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On misleading information, disruptive technologies, and recycled fitouts

Environment Minister Greg Hunt confirmed there would be money for direct action in an opinion piece in the newspapers this week. But can you be so sure of what he says?

In the same opinion piece and in Lateline Hunt seems to have sunk to deceptive and misleading statements about the carbon tax. Carbon emissions continued to go up under the carbon tax, he claimed. Therefore it’s a badly flawed system.

Oh dear. True that, but emissions would have gone up by much more without the tax. It’s all a bit schoolyard in flavour and kind of embarrassing for Hunt, who really does seem like a nice guy and very much a climate believer with good intentions, but is already starting to show some of the pressure that must be going on in the backrooms.

By the way, do you think anyone should tell Hunt there is already a mini boom going on in retrofits? And possibly getting bigger.

While we weren’t looking (very hard) the complex world of software and building systems that have bamboozled so many people for several years seem to have suddenly become simpler.

In software terms it’s a bit like the big IBM in the computer room now replaced by the handheld device in everyone’s pocket.

And a bunch of smart young companies are swooping in to take advantage.

First, we heard of the gadget for less than $2000 that can measure pretty well anything you want it to measure: how much water is going into the dams and how much energy the solar panels are producing. Gold Coast City Council has one of these gadgets in its public foyer so anyone can drop by and see their taxes at work.

Behind it is a 27-year-old man, Rav Panchalingam, who did the classic start-up gig, setting up in his living room just over two years ago, funding the operation, Rise Technology, exclusively from his own earnings – no venture capitalists, no government grants, he says.

See Brisbane tech company in data tracking for the masses

Panchalingam’s business development manager says it’s the equivalent of taking a pretty good car, let’s say a Hyundai, to the masses. It’s not a Mercedes but it’s does a pretty good job all the same and gets you from A to B.

It’s the same story from VAE Group, run by Ben Carter, who’s taken his one-man band in 2011 and turned it into 90-strong today. Carter says nearly all buildings, old and new alike, present opportunities for energy savings.

In the past year he’s hired 52 people and he is not stopping any time soon.

Some green shoots and some fast growth too

In the new build sector the story is starting to look better too.

Simon Wild from Cundall, who is a keen market observer and blogger (as well as engineer), says Sydney has “quite a variety” of new projects in the wings.

He thinks the pick up in sentiment started before the election, perhaps as people saw the writing on the wall and thought at least there is certainty in the agenda to come.

“Sydney seems to have gone nuts. There’s new build office buildings stating again, a couple of projects that were on hold started back up and still a lot of multi-unit resi.”

And there’s even an eco-resort looking to get off the ground, he says.

“Everyone seems to have relaxed a bit and started doing things again. I think it started before the election – people seeing the writing on the cards and seeing that it was inevitable there would be a change in government.”

Elsewhere, Perth is still busy, he says, and Melbourne is “going strong and we’re seeing a few green shoots and new office buildings in the middle of the city”.

“Some government projects are coming through.”

Wild was also keen to talk about a series of surveys that Cundall held in its global offices to celebrate Green Building Week recently, and to find what would drive sustainability in the future.

“We wanted to see if there would be a shift back to market driven sustainable buildings,” Wild says.

“Pre-Labor and pre-GFC the industry was pretty market driven. Europe was very regulation driven. So the speed and uptake of sustainable buildings in Australia was a lot faster than in Europe.”

“In the UK it was more, ‘What’s the cheapest way I can get past the regulations?’”

The GFC put a halt to new builds and the change of government in Australia sent the industry back to minimum compliance, exemplified by the Section J regulations in the Building Code of Australia.

This stopped the industry falling backwards, Wild says.

“Now with the change in government and scrapping the Climate Council and climate funding being axed, I wonder whether we’re going to have the next accelerated market drive to sustainability?”

And the answer?

See the story Cundall: what will drive sustainable buildings in 2020?

New offices and the fitout is recycled

Jon McCormick president and managing director at Brookfield Johnson Controls was pretty chuffed to be finally moving into new digs at World Square as the two arms of the merged group came together.

The premises were in part of the Ernst & Young tenancy already vacated ahead of the accounting firm’s move uptown to the new Mirvac building at 200 George Street, which it has pre-leased, with construction expected to be completed in three years.

