Melissa Neighbour, at the Australia & New Zealand Sustainability Circle event in Sydney in early June

By Andrew Starc

29 June 2010 – Melissa Neighbour is one of a new breed of sustainably minded influences about to re-shape the residential real estate landscape.

Recently appointed to the new position of sustainability manager for LJ Hooker, Neighbour, among her other sustainability interests, will spearhead a sustainability vision that the company hopes will make it one of the property industry’s leaders in the field.

According to Neighbour her appointment is part of several changes initiated by Janusz Hooker, a member of the original Hooker family, who bought back the company from Suncorp about six months ago.

“There is an opportunity for heading up a sustainable vision for the company so that it can transition into becoming a sustainability leader, recognising the value of sustainable property as a business case,” Neighbour says.

But it is still early days for this newly created position, and LJ Hooker’s management remains tight-lipped over future sustainable initiatives.

(See our article on moves to establish a residential real estate network to push a sustainability agenda.)

In the meantime Neighbour, who has a Bachelor of Environmental Planning with honours, has enough extra curricula interests ensure she brings a wide sustainability perspective to her work.

Key among these is as a founding member of Project Survival Pacific, a group of young volunteers living in both Australia and the Pacific looking to spread an urgent message highlighting the effects of climate change in the region.

She is also part of a Sustainability Dialogue Circle with other thinkers in the sustainability space who meet monthly to “engage in dialogue around sustainability.”
Neighbour says, “It’s  It is an opportunity to slow down, suspend assumptions and delve deeper into issues, barriers and beliefs surrounding sustainability.”

And in an attempt to address climate scepticism, Neighbour has embarked on a new project with a group of young people from the modelling, fashion and photography world to “create a powerful campaign aimed at making climate change sexy,” she says.

“It’s a  huge feat but at the very least we’ll have fun doing it.”

A recent highlight among her activites was as part of delegation of 20 of the Project Survival Pacific group that attended the Copenhagen climate change summit last December.

“With Project Survival Pacific, half of our members live in Australia and the other half live in the Pacific Islands and we meet regularly each week via [online VOIP program] Skype,” Neighbour says.

“One of our members from the Solomon Islands was chosen to address the opening plenary on day one of the Copenhagen summit last year. This was a great opportunity to let the world know about the effects of climate change from the youth perspective of someone from the Pacific Islands.

“We were also involved in a couple of media stunts, including walking around the summit wearing bright, Pacific Islander shirts to get media attention.”

The group is dedicated to highlighting the effects of climate change on the Pacific, an area to which Neighbour says the Australian and international media have not paid much attention.

“A lot of other nations don’t see developed nations as a priority. If temperatures rise 1.5 degrees [Celsius] entire nations could be wiped off as a result of see level rise. That’s why we say ‘1.5 to stay alive,’ we’ve already seen a temperature increase of 0.75 degrees since pre-industrial times, so it’s critical we take significant action now.”

After their exploits in Copenhagen, Neighbour said that Project Survival Pacific will focus on educating people in the Pacific about the impending scenario the region will face if action is not taken.

“Many in the Pacific have seen significant changes to weather patterns, although do not understand what climate change means. An example of the cultural differences that we have encountered is that a lot of Pacific Islanders believe that climate change has some religious cause, not that it is the result of what humans are doing to the world.

“We have just recruited new members and will be doing a Pacific Islander speaking tour in Australia and will also be putting out a newsletter to help educate people about climate change in the region.”