10 October 2013 – This week’s themes settled around language. Flexible, challenging, changing language. And how to manipulate it and use it and not have it do the same to us in return. Tough call.
That’s the logic when you have people in positions of power who need to hear the right soothing words, that don’t for a second suggest you’re a mad tree hugger ready to throw yourself into the arms of the Russian military and end up in jail. (Even if you are; and if you are you clearly haven’t watched the right movies).
By all means talk about stopping waste, but call it resource scarcity and resource efficiency. Speak about the value of fresh air and water but give it a dollar value.
Speak about broader sustainability, but say it’s getting the community on side, or good public relations.
Don’t even mention saving the planet. That idea has to go underground for a while. Instead talk about the next economic revolution.
James Bradfield Moody, well known as a former presenter of the ABC’s New Inventors television program and former CSIRO scientist, and who we first came across at one of Siobhan Toohill’s cool Friday night gigs “at home”, has framed the argument brilliantly.
In Cameron Jewell’s interview this week, Moody says the next big wave that will wash over the economy and our society, tumbling and dumping everything in its path is resource efficiency.
These waves, partly subject of a book he wrote in 2010 together with science journalist Bianca Nogrady, The Sixth Wave, describe periods of “disruption, a transition to stability and ending with global economic downturn”, Cameron writes.
The preceding wave, information and telecommunications, is still rolling and still changing the speed of business and exchange of information, creating massive wealth for those who can grasp the opportunities.
The earlier waves of water power, steam, electrification and mass production speak for themselves.
The property industry gets it: energy efficiency is the start of the supercycle in some views.
Interesting, however, to hear Energetic’s Jon Jutsen on the ABC’s The Business on Wednesday night, fresh from the All Energy conference in Melbourne, say that in his 30 years in the energy industry he’s never seen it so confused and disoriented.
What is this?
At a time when we need the greatest clarity and the greatest focus we’re sending idiotic messages to the industry that, yes, it’s okay to invest billions in wind and solar, and then no, it’s not: we’re going to wreck your business and send you to the receivers, instead.
We need it to be clear in terms of our own private messaging and core direction.
But in operation, beware we’re entering the world of murky Orwellian-speak.
Another interesting area just asking for more attention this week was housing.
Yes, it’s been the poor relation to all things green and sustainable. And no, we’re not including in this comment the bespoke designers and the beautiful upmarket apartments that their developers absolutely make green as a matter of course.
Instead, we’re talking mum and dad land where the 20-30 year olds are buying their first home and all they can think about is what the benchtops are made from and how good the house – or apartment – looks.
Nothing wrong with a bit of sex appeal in what you invest it; just makes you love the thing more.
But solar panels? Up on the roof? A (rather ugly) tank taking up room in the garden? Fake decking made out of some sort of recycled plastic or rubber?
Maybe not. Pass on that.
At least that’s what the developers have been saying when they tell us the buyers “don’t know/don’t care”.
Now people, such as the founders of retirement village by Halcyon group, medical doctor Bevan Geissmann and lawyer Paul Melville, aren’t asking the buyers any more.
In this great article from Donna Kelly, Halcyon says they’re simply putting in the sustainable features as standard.
Why? Because they want the offering to be affordable to buy into, affordable to live in and affordable to leave.
In Perth, Donna’s interview with Right Homes director Gary Wright has found similar commitment to quality and better product in the homes he and his wife Anna and their team of 10 offer to the market.
The company didn’t start off with the skills and know-how, but, Wright says, “once we had made the decision we found you can [build sustainable homes] quickly if you have a passion.
“But why you would not want to build a comfortable home with great indoor environmental quality… it’s mind-blowing,” he said.
“The public aren’t educated yet enough about passive and solar sustainability – but that will happen. The clients have become pretty savvy in general – and the builders are just going to have to follow suit.”
Bad luck about the builders, he says, who “turn a blind eye” to sustainability.
Which brings us to the volume build market. And a bit about language again.
Caryn Kakas, head of external and government affairs with the PCA, is one for changing the language.
Kakas thinks that even under a pro-business conservative federal government, the residential development industry and its friends can achieve what couldn’t be done under the previous government –mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency in houses and national minimum sustainability standards for housing, with a single rating tool.
What you need to do is make the message about cutting red and green tape, Kakas says during a fascinating and surprising interview.
(You have to watch cutting the green tape. In Queensland that’s another way of saying who cares about any living, breathing thing that stands in the way of the coal industry.)
But Kakas says the new federal government will listen to the right message.
It may not be interested a single, harmonised rating tool because it saves the planet but maybe it will listen if business says, “We want a rating tool that keeps us from having to brief eight governments; and develop eight sets of marketing materials to target buyers. Instead we can do it once and for all.”
The New Feds have ditched the Major Cities Unit, but maybe they will respond to a cities deal that’s “all about jobs, economic growth, leveraging sustainability and optimising government revenue,” she says.
Okay, it just might sound a bit more boring than a stirring call to arms to save the planet, but if it works, who cares?
The Greg Hunt watch
Another language play moving in the right direction is that of Environment Minister Greg Hunt. He told the Australian Sustainability conference that opened in Melbourne on Wednesday, that the Feds were indeed keen to honour Australia’s commitment to a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. We’re not sure if he’s spoken to the boss who said before the election that if the Direct Action budget doesn’t do the job, it’s just bad luck. But still it’s good to hear Hunt has some respect for this country’s global commitments.
The big question is whether he will fall in line with international peers to raise the targets.
And it’s good to see Hunt back off slightly from the ridiculous claim that the carbon tax didn’t work because emissions went up under the program. Well, no-one ever said the tax would send them backwards, worse luck, and they were eight per cent lower than with a tax.
See our article from last week, Greg Hunt misleading and plain wrong on emissions claim