Ming Long

On corporate courage and leadership

You don’t expect to see sparks fly at the Property Council’s annual Congress, but in Sydney this week that’s what happened when Ming Long, joint managing director and finance director at Investa, made it absolutely clear where she stood on climate change and sustainability.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, she said, obviously thinks he “knows more than the UN, more than the World Bank” when it comes to climate and the potential of direct action versus the carbon tax.

Now with direct action, they’re using public money to pay polluters for reducing emissions as they should in any case. So much for ending the Age of Entitlement, she said.

They were gutsy words and the audience couldn’t fail to sit up and pay attention. It’s a pity there’s not more such upfront courage among Long’s corporate peers.

That’s not saying the property industry has slipped in its leadership on green buildings. Australia outperformed on the recent spate of global indices and benchmarks for sustainable property and that’s where the top tier likes to play – right at the top.

But the focus has shifted. It’s more about shareholder value and the business case. Climate and greenhouse gas emissions are the things that “dare not speak their name” these days.

In some ways it’s hard to blame corporates that have to operate under the black pall of coal smoke that now passes for politics in this country. After all the government might be pro business but it’s very happy to show it’s more pro some businesses than others.

Interesting that at the PCA Congress DEXUS’ chief executive Darren Steinberg was asked to follow up Long’s comments with his views. He told the audience he wasn’t too fussed about the removal of the carbon tax but agreed with Long on Direct Action. We caught up with him for some further drill down and his elaboration was far more nuanced and a very interesting view into the thinking on sustainability behind one of the country’s biggest landlords.

But on leadership, there’s actually plenty of it about in this industry. It’s the DNA of people who want to change the world when you think about it. And the world is certainly changing. As we speak.

Everywhere we look we see small eruptions of joy, success and that Ming Long factor, courage.

Look at what else is going on, just on the front page of the website, in stories that have emerged in the past two days alone:

This is the work of the little community group of “koala lovers and tree huggers” who could, the Better Planning Network. Today they’ve got a state government on the run. What they want are things like “The integration of land use planning with the provision of infrastructure and the conservation of our natural, built and cultural environment”. Is that so bad? And, “An open, accessible, transparent and accountable and corruption-free planning system.”

Let’s not forget the leaders in development who try to do good work and put high quality density in places where it belongs, along transport routes, such as The Commons in Melbourne, Central Park in Sydney and a whole raft of new development’s we’ve heard about that are doing away with car parking and instead providing scooters or public transport passes. That’s leadership.

There’s leadership in that bunch of people who are trying to recreate the Cities Unit without the Feds. That story keeps sticking to top spot in our ratings,

Another bunch wants to pull the high speed rail dream out of scripts material for satires such as Utopia and into the real world.

In Melbourne the Sustainable Melbourne Fund has joined with ClimateWorks to keep pumping for environmental upgrade (or finance) agreements

If it’s been a long time since you’ve been awed by something have a look at this amazing story on what the brave souls at University of Wollongong’s did when they embarked on the massively ambitious Living Building Challenge for their Sustainable Buildings Research Centre.

One of the criteria for achieving this standard is beauty. Yes, beauty. Because that’s the emotional response that tells you that something is in harmony and connected to something wonderful – the love angle. Ain’t that gorgeous? It’s that beauty that must have smitten the architects at Cox, who went into the job as if it was a regular gig but special, and ended up doing it as a “labour of love”. And guess what? They said they would do it all over again.

The Greens’ Christine Milne showed leadership on Thursday when she said she was ready to do a deal on an amended Direct Action in order to keep the incredibly valuable Renewable Energy Target. Even more leadership when she admitted that though axing the carbon tax was a “climate crime” the Greens too had made mistakes.

In Brisbane there’s a district cooling system getting off the ground that could save property owners $250,000 in some cases.

And Mark Tomson is another leader full of enthusiasm for the part he can play in changing the status quo. His article in Spinifex on our patterns of consumption is based on some deep thinking and research he’s done and is a great way to pause and collect our consciousness from the four winds of daily life. He is a real fan of the Eco Ecology program we touched on recently, which we’ll cover in more detail soon.

For another indication of leadership, take a look at our jobs section from time to time. It’s a great revelation of where the money’s tracking.

The Green Building Council has just announced Tanya Cox, former chief operating officer of DEXUS will be its new chair. Cox will be great in the role. Leadership in spades there. Especially on green and we think she is not just corporately passionate (if there is such a term) but personally so.

That’s what it takes to change the world – that merging of the personal and the public. Get rid of that weird cognitive dissonance that carves jagged lines in people’s eyes when they’re doing a job and saying things they don’t believe in.

Because scratch most people and you will find someone who loves a spring day and the sight of rolling hills, clean air, dense bush and clean sparkling sea.

Another good move we cheered was the appointment of Chris Nunn to head up JLL’s sustainability team. That’s another strong shift in the right direction, judging from what we know of Nunn’s depth of knowledge and feeling for the sector.

Ditto Paul King, former head of the Green Building Council in the UK snaffled up by that vacuum cleaner of talent of late, Lend Lease, which seems to be on a mission to take over the world. Hopefully it remembers its roots as an ambitious young thing full of high standards and even high values. Now what about that word value? Make it a plural we say.

Bad luck about the sad things that developers sometimes choose to build and architects design, such as casinos. It was a reality check to have to walk through the darkened room and tinking mechanical lights at Sin City …ooops, Star City or City, or whatever, to get to the Congress on Wednesday. What a misery of humanity – both the punters and the workers all looked so sad and so stuck.

Shame on everyone who builds and designs these palaces of theft, let alone profits from them (which is the entire state, right?)

Show some real leadership Lend Lease and sack James Packer!

Why not say those things? Why not call it like we see it? Every time. Like Long did.