3 June 2013 — “We are all feeling at the moment there is a huge amount of work to do,” was the message from Norman Disney & Young global head of sustainability Tony Arnel at the recent Property Council of Australia’s Sustainability Development Conference.
Asked to speak about “how far we have come” in terms of sustainability, Mr Arnel told conference attendees “that depends on your sense of time”, but there had been four major events in the past year of significance.
The first was the UN Climate Conference in Doha in December last year which emphasised that climate change was firmly on the global agenda.
“It was the first time there was a conversation around loss and damage – small islands that may not exist in 50 years,” he said.
The second was the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Hobart in January this year, which raised that the world may have been too conservative about the consequences of climate change in relations to sea levels rising and extreme weather events.
The third was the January 2013 inauguration of President Barack Obama for his second term in office where he told the world “we will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations”.
The final event was the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, also in January this year, Mr Arnel said.
The forum brought up the connection between economic growth and sustainability with Mr Arnel saying “you can’t have one without the other”.
Mr Arnel said the four events showed that Australia, and the world, needed “to concentrate on the green line of a low carbon future”.
But he said over the past 10 years there had been a move away in policy on sustainability and public sentiment was also quite low.
“Sustainability is hard to include in some conversations,” he said.
However Mr Arnel, who is a founding director and immediate past chair of both the Green Building Council of Australia and the World Green Building Council, also said the growth of green building councils around the world was remarkable.
In 2007 there were 26 green building councils around the world, in 2013 there are 96 either established, emerging, prospective or associated groups, he said.
“A common language has been created by Green Star and I do hope Green Star – Performance will help close the loop in how we rate our buildings.”
Mr Arnel said built environment sustainability drivers included cost savings, value creation, reputation, employee satisfaction, risk management and regulatory compliance with many firms focusing on corporate social responsibility.
“Reputation is a major sustainability driver now and going forward, and there is a huge body of data about indoor environmental quality and how it brings up productivity and reduces sick days.”
Mr Arnel said going forward sustainability was being helped by organisations such as Low Carbon Australia and accessible loans, finance and environmental upgrade agreements.
“We are not getting the traction we need at the moment but I am positive that we will move to the demand side from owners and tenants rather than supply.”
Mr Arnel said while progress had been made over the past decade in the sustainability and climate change debate there was no room for complacency.
“We need to work even harder in the built environment to go forward,” he said.
“[And] the messaging around climate change needs to be turned around. The fear factor never worked – and it turned people off.”