News from the front desk: News on Thursday that Andrew Forrest has appointed no less than Reserve Bank of Australia deputy governor Guy Debelle as chief financial officer for his giant green energy play Fortescue Future Industries is another nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry.

Forrest accompanied the announcement with a comment that it would “prove that going green has a profitable future for companies the world over”.

Increasingly now we watch the titans of industry compete with each other for green leadership and plaudits, the way the property leaders did in their quest to go greener faster, oh… a few decades ago now.

It’s amazing how slow some people are to pick up the cues. But once they get the picture it’s enormously satisfying to watch this very attractive version of blokey competition. Keep it up fellas! Because it is mostly fellas – we hear no drum beats from Australia’s mining queen Gina Rinehart riding over the hill to help save humanity. Carn Gina, give the gals a go too! We need you to hold the flag for women. It was International Women’s Day this week – a time to rise and shine (not just for yourself; and no, your immense generosity to coal apologists won’t cut it.)

If these good (and recovering) titans want to reassure themselves on what side of history their legacy will fall on they need only to look at Russia’s cruel and devastating war on Ukraine. The only certainty out of this is there will be a scamble for renewables, which by their nature will be distributed and secure – and one less blackmailing chip that oil and gas behemoths can use to intimidate others.

Pollination’s Martijn Wilder certainly thinks so. Check out the interview The Fifth Estate did in tandem with Blair Palese, managing editor of Climate and Capital.

The Matijn Wilder tandem interview

This interview style was one we’d been raring to try after we saw the impressive tech journo Kara Swisher do it on Recode, now owned by Vox. Done well it can create an amazing dynamic that can really put a guest interviewee under the arc lamp. Nicely of course (…OK not always nicely.) Who better to try it on then, than one of the most dynamic minds we know in the green space Martijn Wilder of Pollination.

His company, that he co-founded and which has been steadily collecting top end of town names in its impressive lineup of talent, recently snared a $70 million investment from ANZ.

People were already asking what he was up to with all those hotshots on board. The question now was what is he going to do with all the money?

Among the raft of questions we put to him was the fun one: “Is Mark Carney a saint?”, which caused some amusement for Wilder and a beautifully considered answer.

The Living Future Institute symposium

Peri MacDonald

We also caught up with Laura Hamilton-O’Hara, chief executive of the Living Future Institute of Australia this week as part of our media partnership for the organisation’s yearly conference.

It was a very quick chat because the event continues in Sydney on Friday and she’s busy, but it was long enough to glean some of her favourite insights from the week-long series of panels and keynote addresses that attracted 175 audience members and featured 51 speakers.

A standout of the week she said was the finance panel, The Future Fund at Burwood Brickworks with Jane Kern, senior manager impact finance at Bank Australia; Ryan Rathborne, joint property lead at Clean Energy Finance Corporation; and Danny Almagor of Small Giants, moderated by Peri MacDonald who is chief executive officer of ARK Capital Funds, where he landed nearly two years after nearly 12 years at Frasers Property.

Hamilton-O’Hara loved the way the panel noted that the talk on risk/return on finance has flipped from concerns about the premium that has to be paid for green investment to the “brown discount” that attends investments that are not sustainable or resilient.

Almagor challenged the audience on the notion of buildings and how important they are. We raise families in them, we live in them we work in them – why should they not be the best possible thing they can be, Hamilton-O’Hara recalled of Almagor’s comments.

Another quip from Ryan Rathborne sealed the day. Asked who much money people should invest with ESG (environmental social governance) parameters, he said, “all of it” she reported.

It was hard to resist catching up with Peri MacDonald on the back of this. Several years ago when the Brickworks was part way completed, and he was in charge of the job, we asked him what was the hardest part of striving to meet the Living Building Challenge standard. Unquestionably, he said, the airconditioning.

It’s pretty easy achieving amazing energy efficiency if you’re working with a sealed box, he said at the time, but try it with a shopping centre that’s designed specifically to be open to the public and inviting.

MacDonald is enjoying his new gig heading up this fund that specialises in private debt with about $120 million of funds under management, mostly to developers, he told us. But the event at Brickworks was quite “magic”. Chiefly because he’d stopped looking for flaws in the building and could join in the pleasant surprise of people who came along and found it hard to believe they were in a shopping centre.

Among his favourite takeaways from the event he told us was the move from the “big end of town” into some “really positive investments”.

“Net zero users are demanding it and developers are responding and we’re seeing some great signs there.”

Jane Kern, he said, reported good news from the consumer residential mortgage front, with mums and dads “demanding and wanting” green homes.

But the big challenge that came out of the session was the big gap in action at the mid-range of commercial buildings, where the owners aren’t meeting green standards and are not upgrading them to a standard that would lure workers back to the office.

MacDonald said the answer had to be education and regulation. There was also an imperative on the industry to demonstrate leadership and share inspiration about “how you can actually generate normal and acceptable investment returns that at the same time achieve incredible results.”

The big end of town has been almost self regulating, MacDonald said, mostly because competitive element that’s inherent in their business model. But with the long Covid tail likely to include permanent changes in how people work there was a whole new set of challenges for how the property industry would respond.

To be fair, MacDonald said Covid had probably compressed 10 years of change into 12 months. You could see the change in retail with online shopping; in commercial it was flexible work conditions demanded by calls for more gender equality. Whichever way things go, it’s

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.