Paul Edwards

On Mirvac’s changing everything, the GBCA changing housing (hopefully) and the jobs market changing – not much

There was nothing half hearted about Mirvac’s new sustainability strategy launched last Thursday. It was strong, ambitious and designed to shake up expectations, if not the whole industry you might think.

The headline was a promise to be net positive by 2030, which means “generating more water and energy” than consumed as well as “capture and reduce more waste than the company produces”.

Hmm, that will go down well with the competitors, we’re sure.

And yes, it’s a long time away but what was good too was that group general manager sustainability Paul Edwards, fresh from a long stint in the UK, and who joined last year, was fully supported from the top.

Chief executive and managing director Susan Loyd-Hurwiz, increasingly one of the most impressive property leaders the industry has produced in a long time, was right there front and central on stage to introduce the plan and state how important it was for the company.

In conversation later with The Fifth Estate, Lloyd-Hurwitz confirmed the commitment and backed it up with anecdotes of how she met and dealt with resistance in her own company to undertaking sustainability.

Some of this was tied up with pointing out that sustainability initiatives can pay for themselves ­– that they’re rational, part of good strategy, good design and good long-term strategic thinking – instead of costs, she said.

Lloyd-Hurwitz is one of the rational people, that much was clear as she told her story last Thursday.

In the official statement that accompanies the new strategy, Lloyd-Hurwitz elaborated: “Change happens every day and tomorrow winners are those who plan today.

“To embrace change is to question how we do everything, always looking for improvements.

“That’s the kind of culture we seek to cultivate.”

Love the slogan from GE’s Jack Welsh too that now fronts the website: “Change before you have to.”

Green housing

More good news came from the Green Building Council of Australia’s recent workshop to “explore issues in the residential market”.

According to chief executive Romilly Madew it’s early days and she doesn’t want to say too much yet, but about 50 stakeholders met on 29 January to discuss the theme: “Sustainable homes: does industry have what is required to achieve this aim?”

According to a statement from Madew, “The room determined that a national approach was required, that a framework could be effective if widely supported, and that consumer, industry and government engagement is critical.

“It is very much early days, but the next step is to identify what a business case might consist of for this sector and what resourcing we would need to get moving.”

Even better news is that among the audience were people from the Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Australia. Our secret squirrels from the workshop reported that these reps sat quietly and didn’t say much.

Our readers will know that we know that the MBA and HIA is the crowd that has stifled and stunted any move to more sustainable housing standards in the past on a beat up of reasons around extra costs and difficulties. But in every case that some minimum standards have been introduced their own members have proved far more resilient and innovative than their reps give them credit for, learning quickly how to step up at minimal additional cost.

Go GBCA!

Whatever the workshop deliver the industry itself moves on. There are great stories of huge leaps into sustainability from people who are not waiting for the rules to force them into better quality, more pleasant homes that cost less to run.

One big impact coming soon will be from Dick Clarke and his book on sustainable building materials in housing he’s been slogging away on with the help of some of the best experts in the field that Australia can deliver.

To be published by boutique publisher Carolen Barripp from CL Creations, the book will include contributions from

Chris Reardon (see his article in The Fifth Estate here) energy expert Alan Pears, procurement specialist Susanne Grob, Newcastle building and agitator for greener houses Bernard Hockings, architects Tone Wheeler, Caroline Pidcock from Sydney and Neville Cowland from Melbourne, Michael Ambrose from the CSIRO and more… See what we mean?

Overseas clean tech companies still coming to Australia

According to one recruiter and consultant in the clean tech space the Australian market may be under pressure from the politicians, but that’s not stopping a steady stream of overseas companies, new technology tucked under arm, from setting up base in Australia.

In recent times business has been growing nicely, according to

Jan Rieche, manager renewable energy and engineering for the Glebe based Polyglot.

Rieche is one of a team of 30 in the company Australia wide that helps overseas companies, mainly from the US and Germany, to source everything they need to start work here, from setting up a bank account, finding accounting support and hiring the staff.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years and a lot of the work coming in now is from people I’ve know for a long time, but the rate is quite high compared to the last two years,” he said.

One recent new entrant to the market is energy efficiency outfit Enphase, based in Melbourne, but with some staff in Sydney. Rieche recruited each of the company’s 12 staff

Among the most exciting developments coming this way are in battery storage technology. We get the impression from our overseas email streams that this is rocketing along and energy expert Alan Pears thinks it’s on the cusp of allowing ordinary houses to go off grid. But Rieche thinks that realistically affordable residential energy storage is still five or six years away.

