On what they said – Suzanne Toumbourou on politics and corporate sentiment, John Thwaites on building codes, Chris Nunn on bike trends and ABW offices , and unnamed sources who give us even juicier bits.

Whether it’s a direct response to the recent The National Energy Efficient Building Project or the writing on the wall, the Australian Building Codes Board looks like it’s shiftinh gear. It’s embarked on a new strategy of better education to get the word out on energy efficiency, starting with making the code free. Yes that’s right, up until last month, people had to pay to find out how to build their houses properly. (Let’s not go there).

John Thwaites

Chairman of the ABCB John Thwaites said the move is part of a more educational approach that includes updated handbooks on energy efficiency for both resi and commercial buildings and online tools.

“Householders and commercial building owners have the right to expect that their buildings comply with the appropriate energy efficiency standards of the National Construction Code,” he told The Fifth Estate in an emailed statement.”

They sure have.

We contacted Thwaites after a source told us that the ABCB had a meeting in recent weeks to flag the how to address the floozies in the building industry who don’t know/don’t care about building regs when it comes to energy efficiency.

According to the NEEBP report, a major piece of investigation by Phil Harrington’s team at pitt+sherry and Swinburne University, led by the South Australian government, there are plenty of them about.

The ABCB can’t force any issues unfortunately. For some reason the enforcement of rules and regulation that govern the buildings we live, work and play in must be entirely the prerogative of the states and territories.

The ABCA can develop codes and suggest improvements but it can’t mandate anything.

Until now, the states and territories haven’t done too bad a job when it comes to safety and structural issues. But when it comes to sustainability the whole system becomes a political football. Who suffers of course is the consumer. In the eastern states tens of thousands of people are being disconnected from their power supply each year because they can’t pay the bills. And concern about power is rising fast up the political charts. So if you are a fossil fuel government you would make sure you maximise that trend by putting the brakes on energy efficiency wherever you could, right?

It’s a tricky game, politics, and even trickier if a whole lot of disparate agendas and competing interests stake their place at the negotiating table, which is what the ABCB must handle. In the past it’s been a tough and dangerous game and some of the executive have endured the most dreadful personal attacks for suggesting that we need more efficient and sustainable housing.

But the brave keep persevering.

Thwaites says more education will help.

“While compliance with and enforcement of building regulations are ultimately a matter for state regulators, the ABCB believes it can make an important contribution to levels of compliance by ensuring that there is accurate and easy to use information available about building code standards and that the energy efficiency requirements are well understood,” he says.

The word from the industry is that there is a “a lot of interest” in the NEEBP and people in general want the builders and industry to abide by the rules.

But while the Housing Industry Association and other lobby groups continue to shout down any change, the weight of the economics is winning the day. The cost of compliance with energy efficiency is going down and the benefits are going up, especially with the rising price of electricity.

Of course it can’t be all that bad since the use of electricity is on the way down and much of this is put down to better energy efficiency in buildings – that’s you, our readers, doing that great work.

And you only have to take a look at the conniptions of the fossil fuel industry to know it’s on a death roll.

Suzanne Toumbourou

Suzanne Toumbourou and ASBEC

The people at the ABCB will have plenty of sympathy for anyone who can manage the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, another hot bed of disparate alliances connected to the built environment. Members include the Air Conditioning & Mechanical Contractors’ Association, the ?Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Institute of Architects to the Property Council and the Heart Foundation?. See the full list here

We imagine getting them to agree is the equivalent of herding cats and dogs and getting them to sign a joint declaration to cease hostilities.

According to ASBEC’s executive director Suzanne Toumbourou the flip side is that when you get agreement it’s worth squillions, given the reach these members have.

It’s possibly why Toumbourou seems to have more than her share of diplomatic skills. And why it’s interesting to hear what she says about the subtle shift in mood on sustainability since the Feds…errr… started to reveal themselves as escapees from the rabbit hole (OK, our words).

“There is such a terrible state of flux,” she said this week.

“The attitude, the discussion… the words I heard a year or two ago was that ‘we need to reconsider our position on sustainability and we need to reframe sustainability and energy efficiency and how this angle might work in a new ideological context’”.

“I wouldn’t say it’s bounced back but people are very attentive to the uncertainty this government has provided and saying, ‘ how about we hold our ground and not react to the political flavour of the day and decide what we want’.

“So I guess there had been a tendency to calibrate around the new political positioning and going on from there.

