On socialised learning, bigger pictures and names and roses

10 April 2014 —Craig Roussac will be settling into new ridiculously expensive digs (for a very modest home) with his family in San Francisco right now, having jetted on Friday to take up his five month Fulbright Scholarship with Berkeley University.

He will split his time between the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Building Technology and Urban Systems Department and UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment.

The objective of the scholarship he says is to undertake a study that will grow collaboration on clean energy research and address the social challenges of responding and adapting to the impact of climate change. Right down his alley you would assume.

Roussac’s business, Buildings Alive, focuses precisely on the social elements of bringing down the energy costs. While machines and technology can do a certain amount there is a tendency for humans to always revert to the mean, he says. So, you can become enthusiastic about outperforming, but before long you will go back to the old habits.

What Roussac’s team does is make site visits and connect frequently with the engineers or facility managers to keep providing feedback and reminders.

Roussac’s portfolio is now up to a massive 2.3 million square metres under contract, pretty well one in 10 buildings in the major CBDs, managed by a staff of 10.

Clients include Brookfield, Charter Hall, Investa, AMP and Local Government Superannuation Fund.

Some of the properties are in the retail sector, which though are known to be great energy guzzlers are quite good in terms of generating improvements in energy performance and better management.

Retail is heavily impacted by the weather, so they’re more “spikey” than office buildings with strong energy use during hot weather when more people visit to enjoy the airconditioning.

“It’s very interesting; there’s more responsive management; so we’re finding the same sorts of savings in shopping centres [as in other centres].”

That’s in the range of 10 per cent, by the way. So nothing to sneeze at.

The Buildings Alive team sends frequent feedback on how they performed the previous day, in 96 15-minute bites, he says.

You have to understand human nature. “We can’t assume everyone is motivated by the same thing. They may or may not care about the environment, or about waste.

“We start from the assumption that everyone would like to do a good jobs and then provide feedback and here’s how you went, versus expectation – then if they stuff they learn.”

In South Australia the company recently acquired a new client, one of the private hospitals in the Calvary chain.

This is slower going because any change in direction needs to go through a number of approvals, Roussac says.

What works well is the ability to learn from other comparable buildings. That’s “socialised learning”, as Roussac puts it.

It will be interesting to see what Roussac comes back with from the US.

On second thoughts it might be interesting to see what the US comes away with after Roussac’s visit. Which is probably why they lured him over there with the scholarship.

No shortage of work and it’s broader

According to Amanda Steele there’s no shortage of work in sustainability in the agency field right now. Especially with many companies looking for clarity from the federal government on policy and wondering how to proceed.

“And that’s a conversation we have with a lot of clients, so they can make some long term decisions.”

Steele, who heads up sustainability for CBRE, and who last week penned another thought-provoking article for our Spinifex column, says broader sustainability is becoming more of a focus and finally starting to move beyond the safe field of energy efficiency.

It’s a relief after the backlash she feared last year with a tapering of interest and investment in sustainability from some of the leading property companies. Instead there now seems to be “growing interest and hunger in more creative solutions that go beyond NABERS and Green Star”.

In her Spinifex article Steele highlighted the strong nexus between sustainability, creative innovative solutions and profits, but short-term focus on profit too often spelt “the demise of corporate innovations before they have begun”.

“In agency, in sustainability people are keen to see some creative solutions beyond NABERS and Green Star,” she says.

Energy can be a trap

“You’ve got to be careful when sustainability is only about energy efficiency. It’s a real mistake.”

Quite often, sustainability professionals will focus on energy because the pressure is so “focused on dollars and demonstrating our value, and you can do that really neatly with energy efficiency”.

Other areas of concern are now grabbing a bigger focus. Among them water, materials, off gassing and community development, Steele says.

Waste, in particular, is interesting. It’s hard issue to get traction with, “even though the price of waste is going up and we’re running out of space to dump it.”

But councils are starting to shift because “they can see the writing on the walls and because they are so dependent on those waste facilities”.

Steele is enjoying her work in agency. After her previous role with Stockland it’s good to be able to gain insights into the work of a range of property companies, she says.

So what’s the impression?

“I love the Mirvac approach…  and I think they’re being really clever in their sustainability strategy ­– using clear words – and I really like their perspective that says, ‘We haven’t got all the solutions yet.’

