Our first 12 months

By Tina Perinotto

The Fifth Estate is a year old today, 8 April 2010

In 12 months, so much has changed.

From a tentative start (much like that of The Fifth Estate during the worst of the Global Financial Crisis) the sustainable property world is now a confident young industry, sure that its place in the world is about to become mainstream.

Above all other industries, the property industry “gets it”. Grocon’s Daniel Grollo nailed it at Green Cities 2010 when he said, “If you don’t go for 4.5 star [NABERS energy] rating now, your building will be obsolete by the time it’s finished”.

This is an industry that more than any other needs to think long term: it takes three to five years to bring a major development on line, and that’s if things go well. And the building hangs around for many years after.

On all sides the movement points forwards: industry demand, government regulations on energy efficiency and mandatory disclosure; now there’s greenhouse gas reduction through the Building Code of Australia, and building material indexes that will cut through the marketing spin, not to mention a swathe of sophisticated internal ratings tools and sustainability programs being put in place internally among corporates large and small.

Sustainability is an idea whose time has come.  As much as the steam engine and the invention of the computer, the sustainability revolution is compelling and unstoppable.

The feedback
Here’s what some people have told us:  that we have tapped a real niche, that they check our site on a daily basis, make us their home page, and they often use our articles to explain complex issues in simple language.

Wow! But we’re not fishing for balance here, so put the email reply down! This kind of feedback is pure energy and gives us confidence, not hubris … we promise.

Our visitors
Our visitor numbers tell a great story: Average growth last year was 20 per cent; this year it’s 20 per cent minium – with numbers shooting up to nearly 40 per cent growth month on month when we’ve broken key stories such as on the Green Star rating system reviews, and mandatory disclosure details.

Our overseas visitors average 15 per cent, proving this is a global industry and that Australia is in the spotlight.

Our promise
We launched with a promise to be optimistic, to learn something from life at the centre of this amazing continent: its tough, gritty resilience; its ability to spring back, time and again, from extremes. We were charmed by the story of tiny water creatures that live for years in a cocoon-like state in the beds of dry lakes, only to come suddenly to life during rare rain.

We understood that it’s not a battle against the elements but a way to be in harmony with them. And not much different to the lesson humanity has to re-learn if it is to continue to co-exist with this wonderful planet.

We haven’t always succeeded in being optimistic: the failure of Copenhagen, the failure of the emissions trading scheme in Australia, the failure of the Rudd Government on overt strong climate action were hard to take.

But not hard to bounce back from either.

It only took the next good-news story about a sustainable achievement from the property industry, and noticing that as we all dribbled back from the Christmas break the negative losses hardly registered with the property sector.

Anita Mitchell of Jones Lang LaSalle set the pace when she blithely announced she was set to double the numbers on her team.

Other commercial agents are getting aboard the sustainability train, thanks to mandatory disclosure. See Lynne Blundell’s article this issue for details. https://thefifthestate.com.au/archives/11140

Our Stories
In the past year we’ve covered some great stories and broken some really important ones.

In the world of economic politics, TFE’s Lynne Blundell has delved behind the scenes – usually airbrushed for public consumption – to reveal the tough reality of the rearguard actions fought by the forestry unions, the timber industry and Victorian Government to force compromises on how timber is assessed in the Green Star rating system, and later on treatment by the rating tool on other materials such as PVC.

In the world of energy, Blundell has brought her technical understanding to bear to unravel the complex morass around alternative energy, co-generation and intelligent grids in particular.

Her work is successful because it tackles issues normally left to the preserve of experts, and instead, explains them clearly to the folk on the street – a key enabler of democratic participation, we think. News and explanation of the news – that’s what we strive for.

We’ve also brought you our Women in Sustainability Leadership series. How could we fail to notice at our first “gig”, the Green Cities 2009 conference in Brisbane, how an impressive new breed of highly educated and sophisticated women were proving the tough business cases for sustainability? Anita Mitchell, Alex McKenna, Amanda McCluskey, Caroline Noller, Romilly Madew, Maria Atkinson, to name a few. We’ve profiled some; more will come.

Some of our stories have been truly inspiring: such as the one on the Melbourne inventor who sold his business manufacturing the green hay bale covers that he invented so he could invest the proceeds into his new factory building solar-powered desalination plants, for as little as $300, so that thousands of these units are on order for people dealing with the water crisis in developing countries.

Others have been wrenching: such as how a new administration at the University of Newcastle trampled the groundbreaking achievements led by Philip Pollard and his team to create a sustainable campus program over a decade that put the university and Australia on the map as leaders in the field. See the video that Glenn Murcutt made to condemn the destruction, which included the disrespectful changes to the buildings he designed for the campus, without permission or so much as an advice.

But then read some of the early chapters in Pollard’s PhD, a well-written and totally engaging thesis, Campus as Place, where he captures the lessons learnt and analyses the complex human politics required to convince a sceptical and partly conservative  administration of the time to embrace major change.  It deserves to be widely published. (See the first chapter here )

Our Sponsors
Finally, but most gratefully, thanks to our wonderful sponsors who have enabled a good idea to become reality.

Needless to say they are the leading thinkers and enablers of the huge shift to a more sustainable property and development industry. In chronological order they are: Szencorp, WSP Lincolne Scott, NABERS, Cundall, GPT Group, MWH. In our advertising category, we thank the Three Pillars Network, promoting their new sustainable property conference.

And to celebrate our birthday we welcome today our brand new sponsor, Landcom!

Click on our Advertise button to see details of how you can be part of The Fifth Estate story.


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