On peak talk-fest season and taking on the bike riding deniers

Aren’t architects fun?

Talking to these uber imaginative co-creators of our built world is always interesting and sometimes thrilling. Right or wrong, realistic or not, affordable or not, architects never stop inventing new ways to shape the environment we live in. And we know that’s the first way to shape our brains. And possibly even our behaviour.

It was in this vein that we read the contribution this issue from the irrepressible Ken McBryde, a principal at HASSELL.

McBryde, in that fearless way that the best thinkers have, started his piece with a great idea that didn’t quite work to plan. It was around some thinking with a bunch of other people to reuse plastic rubbish that fouls up our oceans and land for housing.

Using some creative surfing to cobble up solutions, the group thought it had cracked the key technical barriers to their plans. Only to find it was almost impossible to separate oil from plastics. But the team went on to crack the problem from another angle.

What we love about this piece is that it happily shares the failures, not just the success.

We’ve forever had long discussions with people about why the mistakes are not more readily shared. Why people only want to tell the good stories. How can we avoid repeating mistakes if we just sweep them under the carpet or share secretly among the cognoscenti, lest we tarnish our reputations – or worse, get sued?

We get it, but it’s a real shame. What we need is a WikiLeaks for property errors, sustainability errors, technology errors, so we can all learn and avoid making the same mistakes.

In the same way, the WikiLeaks should share the good stuff so we can fast track this road we are on. We don’t have time to work it all out on our own.

McBryde was writing ahead of an exciting week next week, when Green Cities comes to Sydney, and he will speak at one of the events.

This is one of the industry’s key touchstones of sentiment. We expect to find an industry much uplifted from the dour atmosphere of recent years.

But it’s never smooth. Not for long anyway.

Coming soon just to stir things along for Green Cities (because let’s face it, it’s the only way to get movement), we’ll be reporting soon on an observation that this industry may be taking its eye off the energy efficiency ball.

Can this be true? Well when you hear it once, you can ignore it, but two or three times, in the immortal words of demographer Hugh McKay, you’ve got a trend. We didn’t believe McKay when he said many years ago that if you want to know what’s going on in the world, just look at what you and the people around you are doing. But years of observations since and the disappointing news is that we are not unique, not outliers on the road to transformation and change, just part of the pack!

A complication and distraction has been the arrival of the WELL Building Standard that is like a big thirst quencher on a major Climate Change Day. Not only has it given slaked the thirst for something new and wonderful to take to the marketing department, but it’s satisfied all those nerdy people skilled up and geared up for constant innovation.

“Yep, we’ve all got our 6 Star Green Star and five star NABERS. What’s next folks?”

According to our sources it’s a focus on the health and wellbeing of the WELL standard… and fatigue with NABERS and Green Star and the consistent focus needed for energy efficiency. Blame human nature and the need for new.

One commentator said we needed to make energy efficiency “sexy again”.

On energy efficiency, we don’t expect the big end of town to agree. And they don’t.

Eminent Gris of the susty scene GPT’s Bruce Precious reckons there’s no lack of focus at all.

Certainly his team is looking closely at WELL and in response to suggestions it’s out of whack with Australian conditions and culture and way too demanding in some of it’s fields, he says, “They said that about Green Star. We’ll get our heads wrapped around it.”

In conversation today (Thursday) Precious said, “I’ve not seen any evidence there is a trade off between the two.”

What he thinks is happening is that because energy efficiency across the larger portfolios is now “largely normalised”, it’s become simply part of the way buildings are operated.

“There’s less talk, less certificates, fewer awards handed out but that’s because it’s more commonplace.”

What is exercising the imagination of the industry is the recent announcement that the GBCA and the federal government on zero carbon buildings, precincts and cities, Precious.

“So the GBCA saying they would certify buildings from this year… and now there is a national carbon offset standard so we should be able to certify carbon neutral buildings, precincts and cities.

“How cool is that? It’s the right discussion t be having.”

Other good news includes initiatives by the NSW government to raise up the standard of lower grade buildings to more than three star NABERS.

Getting to carbon neutral is not a massive stretch. And yes part of it will be buying green power. GPT is already on about 30 per cent GreenPower and going the rest of the way will depend on market demand he said. But it’s not that hard.

“Once you start to contemplate zero carbon the pieces do fall in to place pretty quickly.”

There are three parts to the strategy, he says: first is energy efficiency (in the UK known as the “first energy”). No 2 is onsite renewables, not so easy to do in CBD locations, and No 3 is to “go to your supply chain and your electricity providers and say ‘we’re in the market for electricity and we don’t want to the dirty stuff, we want the clean stuff’”.

A fourth option is offsets to “mop up the remainder”.

A number of businesses are already certified carbon neutral – most of the banks and most of the (large) service provider companies.

See you at Green Cities for some hot debate

Bikes and jail terms for environmental protestors

So when NSW people thought they were getting Mr CleanSkin/GoodTwoShoes for Premier, the man who wants to consult with communities and do right by all, instead they get the man who throws people in jail for voicing their desire to protect their environment and not have coal seam gas mines set up on their farms. And if they ride a bike they are likely to get hundreds and hundreds of dollars in fines if they dare ride on a footpath or set off against a red light to avoid the trucks and rampaging cars. Or take off for a pleasure ride without a photo ID.

The photo above shows a bunch of happy office campers riding off in their suit gear (minus jackets thankfully) to promote riding bikes for health of body, air and spirit on Wednesday. According to organiser City of Sydney about 3500 staff from 300 organisations will take part during the campaign that goes until 20 March, including Qantas, Lendlease, Allianz, Telstra, Atlassian, NRMA, Hilton, Heart Foundation eBay, ABC and the Sydney Opera House.

Remember this ride and this photo: after these draconian laws that are throwing us back to the worse days of Joe Bjelke Petersen and the wrecking ball he took to Queensland they may well become an historic artefact.

A talk series at USyd – with The Fifth Estate hosting

In yet another susty event, The Fifth Estate editor Tina Perinotto will host a talk at the University of Sydney Law School on Wednesday next week at 6 pm on the topic of sea level rises.

This  Small Changes: Environmental Conversation series by Sydney Environment Institute and Sydney Ideas will share research on a range of topics that aim to stimulate change in daily behavior.

Speakers on Wednesday will be Associate Professor Abbas El-Zein, School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney and Tayanah O’Donnell, University of Canberra  who will unpack the complexities associated with rising sea levels and the decision-making being made at a municipal level.