On the quality of brand and how to win it and lose it

31 July 2014 — This week we’re holding our long-awaited new salon, this time on precincts. And again the results will be wrapped up as the headline event in an ebook.

Some of the biggest names in development are on board plus some of the leaders breaking new ground on how to make precincts of the future sustainable in every sense of the word. Because that’s the demand.

Communities are becoming ever-more empowered. They want clean, reliable energy at a price and delivery method that doesn’t become the nasty political football we’ve seen in recent times. The trend is to more sharing collective consumption models, shared facilities such as gardens and open space. Increasingly, they want to own and control those resources. How can this happen? What are the governance models in play?

What makes a good precinct anyway? Certainly the words of Michael Dieden, who was the US guest at Waverley Council’s presentation on the potential for Bondi Junction, resonates: the only ones that do well out of single buildings are the developers and the banks.

The precincts we need to create now need to assemble all the stakeholders and deliver sustainable energy and water, housing, social enterprise, active vibrant commercial zones, and financial outcomes for the big investors, It’s about systems thinking, all-at-once thinking.

It’s about as tough a challenge as we are going to see in this industry. But then again, it’s no longer the property industry, is it? The stakeholders are pretty well everyone in the country, even the farmers who need to be able to make a living while feeding the hungry hordes in the cities.

The Fishermans friend is not the Vic gov

As an example of what not to do, cast your eyes south to Melbourne.

Melbourne used to be the place that Sydneysiders visited with open admiration. Sydneysiders tend not to do envy; they tend to get cracking and “get some of what they’re getting”. For example, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore famously sent a posse to Melbourne to work out how to do cool laneways.

A few years down the track there are subversive elements saying Melbourne is losing it and Sydney’s got it.

What the Vics have done in recent months will compound that sentiment. It’s got rid of the Greener Government Buildings program, it’s got rid of the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target and it’s letting any old Tom Dick or Harry do whatever they please in apartment towers as long as they get built and meet a few basic building standards, no more.

But Victoria has trumped all of that with an edict they’ve published over the massive Fishermans Bend precinct on the edge of the CBD and Docklands, a project that is expected to run for 40 years. Sustainability would be nice, they said, but heavens no, there will nothing to prescribe sustainable outcomes. It’s a suggestion, that’s all. And you have to get the forensic magnifying glass to find that single mention of sustainability in the first place.

In Sydney, very senior property people were confused and asking what the value would be for any leading developer to not aim for high sustainability outcomes. The reputational risk is significant. And they were wondering why a government would not insist on the very highest standards for the sake of its city’s reputational risk as well.

Missing in Melbourne also is any kind of design standard that NSW has through its State Environmental Planning Policy 65.

Adelaide gets brand

In Adelaide Nigel Howden from Intro Design reckons the gig’s up for lazy developers. At least in Adelaide. The buyers are asking all sorts of tricky questions around sustainability and even the offgassing from nasty stuff inside the apartment.

South Australia’s given a statutory assessment role for Government Architect, Ben Hewitt, and a supporting design review panel.

Howden told our writer Willow that the state’s multi-residential design guidelines create a level playing field for developers (now when have we heard the property industry not call for a level playing field?).

“No architect would dare put a proposal to the review committee which didn’t meet the guidelines,” he says.

But then Adelaide always did get the critical importance of brand.

Here comes the crazy horse, or maybe not…

Direct Action is starting to look a tired old horse (of the Apocalypse). How dreary and weary it is for the Feds’ brand. Embarrassing even.

No one we’ve been able to find in the property industry genuinely thinks it will work all that well. Take a look at how and why in our story.

The big winners will be the big companies. Not the owners of mid-tier buildings that are the ones that need help the most and which can do most to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the sector.

Speaking of energy

Word on the street says the trade associations for the plumbers and the electricians are backing Labor to bring back the VEET after the next election, and are backing Labor to win, like most people in Victoria. Certainly most people in the energy efficiency industry must be wishing for this.

The news for these good folk is not good. They’ve been hard hit with the attack from so many angles, and we’ve heard of job losses and at least one voluntary liquidation in the sector.

To make matters worse, the latest news is that at the national level the Feds are bullying the fossil fuel energy companies into providing the discounts the pollies promised for getting rid for the carbon tax.

The fossil fuellers will comply. For a while. Long enough to put even more energy efficiency people out of business, before the prices go way back up again.

Funny strange

Funny, as in strange, that while the Feds keep saying climate change isn’t real and that clean energy is the new communism, businesses keep going greener and greener.

Latest addition to this theory is that General Mills, maker of Old El Paso, Latina Pasta and Haagen-Dazs, has made a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chains and press for political action to address climate change.

The announcement might have been pushed along somewhat by a petition organised by Oxfam and signed by 230,000 people around the world to urge food and beverage companies to help stop climate change.

Oxfam Australia’s climate change policy advisor Simon Bradshaw said the commitments announced today would make General Mills “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term, science-based targets to cut emissions from across all of its operations and supply chains”.

“The commitment by General Mills throws the inaction of the Australian Government into sharp relief, and is a sign that it will come under greater pressure from business and the international community to legislate an ambitious, long-term plan of action to tackle climate change.”

If you’re not paying the right price for something, someone else is

It was interesting to hear Molly Harriss Olson on ABC radio this week explaining why Fairtrade products cost more than others. It’s the premium for payment of price that is beyond the poverty line, said Olson, who became chief executive of the organisation early this year. Of course a Fairtrade price is going to be higher than something that barely allows subsistence, she said.

It brings to mind one of the horror scenes from the excellent Danish television production The Bridge, which has the perpetrator using society’s hypocrisy as an excuse for his evil deeds. In one scene he points out that if you’re not paying the right price some something, someone else is – such as a child labourer or adult working in degrading conditions, or a whole community that will suffer from the cheap chemicals or processes used.

Hmm, Olson – and the bad guy – make a persuasive case for seeking out Fairtrade products each and every time.

A few years ago we heard about a “slave index” for working out how many slaves you employ through the products you buy. It’s like a star rating system for buildings or appliances, and the one for healthy food that the Feds couldn’t stomach (pun may be intended). The slave index site is up and running and you can take a survey to find out typical slavery use. It’s not much more than a basic calculator but you get the picture pretty quickly.