On big and small – challenges, ideas, governments and pay packets

There is something really inspiring about meeting one of those rare people who help change the course of the world.

David Gottfried who started the green building council movement is such a man.

He’s almost a perfect corollary of the movement itself – warts and all – and he readily admits it. There is the driven, unrelenting passion, the tireless work and commitment, of course. But there is also a raft of conflicting and changing values as he moves along his own path, such as the lure of the beautiful watch, or the expensive four wheel drive car that he must grapple with as his values take new shape.

The man is honest. His two biographies, From Greed to Green and Greening my Life detail the one step forward and two back that he experienced countless times. The point is that getting to ideal green is extremely difficult and the journey at one point culminates in a self-denouement on one of his world epics for the World Green Building Council that his own life was far from green.

So he invented green for people. A scorecard called the Life Balance Sheet for a green life that rates health, relationships, financial security and so on. All the things that make a balanced, contented life. At first he failed to make even the certifiable range of the scorecard.

Today he’s focused on an academy to help other people green their personal lives.

This interview, was taped in November last year at the massive Greenbuild conference in the US, appears as Gottfried prepares for a visit to Australia in mid-August.

Speaking of green and sustainable lives, it’s interesting to read that former high flyer from the property world Chris Cuffe, ex Challenger and Colonial First State, who made headlines for pocketing $30 million in pay and special bonuses once, now spends his time giving money away rather than making it.

To the tune of $70,000 a month in fact, through his new financial vehicle Third Link investments, and as chairman and founder of Australian Philanthropic Services.

“In the finance industry, there are an awful lot of people that have made an awful lot of money that haven’t contributed to the value of that money,” he told The Australian Financial Review. “But I don’t blame them for that because the industry is what the industry is.

“But it’s important to not act that way. Just be careful – because you’re no better than the guy who lives in the wrong postcode.”

It helps to have simple desires, he says.

“I’ve been blessed in some ways that I’m not into big boats.

“I drive a nice car, not a fancy one – it wasn’t too long ago that I was driving a Toyota Corolla.

“I don’t have lavish hobbies and I don’t live in a particularly big house. I don’t have a great need or social need to keep spending and spending.”

Cuffe would score well on David Gottfried’s Life Balance Sheet.

Work and more work

Jon McCormick at Brookfield Johnson Controls who we profiled earlier this year is now busier than ever, with five big new contracts to add to his workload.

See Jon McCormick on FM, boom times, technology and change

McCormick has hired about 100 extra staff to handle the work that takes the total floors space under management from about 3.6 to “beyond six” million square metres, he said.

Other new portfolios are for Endeavour Energy, Microsoft and RioTinto’s offices in Brisbane and Melbourne.

And will the work include the sustainability element of the portfolio?

Of course, says McCormick.

“There’s an expectation when you take over a property portfolio that you take over the sustainability.”

Resilience and a tool for survival

Interesting to note that another company on the expansion trail is Edge Environment, which is now moving on from its life cycle assessment work and developing a rating tool for resilience for the insurance industry.

There’s growing interest in genuine resilience from asset owners, says Edge, but interestingly from some of the people that not so long ago were highly sceptical.

Sad when those sceptics come over the wall isn’t it? There was always a skerrick of mad hope before that we were terribly wrong.

Peter Verwer on good news and better (if you can get past the bad)

The good news is that the capital markets are booming, according to Peter Verwer, who heads the Property Council of Australia.

“They’re hiring huge numbers of people. There’s a wall of money available that exceeds the peak of the ’80s and ’90s capital markets sectors,” he said this week.

The “much predicted” M&A (mergers and acquisitions) activity is going through the roof.

The bad news is that the office markets are suffering – badly. The latest PCA Office Market Report shows office vacancies have hit double digits nationally and there was negative demand for space in all capital cities. So the market shrank.

If you think there’s an awful lot of people “setting up their own companies”, you’re right. Because the property industry mirrors the real economy, and jobs are dribbling away.

But like all bad times, these negative periods are a breeding ground for innovation and great leaps forward.

In the UK where things have been much tougher than in Oz, the government has come up with a spectacularly innovative idea to fund infrastructure out of future taxable earnings.

