It’s Christmas. Magic happens

23 December 2010 – Well this promises to be a corker of a Christmas. We waited until the last week of the working year before doing our ring around to find out the mood for next year. Mistake. So many people have already shut up shop, or left instructions that they are at “all day meetings”. Hmm… we get the drift.  “It’s because we’ve all worked so hard all year, said one team leader, but including an expletive (deleted) to underscore the feeling.

There is a real buzz in the air. A feeling that this is one Christmas that the whole industry deserves to enjoy very well indeed. Now isn’t that the most sustainable feeling? That we can down tools and relax because everyone else is? And it’s when we relax – even get bored (such a rare treat these days) that we open the door to dreaming and creative play. That’s the place where the future happens.

For so many people it’s been a year of incredibly hard work, but a year to be grateful there was work at all, the whole time keeping an eye on the GFC tailgating dangerously in the rear vision mirror, in case it jackknifes.

This has been the year when the sustainable property industry made it through initiation and now takes its place on the national agenda.

The federal government makes statements and announces discussion papers on climate change and sustainability on an almost daily basis

Business needs no more convincing. As Yvo de Boer, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,  told us in an exclusive interview from Cancun, the world’s leading corporates are rapidly embracing sustainability as a strategic issue – independent of climate change. They can see the writing on the wall: rising energy prices and materials and water scarcity. Commenting on a major survey by his new outfit KPMG de Boer said, “We are already seeing conflict about access to resources and scarcity of precious metals, rare earths and water.

“These are issues that companies seem to be coming to grips with, even though the political agenda is moving slowly.”

In Australia’s sustainable property industry the moves are impressive.

The government might lag by a huge margin the ambitious performance benchmarks demanded by the European Union, but our leading property companies are a driven lot, highly competitive and focused now on being the greenest and best. It’s noticed around the world. You only had to peek in at the massive World Green Building Council conference in Singapore in mid September to see that it is Australia leading the agenda for more than 80 member countries, in particular Tony Arnell, chair of the Green Building Council of Australia and World GBC and his team from the Victorian Building and Plumbing Commission.

At home there have been major breakthroughs this year, some that threatened to split the industry. Commercial Building Disclosure (Mark I), for offices, for instance, and the push to review NABERS. It was fun to try to work out why there was such a push back to these two programs, and some of the answers came in dribs and drabs in this hilariously secretive property “family” of ours. Thanks to the friends in important places who helped shed some light. You know who you are.

On the carrot side there has been plenty to keep the sentiment index ticking on positive: the Green Building Fund; the amazing new Carbon Trust, $1 billion in green tax incentives…and many more subtle signals to the market that this greening roadshow is for real.

To get a sense of next year the Prime Minister’s Task Group on Energy Efficiency is packed with information, plans and new agendas including a mandatory performance element for existing buildings. We really do recommend you include it in your summer reading in the “suspense” pile. You can find all the highlights and links on our search engine (main story is here) And Peter Verwer’s Property Council view on the white certificates here.

For more thrillers get stuck into the other discussion papers and reports on the table – on national policies for cities, climate change and population. Most are on our site. Did we miss some?

On the consumer front, it’s been one step forward, two backwards, at least if you listen to the glib daily news: green loans, green schemes and feed in tariffs and insulation are all big disasters, the shock jocks would have us believe. Don’t be fooled. The schemes might have been flawed but these repetitive “touches” to the voters on climate change are working, climate change is real. It’s Sales Tactics 101.

Grass roots movements such as Avaaz internationally and GetUp in Australia are growing fast and you could argue this is the broader view of sustainability in play. (GetUp members raised $370,000 in just a few weeks to support Julian Assange) What we still don’t have is a council to represent the environment in the built environment space. Maybe that’s the Fed’s job.

Of course the awful irony is that while the tide has turned on sentiment, it could all be too late to avert major climate change. And mother nature isn’t handing out extensions.

At the same time, humans are capable of amazing things – rapid change among them. And the property industry is one of the most powerful ways we have of creating change because it affects so many people.

Like the lady at the villa in Tuscany said when asked about what will happen to Italy’s economy with the factories moving to China and the incessant rip-offs of original design. “Oh we Italians have a wonderful patrimony,” she said. “We are very inventive – we’ll think of something.”

It’s Christmas, let’s dream we think of something.

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