L to R: Nicola Woodward; Michael Snare; Ian Knox

Let’s talk not so quietly amongst ourselves

3 June 2011 –

It will be the hardest thing for The Fifth Estate to do: One thousand pieces of wisdom, insights and provocations from a string of conferences and events in this livewire industry: impossible to do justice to.

Over coming issues we will try to do more. But here are some highlights.

ADPIA – the Australian Direct Property Investment Association, now renamed the Property Funds Association.

Property Funds Association (forrmerly ADPIA) panel left to right: Anthony De Francesco, John Hewson, Frank Gelber and Linden Toll

This conference, entitled Brand New Day, held at the Canberra Hyatt Hotel, May 15-17, opened with a fireball from former Liberal Leader John Hewson and his knockout call to action on climate change (see our exclusive article ) as he revealed himself (mostly in a later interview) as a committed environmentalist with a string of sustainable businesses to his name since leaving politics.

Hewson also delivered a very downbeat assessment of the world economic outlook and another just as bleak on the Australian economy, especially for its failure to integrate the two-speed economy of mining and non-mining sectors. We missed a big opportunity there, he says.

The FPA gave quite a bit of airplay to sustainability issues with a three-way panel and discussion. Nicola Woodward of Apex Property Consulting (and a contributor to The Fifth Estate) provided a rundown on the implications of proposed tax breaks for green buildings program from the Federal Government, now back on the drawing board for consultation, as well as some insights on depreciation issues (many people don’t take advantage of existing allowances, she says).

Michael Snare of Point Project Management provided a bird’s eye-view of the way the Federal Government changed the world of Australian property by insisting its agencies lease only buildings with minimum environmental performance. Snare has advised on the Department of Climate Change’s new digs at the amazing New Acton precinct, which some lucky delegates were fortunate enough to visit on one of the site tours.

All the way from Perth, but with a finger in many of the NABERS ratings for buildings in most of the major CBDs around the country, was Ian Knox of HFM Asset Management. Knox is sitting on the most inspiring and somehow shocking set of stories of what his team has found when checking that a building is working as it should be.

One building in Perth was racking up electricity bills for the place next door because the electrician, it seems, had incorrectly wired the place. The owner saved $800,000 in one whack thanks to that small piece of housekeeping. Message? Checking the switches and wires is worthwhile; do this before you even start thinking about spending on major capital works.

Cate Harris (Collins) and David Barrett on one side of an afternoon debate

Property Council of Australia Victoria sustainability conference, Closing the Green Gap, Grand Hyatt Melbourne, May 25

This one earned rave reviews from participants and delegates alike.

Rod Fehring and Elena Bondareva on the other side of the debate

PCA Victorian executive director Jennifer Cunich, always a polished performer, attracted one of the most rounded line-ups of sustainability speakers of recent times.

Green building leaders Tony Arnel and Romilly Madew brought views from home and their recent trip to green hotspots around the world including China. This was followed by a sobering no-holds-barred view of the climate science from Kevin Hennessy from the CSIRO, and on the politics and policy front by Peter Christoff, who teaches environmental policy and climate policy at the University of Melbourne.

Angus Gordon

There was a great session on what stage each of the commercial retail and residential sectors were at.

Angus Gordon from GPT swept the floor with his report on the greening of major retail centres, including with elements such as solar thermal installations at the Charlestown shopping centre in Newcastle, the departure from conventional big box retailing at Rouse Hill in Sydney, and the expansion of the massive Highpoint West Shopping Centre, already at 123,000 sq m, by another 30,000 sq m.

A stunning admission was that in 10 years time the regional mall model of shopping may be past its use-by date. Gordon predicted more integrated mixed development – residential, office and retail ­– as the most valuable stride towards sustainable development, and a priority way before any other green features are considered.

On the residential side, volume home builders Burbank had a great story to tell. The company’s Jarrod Sanfilippo and Frank Perconte said 54 per cent of their customers chose the seven star NatHERS rated house. That’s a huge proportion of the 1000-1200 homes the company builds each year, and way ahead of their competitors, who are sadly nowhere near this space.

Sanfilippo and Perconte were too polite to say so, but we could do without the industry’s representative bodies, the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association, waging their huge battles against anything that promises to bring a more sustainable housing industry, while at the same time trotting out tiny little green programs with tiny aspirations.

By the way, if you thought that there was a “go slow” on mandatory disclosure for residential property you were right. It was meant to hit the market by about the end of this year but word is that there are heaps of sticking points. Will it apply just to housing for sale or also housing for lease? Will it be a “tick the box” exercise or a detailed and proper analysis? Guess what the HIA and MBA is pitching for?

