On migration east to Kiwiland, energy efficiency of buildings and a new focus on people inside the buildings.

You might have noticed a stronger than usual New Zealand flavour this week. It’s part of an emerging spotlight on our near neighbour and OK we may not be used to it, but increasingly we’re hearing of companies setting up branches in NZ or expanding their presence, rather than the other way around.

Recruiter Richard Evans of Talent Nation, whose job it is to keep an eye on these things, told us recently: “For the first time in 24 years there are more people heading east than west.”

The Christchurch rebuild is one drawcard and a strong economy with positive net immigration another. But it’s undeniable that there is a government factor at work, NZ doesn’t have a “King Canute” as PM, as Australia does.

The latest story that we could hardly believe was that the “clean” part of the “cleantech” awards funded by the Feds had been banned. Not the awards, just the words. Meanwhile the NZers are cleaning up.

“The economy is not in any better shape than here,” Evans says, the New Zealanders “just decided to do something. The problem here is paralysis and indecision. No-one want to invest here.”

The companies we’ve heard are casting eyes and resources eastwards are mainly those in the energy efficiency field, which makes sense since the Aussies have been at it much longer than the Kiwis who’ve enjoyed 80 per cent renewable energy and are now starting to get serious about efficiencies.

There’s also interest from the corporate end. EY’s Matthew Bell who’s recently stepped up this role to take on the job of Oceania managing partner climate change and sustainability, reports his team has set up a new “on-the-ground” NZ office to expand its previously remote servicing.

It will be staffed by Tim Rodsted, whose background is climate, energy and health and safety, and Erica Olesson whose background is in social impact reporting. What’s interesting is the focus of expected work.

When we spoke to Bell on Wednesday he was about to wing his way to the US to meet with leading corporates to work out where they’re heading in sustainability.

Bell is particularly keen to chase up the trends in the people side of the workplace. That will no doubt include a look at the new WELL building standard that’s emerged in the US, which expands the focus from sustainable buildings to the people who work inside them. In Australia Mac Bank was first off the mark with WELL, as we reported.

In Australia, EY has backed this people-focused agenda by recently snaring health and safety strategy expert Andi Csontos from Deloittes to lead the work and, according to Bell, making EY’s health, safety and environment team the biggest in Australia. (The company recently added five people to the current 90 full time equivalent staff and plans to add another 20 expected by year’s end.)

Bell says a stimulus for this has been changes to the Work Health and Safety Act and the growing number of organisations that recognise the importance of investing in their people.

There’s a lot involved in that area, including the psychology of workplace relations. We mention that according to Philip Ross at a recent BVN book launch, 70 per cent of North American workers are“disengaged”.

“I’m not surprised to hear that,” Bell says. “You need to speak to Andi because I will undersell this, but we’ve heard a lot about zero harm; where we’re heading to is to send people home better than they arrived.”

There’s some “really interesting thinking out there,” he says, but the most important is that to “no-one who’s behind the curve can put themselves in a leadership position overnight, it takes investment.”

Diversity is part of the story, Bell says, pointing to Jenelle McMaster, the company’s partner in human capital and the  “awesome report” on gender diversity, she led as part of the designing the strategy for the Property Council on Males Champions of Change.

See the report, The next big deal is on. Property industry, where are you on gender diversity?

“Everyone thinks they’re a male champion of change and most fall into the laggards category,” Bell quips.

It’s all about developing a methodology and strategy for approaching “long term value creation”. “Imagine that”.

Retrofits for buildings, NZ and Oz

Paul Bannister has had a long standing interest in New Zealand. He lived and worked there in the 90s, he rewrote NABERS for New Zealand and he’s working there now with clients such as Auckland Airport, the University of Waitkato and the Energy Management Association.

So what’s his view of the market?

On the take up of NABERS we say we’ve heard many building owners are using the tool but not registering. That’s in the “hundreds” according to NZ Green Building Council’s chief executive Alex Cutler.

Bannister says the same thing happened in Australia for quite a while and then the market started to take up registration.

By 2005-06, he says, it had reached a 50 per cent saturation of the market so that by the time it mandatory through the Commercial Building Disclosure program it was relatively easy to get take up from much of the remaining market.For a start the leading companies were all aboard with NABERS and found it easy to support mandatory disclosure for the laggards.

A complication in NZ, Bannister says, is that meters for base building items such as airconditioning are often attached to tenant metering boards. Unhooking these is far from easy.

When Bannister did the work on NABERS found it very hard to estimate how much of the market was affected by this metering issue. “We were not able to get a clear figure…the best we come up with is between 10-40 per cent.”

Another interesting issue is on funding. Government agency the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority provides funding and because it’s available many owners won’t undertake work unless they get funding. Which is a good thing, but not so good if owners refuse to do any work at all unless they get funding, which tends to happen.

An unintended consequence?

We’ve got plenty of those in Australia.

In Victoria, there’s also been a reluctance to do any retrofit work by the mid-tier building owners, despite funding from Sustainability Victoria that offers deals to pay 50 per cent of audit costs and up to 50 per cent of any work that can provide a short payback period up to $300,000 in total value.

But Bannister says that’s changed in recent times with “quite a lot of work coming out of there.” Partly he puts that down to the change of state government that has signalled support for a sustainability agenda, instead of hostility, and partly because owners have realised the funding program will soon run out.

Work includes funding for hardware products such as  chiller upgrades boiler upgrades and “plant generally”.

The problem though is having to match up particular funding components available with what’s required by way of upgrade. This can be tricky.

In New Zealand, Bannister says the highly detailed costing requirements of funding for projects could also be streamlined. But then again, funding from governments for retrofits is so rare these days and so powerful in shifting the agenda that it’s worth persevering to get the formula right.

Clean energy and solar for commercial project

In other news that adds fuel to the disruption fire making our fossil fuel utility suppliers feel increasingly uncomfortable, Bannister reports his company is doing quite a lot of work on commercial solar. In total, he says, EnergyAction will be adding  500-800 kW solar to various commercial roofs in Canberra and elsewhere before the year is out.

Nice to hear. By the way have you noticed the ramping up by the fossil fuelers putting on their “sunny” face and promoting solar power? Where was that agenda when they were killing the carbon tax and strangling the renewable energy target? This industry has long memories, but better late than never. And it better be fast. We have no time to waste.