Could online shoppers pave the way for a greener world? And let’s open the drawbridge for developers to come back in

13 May 2011 – When one of the industry’s greener types wanted to buy a new set of tyres for his bicycle he did some research and found that in Australia he would pay $110 each in a local bike shop or $60 on line, shipped from the UK. Since the tyres were imported from Germany anyway, he ticked the box with UK online shop Wiggle on the Thursday  and had them delivered on Tuesday. Because the deal was over $80 delivery was free.

This same man gets his high quality American cotton shirts online for $30.

This is a revolution in the making. Can it last? And what will it mean for our retail centres?

How sustainable is it anyway to maintain our vast shopping emporiums. According to building and sustainability consultant John Goddard, we rip out and replace our office fitouts on average every five years.

That’s 20 per cent of 28 million square metres thrown out to landfill every year or so.

In retail it’s worse, with leases changing and refurbishments required even more frequently. So that’s at least 20 per cent of about 22.5 million sq m in investment grade retail property (according to figures from CB Richard Ellis).

Goddard has been thinking a lot about the waste in fitouts – or frequently changing fitouts to be more precise.  In the retail sphere he sees internet shopping as potentially a huge carbon and energy saver.

Even after the carbon cost of shipping there are embodied carbon savings because of the enormous waste involved in creating and maintaining the modern investment grade version of our retail property industry, he says.

Which brings us to a fascinating presentation at GreenCities 2011 in February from Kirsty Máté, program director interior design at the School of Architecture and Design, University of Tasmania based on her world wide research for her PhD on retail trends.

The world is changing and changing fast. Retailers are traditionally the closest to consumer sentiment. They live and breathe the zeitgeist of the times and, according to what Máté has found, the spirit of the time is sustainable – socially, environmentally, and ethically.

Can you believe that a major department store is spending its own money to insulate the houses of its staff?

For Marks & Spencers, that’s a powerful way to say its sustainability strategy known as Plan A, (“because there is no Plan B”) is way more than a motherhood statement.

In Canada Máté discovered a small van sells food with no prices attached. You pay using the honour system. The business works and is now expanding.

It’s a great read. We hope you enjoy it.

The gates of the citadel are being battered from the inside

The NSW Urban Task Force this week claimed victory for its campaign to throw open more land release on city fringes after closer reading of the Federal Government’s new National Urban Policy, released with the budget papers this week.

You suspect the entire residential development industry in Australia is secretly backing the group. Why?

Chief executive of the Task Force Aaron Gadiel says the message in the urban policy was a win for his member’s agenda, because of what wasn’t said rather than what was said.

“The discussion paper released last year declared that it wasn’t environmentally sustainable to expand low density greenfield suburbs of detached houses,” Gadiel says. That comment has now been removed, he says.

Gadiel whose members are the mainstay of the greenfield development lobby rebuts claims that low density suburban housing is not sustainable because “most outer suburban housing development takes place on low value agricultural land, old industrial lands and former quarry sites.”

“This kind of development presents no risk to Australia’s biodiversity,” he says.

But there’s no mention in his argument of what it does to transport costs in roads, tolls and petrol and public transport (needed if not funded).

“Many home buyers want the choice of a house with its own backyard,” he says.

Many of us would like the government to give us a gold plated holiday in Disneyland each year.

Giving all the people who want it a house with its own backyard is no different. The government – we the taxpayers – must first fund most of the direct infrastructure to enable these suburbs and then the flow-on costs, the externalities.

Gadiel says: “The Federal Government is now saying that it wants to address impediments to the better functioning of the housing market.

“They’re saying they want to improve planning and land release processes, increase code assessment of development proposals and make greater use of multi-use zoning which permits a range of activities.

“These are important goals, and the Federal Government should seize next week’s Productivity Commission report on planning, zoning and development assessment, and lead the states and territories on a major reform drive.”

So a win from the Productivity Commission as well –  more deregulated zoning and more competitive land use.

(Does this mean we will commodify the planning system now? Throw land use open to the highest bidder, future generations be damned?)

You don’t blame Gadiel’s people for choosing to fight the politicians at the big end of town rather than the really smart and politicised local residents opposed to density at any cost.

And isn’t this crowd getting powerful! Under a green/heritage banner they knocked over the metro rail in Sydney (after pleading for better public transport for decades) at the cost of squillions of wasted dollars. (In fairness the state government acted like Neanderthals by refusing to respect sensitive buildings and sites in the plans. And it failed to explain why it was actually a very good idea).

Now the residents are tackling the huge Barangaroo project with 11,000 signatures collected, and with court challenges.

See Elizabeth Farrelly’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald for the best analysis yet on this murky subject.

The problem is that the anti-density agenda doesn’t really have an answer about where to put the 35 million people who will populate Australia by 2050 – before adding any more migrants or refugees.

Stockland’s Matthew Quinn reiterated at a recent Sydney event how hard and horrible it is to get medium density – or any sort of apartments – built in Sydney.

You have to have sympathy for his argument, but seriously, where is the combined might of the powerful property lobby on this issue?  The grunt and muscle that can win the most difficult arguments on taxes and so on?

As with Gadiel’s members, who are also capable of building apartments, it’s much easier to turn away from the city gates and lobby Canberra and state parliaments to throw open a few urban growth boundaries. (Let’s hope Canberra’s interest in cities doesn’t have this sting in the tail).

The Urban Task Force members who also build apartments, as Gadiel points out, would no doubt love the opportunity to come back inside the city gates.

Let’s invite them back over the drawbridge and work out ways to help.

Some good news is building. There’s the start of some amazing  “conversations” from thought leaders such as at Arup with their city futures forums in Melbourne and Sydney which are tapping into a great sense of frustration at these issues.

And read Elena Bondareva’s message from the KNOWCHANGE people. There’s a hope there too.

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