Meanwhile, heroic leaders like Burbank are doing their best to spread the message to the masses, where it counts, and at the same time looking to where they can push the boundaries into the sustainable materials field. Zero energy homes is the next big train station, they say.

Andrew Norbury

On the commercial front there was a presentation by architect Andrew Norbury of Metier3 of an engaging and captivating office building at 717 Bourke Street, on Batman’s Hill at Docklands.

This visually challenging project, with each floor partly spun horizontally on its axis so that the façade is broken up to deflect wind shear, has boundary-pushing sustainability features all the way through.

Do the tenants care? Do they pay extra? These were queries from Norbury, in what is clearly a comfortably provocative stance.

Not really, he surmised. What’s more important, it has emerged, is the comfort level offered by the office space: the atmosphere, the calmer, slower-moving air, more stable temperatures and better, softer light. That, they notice, Norbury said.

What Norbury didn’t mention at the presentation was that this development has a fascinating history, a bit like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the Global Financial Crisis. While Norbury had a sizeable financial stake in the original proposal, his partner (Babcock & Brown) faded away from the project under the pressures of the GFC, and Norbury made a decision to take over the whole project, partly because as a designer/developer he could use the project as a live demonstration for future clients, he said.

The risk taker was rewarded and the project sold on completion for exactly the same price as it was valued at at conception. And yes, Norbury still made a profit.

The subtext to Norbury’s presentation was that the property industry isn’t, in general, even touching the sides of what’s possible in sustainable development. Norbury’s tip was that the next big breakthrough in his part of the world would be in triple skin facades: an internal façade ventilated to a body of insulated air, protected by the third, or outer, façade.

Not–so-subtext was his clear dilemma that so much by way of building materials is imported from China, and sometimes shipped from places of origin, such as stone from Italy and iron ore from Australia, only to be trudged all the way back. Who’s looking for an answer there? Anyone?

Russell Howcroft

A great lunch speaker at the conference, Russel Howcroft from Gruen Transfer fame and high profile advertising outfit Young & Rubicam, entertained with ads that he loved or hated. The difference, he said, was in the message or the “sell”. Good, happy heaven-style places sell and ugly, sad places don’t sell. For this reason, he said, it was time for the climate change campaigners to start spruiking what a wonderful world it will be when we are sustainable and harmonised. Instead of the dreaded fear message of what will happen if we don’t act.

Great thought. And yes, he’s right: we need his industry fast.

The only qualm was a plea from the audience to get rid of the word sustainability. Any new ones on offer?

While we’re at it, shouldn’t we get rid of the word property as well? It’s so full of negative connotations: white shoes, neurolinguistic programmed sales people, financial engineers, former Macquarie Bankers, and so on.

Left to right: Chris Richardson, Ed Blakely, Peter Newman and Peter Head in the pre-lunch fireworks

Landcom 2011 Sustainability Conference, DiverseCity at the Waterview Convention Centre, Bicentennial Park, Homebush, May 31
Speakers at this annual thoughtfest must have been told to focus hard on provocative thoughts and general agitation. The debate held just before lunch was particularly feisty.

It was wonderful to see high profile economist Chris Richardson, director at Deloitte Access Economics, being challenged by fellow panelists Ed Blakely, director of Blakely Global and professor or Urban Policy at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney; Peter Newman, professor of sustainability, Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute; and Peter Head, ARUP director, who also gave the keynote address.

More on this conference from Lynne Blundell soon.

AIRAH
The Australian Institute of Refrigeration Air Conditioning and Heating, or AIRAH, also had its Pre-loved Buildings Conference in Perth on May 23-34. Sadly TFE was unable to attend, and that’s a shame because last year’s Melbourne AIRAH conference was fantastic. Lynne Blundell provided heaps of interesting coverage.

Click here to see all our AIRAH posts.

If there are any delegates or speakers who would like to contribute to coverage of this important topic, please let us know.

Existing Buildings Property Council of Australia
Property Council of Australia existing buildings conference at the Australian Technology Park in Sydney on Thursday, June 2, focused on the really serious business of how to upgrade the vast tranche of buildings that don’t have the luxury of Green Star design from scratch.

PCA/IPD Australian Green Property Index
And of course a big one was the PCA/IPD update of its property investment index. It showed that these days the money is in the green. See our story

The Fifth Estate – sustainable property news and forum

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