McCormick said not only was the new 800 square metre space “more functional and flexible”, but it was configured using much of the existing fitout.

The project, managed by an inhouse project management team and designed by Woods Bagot, would have significant environmental savings and be used to showcase to clients what was possible as they considered new premises.

Of course, this is one of the holy grails of green leasing, to stop the destructive clauses requiring tenants to “make good”, which really means trashing their fitout and bringing any office design changes back to the original, in case the new tenant doesn’t approve.

The new tenant, of course, quite often doesn’t even get a choice in the matter.

“It was a three way deal,” says McCormick. “There was the surrender [of the lease] done with EY and a new lease with Brookfield Johnson Controls and the landlord.”

In the end, it was cheaper for EY leave the fitout.

“Generally it costs people money to surrender their fitout and make good,” says McCormick.

It made sense for the business.

“As long as it was a good quality fitout in the first place.”

The new team will be about 100 and they will fit into a space originally designed for 70. But with many members out in the field, that’s not a problem, McCormick says.

“The space is very comfortable because it’s fully flexible because a number of people working with the NSW Police contract are out of the office. People come in and sit anywhere. It’s a clean desk environment.

“EY had converted a number of their floors to flexible working so we looked at what they’d done there and incorporated some of it here.”

Part of the design involves lots of flexible spaces – four person rooms and café settings, for instance.

And there will be trials of technology such as workplace thermal motion sensors, which accurately track use of space.

The move brought into the equation an approach to sustainability that wasn’t “just about reducing carbon but looking at all the aspects”.

Corporate funding of NGOs under the mainstream microscope

Back in August The Fifth Estate reported on the feud brewing between the national branch of Keep Australia Beautiful and the Boomerang Alliance.

The Boomerang Alliance, an alliance of 27 environmental groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation and Greenpeace, accused Keep Australia Beautiful of being “captured” by industry, as it is heavily funded by Coca Cola and opposes a national container deposit scheme for recycling.

See our article The ugly side of keeping Australia beautiful?

This week, we saw Fairfax media pick up the “exclusive” story, questioning Keep Australia Beautiful national chief executive Peter McLean.

”A lot of people say Coke has a lot of influence on Keep Australia Beautiful but… we also have a lot of influence on Coke,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported him saying.

The trend of corporate interests funding environmental not-for-profits was also taken up by The Conversation this week.

Genevieve LeBaron, Vice-Chancellor’s fellow in politics at the University of Sheffield, wrote that green NGOs could not both take big business cash and save the planet.

“A consequence of environmental NGOs opting to co-operate with corporations has been that more effort has gone into market-friendly and consumer-driven activism – eco-certification and eco-labeling, for example, which helps legitimise rather than challenge business as usual,” LeBaron wrote.

“The great danger of corporatisation is that while environmental NGOs tinker at the edges with efforts to improve recycling and packaging… overall consumption is rising exponentially. So too is the power and profit of the oil and retail corporations whose unsustainable business models drive climate change.”

2 replies on “News from the front desk: Issue No 162”

  1. As I walk past the same monumental piles of litter and smashed glass to the train station each day I can’t help thinking KAB has become a thing of the past despite its new corporate sheen, marketing material and correctly worded corporate ethos. The old mission, being the reduction and eradication of litter, is somewhere in these words but this new partnership and rumours of collaborative lobbying with Coca Cola makes them just seem so hollow.

    Keeping Australia beautiful is hard and tireless work, that starts by stopping litter and waste at the earliest possible point. This is glass roots stuff.

    Peter, perhaps there is no rubbish and smash glass contaminating the parks, footpaths and playgrounds where you live. Perhaps parents near you still take their children to these places without fear of bleeding feet and hands. Focusing on these sorts of issues is what KAB should be doing instead of lobbying against container deposit schemes.

    I am sure your job is made just a little easier by a nice cash injection from this special corporate friend of KAB however please stick to the KAB mission without compromise.

  2. Just to clarify, Keep Australia Beautiful aren’t feuding with anyone. We have been targeted by other environmental groups who have an alternative view to waste management and policy to us. We are focused on our core business to deliver positive community outcomes, which has included the 71 grants awarded to communities around Australia, funded by a Coca-Cola Foundation Community Recycling Grant.

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