“Ultimately it’s going to come around to emissions again rather than cost, and also transforming energy markets.”

And “regardless of whether we like it or not” and how the markets are structured, these changes are going to hit us really hard,” Toumbourou says.

There are the big changes occurring in the fossil fuel industry – think plummeting prices, falling demand, the innovations under way; think solar and other clean energy, she says.

There’s decentralised generation and the fact that our regulatory framework “hasn’t quite caught up with the new energy paradigm and we don’t really know where battery technology might lead us in terms of cost and potential.”

Another big disruptor won’t be so easy for greenies to hear, and that’s what South Australia is considering with its inquiry in the nuclear energy.


As Sean Kidney who runs the Climate Bonds Initiative, told us a few weeks ago (story to come) the idea is laughable in the UK where Kidney is based and in other parts of the world where he often travels. Nuclear power plants always need massive government support and are plagued by delays in construction and other economic impediments, such as that the next big plant failure will send capital running in the opposite direction. And that’s before we get to the issue that when something goes wrong with nuclear it’s also catastrophic for our human and environmental capital.

On your bikes, agents

Jones Lang LaSalle’s Chris Nunn currently chairs a sub-committee for the Property Council  on a best practice guide for bicycle end-of-trip facilities.

It’s not as arcane an enterprise as its sounds. The latest thing among property owners seeking tenants is to cash in on the bike craze, pitching proximity to cycle paths, end-of-trip facilities and sometimes entire gyms as part of the “little something extra” that will bring clients knocking on the door.

It was rather a stunning discovery during our Tenants and Landlords Guide to Happiness ebook that agents have started advertising offices for lease with big bold photographs of cycle paths running right outside the office door. This is a big deal. Agents in general are not the first cabs off the rank when it comes to sustainability, so it’s clear that cycling has entered the profit paradigm.

Nunn’s work, which is nearing completion, is to create guidelines so that the facilities offered can be rated, ranked and ordered according to standards, as all good property facilities ought.

For instance not all bike racks are the same, nor should they be, Nunn says.

“Some are vertical; some are set in concrete and some slide like a compactus so you can get more space by shuffling the bikes along,” Nunn says.

The point is not everyone can lift these unwieldy contraptions onto a wall-mounted system where they can be “out of the way”.

So what’s the percentage roughly of buildings that offer bike facilities? “All of them”, Nunn says.

And it’s a bit surprising to find there is a bit of a space shortage with bike parking. Maybe someone should tell the Daily Tele.

Offices and ABW

While we had Nunn on the phone we mentioned we were rounding up some thoughts for a story on the sentiment building against activity based working. This ABW replaces personalised desks with a work-anywhere regime and the rule that you don’t leave anything on the desk when you go home.

The complaint is that many people are rebelling against the de-personalisation of their workspace; that it goes against a natural nesting instinct. High end workers are less affected – those who are highly engaged and are happy to work in any environment. But those with less engaging or even boring work struggle. It seems like the last straw in squeezing out every ounce of productivity and being made to feel more machine-like.

Nunn doesn’t agree. And he’s prepared with an argument. Some people find nesting comforting and others finding it messy and unpleasing, he says. They’re glad for the de-cluttered office and the feeling of streamlined efficiency.

ABW is not a “one size fits all”, he says. “It has to be tailored to the needs of the tenant. You need to understand the business and how it works.”

Any suggestions on this topic? Send your thoughts to editorial@thefifthestate.com.au


Interest in Nabers keeps growing internationally. We heard a senior staffer Nabers Central attended the G20 talks in Paris recently to continue the discussion on international energy benchmarking and they have also been invited to an International Energy Agency event to present again. Singapore has also been sharing information with Australia on its energy rating system and the overall mood internationally is one of growing collaboration and sharing.

The politics pendulum

Our susty industry sentiment pendulum keeps moving in the right direction. In Victoria there are many eyes watching expectantly what Lisa Neville, environment and climate minister and Lily D’Ambrosio, energy minister will announce soon.

“It’s a completely different attitude,” said one insider. “The Victorian government can now talk about climate change, and organisations like Sustainability Victoria will now again be promoting stronger action to build efficiency and action on climate change. That culture has already become apparent.”

Heard on the grapevine: “How do you get the work up in sustainability? Vote Labor”.

Oh and for those who keep forgetting, The Fifth Estate is politically agnostic. We don’t care who saves the planet. Just as long as they do it.