The “breakthrough technology” in storage has not really been decided yet, he says, and most of the work is to streamline and improve existing technology.

Much of the jobs activity among Rieche’s clients is in reshaping their business to more competitive and commercially focused as they await the onslaught of more negative news from the feds.

“There is talk for the [renewable energy target] to be abolished and I think it’s likely they will do that. So solar companies are trying to get up on their feet to compete without any support.”

In fact, most recruitment is in the sales and marketing areas.

“Most of the technical development is done overseas, in California and also in New Zealand. New Zealand does good power engineers,” he said.

Surprisingly there are still companies entering the clean tech market, he said.

Rieche will provide one of the opening addresses at the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition in Melbourne in May.

Some are outward bound

Moving to the US in coming weeks are two people from the energy efficiency side of property.

One is Deb Noller, owner of Switch Automation, and the other is Tanya March from Envizi.

Noller is heading to San Francisco to pursue a potential contract for her cloud-based energy efficiency control system for one client with 6000 buildings in its portfolio.

Chief operating office Peter Rake has been in San Francisco since August, and Noller herself has been doing her share of keeping the seats warm on the transatlantic flights. But now it’s for keeps.

“I’m on a one-way ticket.”

So what prompted the move?

Noller says it’s the prospect of some really big work, using Switch’s cloud based technology to monitor buildings.

The team, now at 17 staff – mostly developers – in Australia, the US, the Philippines and the Ukraine, is already managing more than 120 buildings in the City of Seattle portfolio, but if all goes well it could well win a job from a company with 6000 buildings on its books.

“We were independently evaluated last year by major experts and selected by a Fortune 200 company for pilot for national rollout,” Noller says.

According to Noller, what Switch has been asked to do she didn’t think anyone would be asking for for another two years at least.

In a nutshell it’s a cloud-based monitoring system for buildings, which enables them to be controlled remotely.

As far as Noller knows, there is no one out there doing the same thing.

“We’re the first company in the world to come out with a cloud-based platform.”

“They’ve asked for something that we built here and now… I didn’t expect for the customers to be asking for it yet. They’re a very forward thinking company.

“It’s the internet of things; it’s very hot right now.”

Another Aussie expansion is coming from David Solsky’s Envizi.

Envizi’s regional manager business development Tanya March is also heading to San Francisco to head enterprise business development for the company, which now has 43 staff in Australia and six in the US.

March has been with the company since its inception in 2007.

In Australia Christopher Branagan  joined the company in December as Enterprise Business Development Manager.

In the US staffer Robin Baker will move to a partners and channel development role.

The markets

How much of a lag is there before good news translates into surveys, which take a notoriously long time to collate and analyse?

In the jobs field we hope it’s quite a big lag. Our anecdotal evidence is that there is a lift in the market. Okay, a small and modest but a lift.

But that’s not the story from Julie Honore, managing director of safesearch, who says senior sustainability people have been taking a pummelling, with salaries down two years in a row by $45,000 a year on average.

That’s a contrast to environmental and safety personnel who seem to be increasingly highly valued.

In safesearch’s survey of more than 1000 Workplace Health and Safety and Health, Safety and Environment individuals at 130 mainly ASX 200 companies salary packages for the most senior environmental roles fell an average of 9.4 per cent in 2013-14, and those of sustainability advisers fell six per cent.

On the other hand, mid-level and junior environmental roles fared better, with salaries for environmental advisors and environmental manager grew by saw an increase in salary of six per cent and 8.9 per cent respectively.

Key findings were:

  • 61 per cent of survey respondents similarly indicated that their organisation’s commitment to environment and sustainability had neither increased nor decreased over the past 12 months
  • Participants conveyed an increased focus on enforcement activities by regulatory agencies across the country. Concern from business was the need to remain competitive while responding to increased regulatory attention
  • Despite these trends, longer term support for the function appears to remain
  • entry-level environmental packages increased 8.9 per cent from 2013.

Honore said safety was valued and this was reflected in the rising salaries. Asked what her take on the change was, Honore said, “No doubt that excitement and commitment we were seeing two or three years back has faded, without a doubt.

“It was not that long ago we that organisations were creating new roles such as head of climate change, chief of sustainability and head of sustainability – certainly these have disappeared and what we are seeing now is focus on compliance or more technical aspects such as waste management, those sorts of things.

“We’re not seeing the strategic thinking you saw a while back.”

Honore said the view from those familiar with Europe is that “Australia is starting to lose ground and is probably behind the rest of the world”.

The good news through this is that the mood was good for consultancies as they provided “small pieces of consulting expertise” so “that’s the upside”.