Built environment plays Cinderella at the Carbon Ball

The built environment: a $38 billion prize in waiting

By Tina Perinotto

So the mining lobby wins again. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, flawed and ineffectual as it may be, set back another year. Make no mistake, the enemy here is the coal lobby. And its cohorts in the fossil fuel industry.

Left out of the spotlight for serious action is the built environment, capable of delivering $38 billion a year in savings by 2050 – and the tax payer footing the bill to compensate the big emitters.

Oh and the other big loser is the Australian public, the people who voted for Kevin Rudd because he made some great noises about climate change. Rudd might be wise to heed the Greens who say their offices have been flooded with inquiries from people asking how they can register a protest. With a double dissolution making the news items, they might not have long to wait to find out.

On the packed-out political agenda in the last week or so was also the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy inquiry, which again heard about how important the building sector was and the meeting of the Coalition of Australian Governments (COAG) which took some good steps forward, but not nearly enough, according to the sustainable property and energy people. See Lynne Blundell’s extensive coverage on this.

Tom Roper, former Victorian politician and now president of the Australian Built Environment Council (ASBEC) was in Canberra for the action to point to the greenhouse gas savings of 60 million tonnes a year achievable by 2030 from buildings.

Romilly Madew of the Green Building Council gave her evidence in Brisbane, but in the corridors of power in the capital Roper might have bumped into Peter Szental wearing his Energy Efficiency Council hat, or Maria Atkinson, green globe trotter for Lend Lease and Che Wall of Lincolne Scott.

Atkinson and Wall used their chance to to give evidnece of climate change to show how the efficient building scheme outlines how the building sector could shave 40-50 per cent off its emissions – that’s half of the 23 per cent of all emissions that the government says the built sector is responsible for.

Commercial buildings alone, responsible for 15 per cent or so of total emissions, according to government numbers, could chop 7.7 per cent from total emissions. Bingo, more than the government’s minimum 5 per cent emissions reductions achieved, they say. Without any political damage.

Instead, the word from Canberra was that the politicians behaved as if the existence of the building sector was news to them – not more than a poor Cinderella waiting to be discovered.

But we promised you an optimistic site, so read the interview with former Victorian politician, John Thwaites now holding a large number of roles in the sustainability field, who brings his “real” politician’s reading into the assessment on the CPRS.

Thwaites says that what’s important with CPRS is that it signals to businesses that their plans for the next five or 10 years need to be for a carbon constrained economy. The introduction of the CPRS may be delayed but the direction is set, he says.

Moving away from Canberra to the real world this is exactly what Grocon, the huge Melbourne based developer, was thinking when it announced the start of its “lab” style green building on the part of the Carlton brewery site in Melbourne. More good news.

Development manager David Waldren told TFE, Grocon was looking out to the other side of the recession when it decided to proceed, “at a million miles an hour” in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis.

According to Waldren, Grocon also had one eye trained on a counter-cyclical strategy and the other on the business and cost risk of a new carbon constrained economy that would emerge on the othe side of the GFC.

“Nobody can tell you accurately what the financial impost will be of the cost of a carbon constrained economy,” he says.

The best bet, Grocon reasoned, was to prepare. So Pixel came about, a small 1000 square metre carbon-neutral building  that will hot-house the future of Grocon’s buildings.

And bring a lot of heart to like-minded enterprises intent on planning for further than next week.

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tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au