A climate rallies by GPT, Lend Lease, Investa, Stockland and friends could be peaceful and polite

On why the property industry should lead the next climate rallies

Updated 3 October 2014 – Our current federal government has not only declared war on terrorists, it’s declared war on our climate and in particular this country’s part in trying to save it.

Its tactics are those of bullies. It’s used fear and intimidation to suppress those who support sustainability and reverse the gains of one of the most exciting and positive revolutions in our history.

A revolution led in huge part by the property industry and the built environment.

But while the groundbreaking advances in green building and increasingly broader sustainability have been strong, where’s the defence now that those gains are under attack?

Taking much of the pain has been the clean energy and energy efficiency industries. Here’s a view from one of its leading consultants:  “The damage they’re creating is as much from the uncertainty as anything else.”

Fear and intimidation: the tactics du jour.

The trouble is that the lines of defence are thin and almost non-existent when it comes to protecting the environment part of the built environment.

The strategy so far has been strongly based on market-led transformation – competitive advantage with a few regulations thrown in, but not many.

Now that the enemy is within – our own government – the market led forces seem to be going quiet.

At the Property Council congress last month comments on the carbon tax and sustainability made by one panelist resonated not just because they strongly attacked the government’s action, but because they were so rare.

The other industry leaders ducked for cover and we heard that sustainability nearly didn’t make the list of discussion topics at all.

What does that say about the captains of industry who were so proud to win the accolades on green buildings and who now continue to gather up rewards and awards through the various global and local indices?

Sadly the voices are a bit meek and mild.

Renewable energy is in there fighting. It has some strong advocates such as the loud and voluble Clean Energy Council.

On energy efficiency, which is most certainly part of property, but a subset so closely aligned to rational economic management that it can easily stand on its own and apart from climate or even carbon if it wants –  the Energy Efficiency Council does a great job publicly and behind the scenes.

In green buildings there is the Green Building Council of Australia but its commitment to the industry mantra of market driven voluntary action and determination to be bipartisan sees it generally confine itself to quiet, behind the scenes advocacy. It might get forceful with ministers at times, but we wouldn’t know because it almost certainly would not say so publicly.

A standout exception was its recent call out of the mealy-mouthed absence of sustainability targets in the Victorian Government huge Fishermans Bend redevelopment project recently announced.

And then there’s the Property Council. But its MO is usually the same bipartisan quiet work behind the scenes. And besides its priority is generally the economic benefit of its members, not necessarily sustainability per se, or the environment per se. First the actions must be supported and wanted by the industry members and that’s logical because it’s a membership based industry organisation. So in the end you’re never sure whether it’s supporting sustainability advances or trying to slow them down because it might cost the members a dollar or a bother.

On the Renewable Energy Target review the PCA is on the right side. On the review of the Commercial Building Disclosure it appears to want the tenancy lighting assessment component of the CBD to be dropped and it celebrated the government’s axing of the Energy Efficiency Opportunity program.

The trouble with the quiet approach to lobbying is that ordinary industry participants big and small  can feel they are on their own, because there’s no visible nexus of support, no public rallying cry and strength in numbers.

You can hardly expect the property industry’s sustainability champions to be turning out for a march along Collins Street and George Street. But wouldn’t it be great if they did:  GPT, Stockland, Lend Lease, DEXUS and Investa all marching to parliament houses around the country chanting for the rights of the environment in the vast properties they manage.

It’s an irony really. The bad guys like to do things in full public view, out of the rabbit hole, where they can cause maximum disruption either by direct action or fear of direct action. And the goodies hide away in quiet enclaves with polite letters and respectful chats.

So here’s a thought: maybe it’s time to get inspired by the mood and call to arms, and fight for this wonderful planet and place we call home.