Caroline Noller

14 May, 2010 – How did Australia create sustainability programs that lead the world? This was the question being discussed by some of Australia’s leading sustainability minds at the Optimising Sustainability Performance conference hosted by the 3 Pillars Network in Sydney on 13 May.

“Simplicity,” was the number one critical factor, said Caroline Noller, newly appointed sustainability manager at Australand after 10 years at the helm of GPT’s sustainability unit. “One of the challenges is that sustainability is so big and complex. Our number one objective is to make things clear and simple.”

Asked to name three critical success factors for sustainability programs, Dr. Noller also highlighted the role that clear communication and successful monitoring have on achieving value added outcomes.

“Clear communication to the value drivers of the business that you work in is critical – that is, what sustainability can add and how it adds value to a business.

“Also, how do we monitor success and learn from these programs? There needs to be clarity of how these things are going to work and bring value to the business.

“Embedding a KPI [Key Performance Indicator] standard into a business structure is a critical factor, embedding it into the structural form from CEO down.”

Amanda Steele, national sustainability manager for commercial property at Stockland, believes that leadership from the top was essential for sustainability programs to take hold and become part of organisational culture.

“Leadership from the top, from the CEO and the managing director, is essential. When that leadership isn’t there, the support of the senior leadership team, it is very difficult to get by,” Ms Steele said.

“The Stockland chief executive does not see sustainability as a philanthropic exercise. He can see the direct benefits to business and these are promoted through KPIs.

“It’s a cultural issue. It’s a key part of the business and people are very passionate about it.”

While strong leadership that drives a culture of sustainability was critical, Ms Steele emphasised the need for resources to back up the programs as well as the importance of information sharing.

“There is a need for strong resources to support the leadership and advancement of the program. Without data to back it up it will only be a small program.

While leadership from the top was accepted by the panel as critical to success, Shauna Coffey, former group sustainability manager for Mirvac, says that the impetus for a successful sustainability program doesn’t always come from the top.

“The executive is something that you can influence but often not change. A lot of sustainable ideas are made in spite of the executive.

The sustainability movement doesn’t always start at the top, but rather in the middle of the organisation as part of an assessment of the company’s assets in order to make them more efficient. One way to save money is to save energy, and it grows from there.

Matthew Clark

“It’s critical to take advantage of the myriad of rating tools so that you can benchmark yourself with your peers and use that as a motivation to seek the next iteration of the program.”

Matthew Clark, manager built environment for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, agreed with the notion that a successful sustainability program requires strong executive direction.

“It starts with executive level direction, a very clear driver from above saying where we want to be,” Mr Clark said.

Those of us that have succeeded have strong executive leadership as well as dedicated staff. You need to have a top end driver as well as a ground swell in order to be successful.

“Clear direction, the ability to communicate in a language that the executive can understand and presenting a business case are all key.”

Along with leadership, a culture of sustainability, KPIs and information sharing, Mr Clark believes that the tools of Australia’s sustainability landscape now play an integral part of in its advancement.

“I don’t know where we would be without tools, Green Star and NABERS, driving our organisations forward in an incredible way.”