A long hot summer ahead, but the property industry keeps on churning out good news

We’ve posted a few special alerts between last issue and this. It’s been a special alert kind of week: Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull fallen on the sword of climate change policy; new Opposition Leader Tony Abbott ready to defend to the death the determination to do nothing on climate change, for as long as possible. He brings to mind Monty Python’s Black Knight, fiercely fighting, losing an arm, a leg, another leg and so on, but never giving in.

Imagine what could be achieved if he used that mongrel energy – to quote Mark Latham –  to stop world hunger. Or, yes, save us from catastrophic climate change.

As an election looms, expect a nasty scare campaign to gather pace, hitting where the voters really hurt, the hip pocket. Of course in the background could Malcolm Turnbull be persuaded to conjure up support for a “third way” for the thousands of disaffected Liberals who want their leaders to take climate action? It’s hard to believe such a force of nature as Turnbull will just sit quietly on the back bench with his millions.

In every sense it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Sadly business – the constituents who are turning up their investment in clean tech to bring forward a new carbon-free prosperity (check our latest story on Lend Lease Ventures)  – exactly the people who the Libs are supposed to represent, will be left with projects in the lurch, and hurting from Abbott’s obfuscation and stalling.

For the property industry the biggest delay caused by a looming election could be the Mandatory Disclosure legislation unless the government decides it’s far too important and needs to be rushed through.

But regardless of the waste of valuable (emotional) energy at the federal level of politics, the property industry waits for no-one. It is an industry that needs to look years ahead if it wants to survive – the lead times are enormous, so it’s no good using yesterday’s standards to design the housing, offices and shopping centres of the future.

Property industry, take a bow. Ahead of virtually every other industry, property has been setting higher and higher standards. Maybe it’s the competitive spirit. (Long may it live!)

Just announced is a new rating tool for neighbourhood precincts, developed by the NSW government urban land developer Landcom, which promises world class outcomes and commercialisation throughout the country.

The tool is so sophisticated it can model for various climate and micro climate scenarios, infrastructure and utilities planning and unpack verbiage such as carbon neutral or zero carbon. As Landcom’s Steve Driscoll put it, it’s the equivalent of a feasibility study for developers – except for sustainability.

Not to be outdone, NSW Government’s NABERS team has launched a rating that may have one of the biggest impacts of all – for shopping centres. How so? Because shopping centres are responsible for a whopping 50 per cent of total emissions from the commercial sector.

Good to see that shopping centre giant Westfield sent a huge contingent to the breakfast launch on Tuesday at the Botanic Gardens restaurant, in Sydney.

Hot on the heels of NABERS shopping centres will be a tool for schools, hospitals and even data centres – the latter prompting NABERS’  chief technical consultant on the tools, Paul Bannister of Exergy to say something like, “if you think rating shopping centres might be hard, you don’t know the meaning of hard.” This will be vital as data centres are notorious for the horrendous amounts of energy they use – all that thinking power doesn’t come cheap.

Speaking of competitive spirit, where is Victoria in all this race for better environmental outcomes?

Sad to say that this state that used to pride itself on setting the very highest standards in the country for sustainable outcomes – after all it is in the direct eye of the coming environmental storm – has become a shrunken and shrivelled violet in terms of sustainability courage (Mmmm… maybe it’s due for a Laughing Horse Award).

Instead of maintaining its leadership, the Victorian Government has been bullying the property industry’s green ratings authority to loosen its standards on one of our most valuable resources, timber.

Take a look at Lynne Blundell’s story sent in a special alert on Monday, which exposes some of the nasty work going on behind the scenes to ensure the Australian timber industry and timber union industry’s preferred rating scheme gets equal billing with the internationally sanctioned scheme.

The big difference between the two is that the Aussie model puts jobs first. But what else is to be expected from a country born and bred on the supremacy of resources and fearful – wrongly – of its capacity to find new work; after all this is one of the most inventive, and yes, lucky countries in the world, not a desperate backwater.

The poor GBCA, under seige, has buckled and split the two timber points available for its ratings system in two. One is available now for anyone to certify timber against five criteria:

•    the assessment of chain of custody
•    governance
•    standards, development and revision
•    auditing and certification decisions
•    verification of legality

The remaining point will based on five “significant criteria” to be determined after a period of public comment and debate. These criteria are:
•    Public Reporting and Claims
•    Biodiversity Conservation Part I
•    High Conservation Value Forests (HCVF) Part I
•    Chemical Use
•    Forest Conversion to Plantations.

How nasty the lobbying gets is quite an eye opener. Sources have told The Fifth Estate that it extends to intense personal pressure on Tony Arnel, chair of the GBCA, through his role as Victorian Building Commissioner. The GBCA was described as “recalcitrant and unresponsive.”

Unfortunately it’s  reminiscent of the battle in the US by product manufacturers such as the vinyl industry, which demanded that the US GBC allow the use of its materials in the rating system, under threat of lengthy and hugely expensive legal challenges, using the anti trust provisions which ban so-called uncompetitive behaviour.

GBCA chief executive officer says the vinyl industry is trying very hard in Australia to come up with a sustainable plan for its industry. More on that to come, no doubt.
Of course ructions and set backs are all part of the game in a revolution, but with Copenhagen looming the opponents of change can sense the momentum is building in intensity and the hysteria will only mount.

The next few months promise to be a very hot summer indeed.

contact: tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au