“That’s a really brave thing to say, that ‘we’re going to get to net positive, but we’re not sure when, and we don’t know how but we’re hoping to reach that target’.”

DEXUS is also doing “some fantastic work”, Steele says, especially around energy management.

So why don’t hear a lot about this good work?

Steele surmises much of the caution is inbuilt into the corporate structure.

“Corporates like to tell you when its perfect and thoroughly checked… but by then it’s not interesting. They’re so risk averse.”

They also like to be particularly careful.

“They like to test and test again, particularly in sustainability, where we’re asking to justify what we do over and over and over again.”

CBRE is about to appoint a new staff member to work on the DEXUS team to assist Chewy Chang who reports to Steele.

Work on World Green Building Council productivity study gets under way

Ashak Nathwani made contact from London this week to let us know he’s started work on the World Green Building Council’s project that seeks to unravel the link between health, wellbeing and productivity in office buildings. And to measure the impact of these.

Nathwani, who was with Norman Disney & Young for 33 years, is these days an Honorary Associate at the University of Sydney, where he lectures in sustainability, facility management and building services, and where he is also a PhD candidate.

In “The Business Case for Green Buildings”, in 2013 the WGBC showed argued that some green design features – better daylighting or ventilation for example, have a direct and positive impact on the health and productivity of those using the building.

This is great news, and we know the bean counters need the data but there is a growing number of people who are getting a tad impatient for the incredible amount of rigour and proof of payback that is required by anything green. Seriously, are the same metrics applied to a nice new café in the foyer, or a swish new lift with mirrors and special lights to check your hair by?

Direct Action

The latest we’ve heard of Direct Action is that the government might be starting to relax its previously rusted on determination to only pay for carbon savings when they are proved. Instead we heard from one of the delegates at Green Cities that the government is considering a mechanism to “deem” savings so that banks can finally step in and perhaps fund some programs with some degree of security they will be paid.

Names and roses

While for some reason green building and sustainability folk struggle to find new words for “green” and “sustainability”, the American Chemistry Council calls its website www.greenbuildingsolutions.org.

What’s ironic is that it’s the fighting front trying to slow down green buildings, by supporting opposing rating systems that are softer on its products than LEED.

See the whole sad story of how the Green Building Initiative, which green building author Jerry Yudelson joined early this year as President, is gaining ground with US states and the federal government agencies and departments to give its Green Globes rating tool equal footing with LEED, despite Green Globes’ significantly lower standards on timber and no acknowledgement at all of whether chemicals of concerned are used or not.

“Manufacturers disclose what they see fit to disclose,” Yudleson says in the article.

He didn’t think much of LEED v4’s decision to award a point for disclosure of “chemicals of concern” because it was “based on science that was ‘inconclusive and not risk-based, as required in the US for government action against specific chemicals’.”

Now where have we heard the inconclusive argument before? Hmmm?

Perhaps somewhere around the two per cent of climate scientists who’ve been hanging down those rabbit holes?

But Yudelson has a fantastic reputation to maintain and protect. It’s possible he’s working on these people from the inside. He did hold out an olive branch about the potential for change from the Green Globes. “If they disclose more, they’ll get more points in Green Globes, as it evolves,” he said.

But you don’t want to take too close a look at the membership of the GBI is it now stands. Willow did, at 3am trawling through the online data and started feeling rather ill. Keystone Pipeline, chemicals, PVC, nuclear energy… it was all there.

On the naming issues, Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne pinged it in our Political Salon in 2011.

She said the greenies thought the words green and sustainability were starting to wear thin back a decade ago.

But the advice from the experts was not to budge. It was precisely at the time that the word becomes nauseating that it is starting to work, Milne said. The adviser called it the vomit principle.

Well how about another benchmark: when your enemies start to use your wording and phrasing, you know they’re working.

I mean the chemical industry isn’t calling its website good or better building solutions, is it?

Let’s defend our arrowheads

Forget the recent fracas about whether LEED or Green Star is transformative enough. Sure they’ve only reached a fraction of the market, but as Nigel Howard pointed out in our comments section earlier this year, it was always going to take “much longer” to significantly impact the existing buildings market.

Howard was a key designer of LEED and BREEAM, on which it was based.

LEED and Green Star are doing their best and right now and though we all want improvement, and we all need to support the good work and fight the bad.