Verwer is on top of it. It’s starting with Manchester in the north of the country, he says. The city will fund major infrastructure, which as our own Feds have just pointed out in the very excellent State of Australian Cities report, is critical to a well functioning city and productivity of its people.

The report happens to warn that if you live on the outskirts of a city, without good infrastructure, you may be left behind in access to services and lucrative jobs that seems to hang around the centre.

Yes, we know.

Infrastructure, in all its guises, is critical but increasingly expensive. Perhaps prohibitively so, the report says.

Not in Manchester, UK. It’s long term thinking to the rescue – and it works every time, if you think about it.

First the central government knows that good infrastructure will stimulate the economy, jobs and increased tax revenue. So it is going to give Manchester a share of those forward earnings for the next 30 years. Which will allow Manchester to fund its infrastructure.

Brilliant.

So here is the UK, which led the world in economic rationalism – and told the world that governments needed to balance the budget each week… sorry, each year… just like a household – now pioneering a swing in the other direction.

Instead the UK Government is doing what governments are supposed to do: govern. And plan. For the long term.

The missing ingredient is always finance. Or, more precisely, the structure of finance.

In all these decades of productivity improvement and innovation and reform (everywhere but the construction industry) no-one has done much to fundamentally revolutionise the way we own and finance really big pieces of the built environment.

Now the governments have suddenly woken up to the fact that they may have a lot of power snuffled away in their treasuries.

It’s Treasury in Victoria which realised it could hand out an almost blank cheque for energy efficiency retrofits, because its long term thinking and long term funding meant it could wait for the investment to pay off.

It’s a mad world and getting madder.

In the US now our collective humanity’s desire for luxury, ease and, it must be said, at the cheapest possible price, is leading to a really weird trend that will hopefully soon disappear.

Try this: a personal “shopper” who will go and buy your landfill – a $6 pair of bike shorts in this case – for someone who needs to catch a train across town and back to do it, all for $5.

Or the people who will buy anything, flatscreen TV included as long as it fits inside a car …for $5 … if it doesn’t they will carry it on their backs.

Check out the story in Fast Company about what it’s like to be a courier for eBay Now. Thanks Atlantic Cities for the tip.

If you think this is unusually weird, it’s not. Check out international freelance work sites. You will see some of the cheapest work on offer isn’t from India or The Philippines, but the US.

So what did we think was going to happen when we globalised.

Is globalisation sustainable?

Europe has unified. And one of the benefits is bumper to bumper trucks belching diesel and cancer to distribute landfill more evenly across the countries, once it’s passed it way through the shops.

We were shocked in recent weeks by the news about how many people are dying in China because the air is so polluted. Until we found the scientific data published points to equally horrific data in “our part of the world” as well.

The ABC launched into the issue recently with its take on car exhausts.

Business Council speaks for business… of course

Speaking of big versus small (well, so much is, really) we hope you all noticed what the Business Council of Australia has proposed the Australian government should do.

We almost missed it: another missive on “you should, they should” from the corporate world to governments on corporate welfare.

But thanks to GetUp for pointing out the BCA wants to:

  • reduce the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent.
  • Everyone else can chip in and make up the difference, by GST expanded to good and other essential items. That’s about $3000 a year for the average household, according to the Grattan Institute
  • Penalty rates for people who are doing the lowest paid jobs to be slashed, so imagine the impact on that lot of GST on food
  • And homebuyers can chip in with a new land tax on home owner-occupiers

Here comes the $5 an hour world!

Thanks to Matthew Trigg, formerly policy wonk for the Facility Management Association, and now ensconced in the UK as Policy and Scrutiny Officer at Westminster City Council, who sent this note on the European Commission’s search to gather views and additional information on the possible introduction of EU wide measures to achieve better environmental performance of buildings.

Resource use and related environmental impacts all along the life-cycle of buildings are in the scope. The consultation puts forward questions related to the problem definition as well as to possible policy options,” says the proposal.

“It looks at both demand and supply side measures.

“The consultation offers an opportunity to all interested parties to express their views and to provide additional information to the European Commission.”

https://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/buildings_en.htm