Umow Lai

“Kerching” moments on collaboration in sustainability are growing apace. The most recent was the 2degrees network of more than 32,000 individuals worldwide collaborating https://www.2degreesnetwork.comon sustainable businesses, “working together to drive efficiency and growth through being more sustainable”, the blurb on the website says.

We noticed them when they sprang forth with some sustainability awards that included a prize for a wooden roof on a Marks and Spencer’s building in the UK. See our report on this.

Then there is the collaboration of technology companies that we’ve talked about before and now one of our own with the Better Buildings Partnership for the “Happiness Book” (Guide to Green and Best Practice Leasing… chapter two coming soon).

There’s another: the collaboration and goodwill that must have worked overtime to deliver Sydney’s latest high-profile green building, Legion House.

The project was another must hear/must see session during the conference.

Designed by fjmt, Legion House, at 161 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, had to meet many parameters, said Stephen Nicol, project general manager for owner Grocon and Umow Lai’s James Kral and Davina Cameron, who delivered the engineering.

It had to stack up commercially, it had to achieve 6 Star Green Star Designed and As Built, it had to achieve zero carbon emissions – and it had to be off the electricity grid.

Done.

Loads of questions at Green Building Day 2013

Part of the work involved moving the lift core to outside the building, adding two floors and creating loads of public space.

But the really tricky bit was getting to zero carbon emissions.

To do this the building will make paper briquettes out of waste paper sourced from the office tower next door and turn it into gas.

Hanna Morton, Cundall

Audience questions about a higher order use for waste paper were met with the alternative: paper is normally shipped to China, recycled and shipped back.

What happens to the emissions of oxides of nitrogen, or NOx, an audience member wanted to know (there were lots of questions).

Well the power system creates gas, rather than importing it as co- or tri-generation would, but there is a generator, which does have some carbon emissions. However, explained Grocon services and sustainability manager Dru Spork from the audience, these are captured and burnt for fuel.

But what Legion House has also achieved, is the best possible sweet spot for green – it’s sexy.

A 100-year-old building, recycled, repurposed, and people already love to flock there. It’s what columnist and critic Elizabeth Farrelly said in The Fifth Estate in her article last year: the green agenda needs to move from worthy to sexy. Think iPhone/iPad cred.

Katy Dean, GBCA

For green buildings think place-making magic.

It’s all very well to work hard, concentrate, deliver. But when your work is in a thoughtfully designed and inspiring place, filled with people who look like they’re working on something really exciting, then that adds an entirely other element to the day.

Which, by the way, seemed to be exactly the atmosphere around the NSW Teachers Federation conference centre in Reservoir Street where the event was held. It used to be quite a down and out area. But across the road from the centre now is the newly arrived Hub shared workspace with its cool public spaces; next door is a café with an interesting fitout and cast iron tea pots that looked like they came straight from China and where the four guys at the next table looked like they were plotting to Kill News instead of Fairfax.

During the break one delegate said he confessed he didn’t think Grocon would deliver Legion House as promised. He thought the ambition too grand; it would be scaled back under some “review” or other.

Jorge Chapa spoke on Green Star and its evolution

But here it is.

As Gavin Gilchrist from Big Switch Projects said, perhaps suggesting a headline for when we cover this project in more detail, “this building has given Sydney back its pride”.

Some other interesting snippets from the day included:

Romilly Madew wanted to dispel the myth that we’re working on one building at a time.

Transformation was under way. In offices the mood was shifting to activity-based working, hot desking, flexibility.

GPT would soon be leasing out unused office space in its LiquidSpace online booking format, sourced direct from a Silicon Valley startup.

Work isn’t a place, it’s what you do, said Siobhan Toohill of Westpac.

From Left- Richard Palmer, WSP; Bruce Precious, GPT; Gavin Gilchrist, Big Switch Projects; Esther Bailey, Better Buildings Partnership and CitySwitch

But how do asset owners cope with that extra flexibility, when tenants will no longer sign for a five year lease, came one question from John Goddard who is currently consulting to AMP on the retrofit of its Circular Quay offices and has poured in a huge amount of work on how to minimise waste in office fitouts.

At the Ideaction 2013 conference on facility management in Hobart earlier this year DTZ chief Henry Arundel said the new lease would be very short form indeed. Try 24 hours. There’s already a model, he said, in his welcome speech for the event. It’s called hotels.

Toohill’s response was that owners needed to make “really great places to work, where people want to be”.

Madew noted that to create that kind of change you have to bring the lawyers with you. Right now they constrict flexibility.

Questions from Ben Thomas, Better Buildings Partnership

WSP’s Richard Palmer, who had spent the past few years in South Africa, noted the huge challenge – and opportunity – of raising people out of poverty.

And he noted the advancing tide of human displacement that will be brought by climate change.

Yes you need resilience but you also need some attractors for talent, Palmer said. And don’t worry about attracting capital – capital will follow the talent, he said. Not the other way around.

Jorge Chapa from the GBCA had some great insights into the new look Green Star. Love the innovation points update and the incorporation of life cycle assessment. We will bring you more on that soon. On life cycle, one quip in the break was that LCA needed desperately to rebrand itself. The concept was to communicate. Too many words?

Dru Spork, Grocon

Branding and marketing expert Ben Peacock from The Republic of Everyone had a great presentation. One gem was that if you want to spread the message on green remember to use loads of visuals. People tend to retain 80 per cent of information they see in visuals, 20 per cent of words and only 10 per cent of speech… ah that last item would be the short attention span and iPhone/Twitter/iPad plague, we bet.

Be Green, Be proud

Peacock also hit the nail on the head in terms of purpose. There had been a backlash on green and now the focus had swung too far the other way to focus on costs…

Sure saving money might be worthy and the accountants might love you if you do, but it’s not exactly uplifting.

True that.

The pendulum was swinging again, Peacock said – time to focus on ideals and values again. Phew.

Hugh Cross, Lake Macquarie City Council

Besides everyone would much rather get a pay rise than do some cost cutting, he said. Again the sexy thing.

Another great speaker was the GBCA’s Katy Dean, who ranged through a view of incentives on offer for green.

It’s great to hear that councils such as Canada Bay offer incentives such as height bonuses in return for elements such as materials with low VOC, or volatile organic compounds, smart metres and 75 per cent recycling.

But seriously, aren’t we grown up enough yet to have those rather modest green elements as a given?

And would you blame the local residents for starting to resent these baby green steps and think they’re guerrilla tactics for sneaking past the rules?

One local government audience member in the back row at the conference raised the issue of the NSW planning reforms being potentially an anti-green measure. Presumably because if the standards aren’t put in at the strategy level, that’s it, you don’t get a second chance.

So local councils need to start thinking now about some seriously green mandates, right?

Or lose the chance. And as we know local councils is where much of the serious action is in raising the sustainability bar.

Ethical investing

We also had a great chat this week with Australian Ethical’s Paul Smith. It was meant to be a scoping out chat to see how we could better cover what’s going on at the capital markets financial end of the power spectrum, since we’re well aware that money talks very loudly indeed.

But the conversation was just too interesting to not try to capture.

For a comparatively small fund – a mere $700 million under management makes AE miniscule compared to the leviathans of that industry – but in terms of ethics and scrutiny of its investments, this is a small giant in the making.

All that’s missing is some loosening up of the rules that prevent professionals such as teachers from investing in them, some rapid software development in terms of performance reporting along ethical lines and you have a rocket that will fire all the way to Wall Street.