Esther Bailey

City of Sydney’s Esther Bailey recently won the Acoustic Logic Award for Contribution to Sustainability at the annual National Association of Women in Construction NSW Awards for Excellence.

Ms Bailey is known for her work with the Better Buildings Partnership, which nominated her for the award –  and with the CitySwitch Green Office energy efficiency program. But how do such ambitious programs get started and more importantly, keep energised to achieve greater sustainability?

I was motivated to enter the NAWIC award because I’m proud of what our programs do and want them to be recognised. It’s great that NAWIC is taking the time to recognise women in construction. All the other winners were so inspirational. It’s great to feel part of a female collective driving change, innovation and excellence.

The Better Buildings Partnership is a unique and dynamic collective of leading property owners driving the sustainability agenda in the commercial property space.

The BBP was established by the City of Sydney in 2011. Over the past couple of years it’s worked hard to address barriers to change through collective action. We’ve taken a truly consultative approach and engaged more than 2000 other suppliers to develop clever and creative solutions.

Through various working groups we have engaged office occupants, lawyers, consultants, designers, waste contractors, cleaners, commercial property professionals, universities, and even international policy and research agencies. Their generosity in taking part, and commitment to doing things better, is inspiring – and that makes the job all the more rewarding.

One of the BBP’s key achievements has been building trust and connections between long-time competitors. The program has engaged the industry players in a way that is action-oriented and made sure it focuses on issues we can genuinely influence for the better.

The BBP has just been named a finalist for the prestigious NSW Government Green Globe awards across three categories for excellence in sustainability, waste and recycling and environmental innovation – testimony to the fantastic work that is being done by members.

The first couple of meetings were an interesting exercise in seeing members watch each other – keen to contribute but cautious about oversharing. When does a throw-away comment from one become a competitive advantage for another? Of course there will always be sensitivities, but over time our members have come to realise they all face the same problems. The program is a genuine meeting of minds, which is satisfying and unlocks the potential in everyone.

It’s hard to talk about the role of women in business or women in sustainability without descending into trite commentary about multi-tasking and empathy. However, it is clear that gender balance is vital in delivering the best solutions and most resilient businesses. It is also obvious that women have terrific abilities to steer through complexity and build consensus.

Sustainability is a relatively new field and as such it attracts the terra-formers – the people who enjoy unknown and evolving landscapes, and who are not afraid to have hard conversations. It’s challenging and it takes collaboration, fresh perspectives, tenacity, subtlety, charm and guts. These are things women bring to our industry in spades.

There are so many incredible women that I work with in this space – Romilly Madew and Tanya Cox from Green Building Council of Australia, Beck Dawson from Investa, Amanda Steele and Jenine Cranston from CBRE, and CitySwitch’s Pip Harley. At the City of Sydney, the incredible work we do would not be possible without inspirational leadership from our Lord Mayor Clover Moore and chief executive Monica Barone.

They don’t toe a party line. Instead, they set a vision, bring people together and push forward. These are influential women who want to drive a bold and important agenda, and aren’t afraid of the hard work required to get results. Women are creating momentum in the industry because they are focused on results.

Our cities and the built environment is an extraordinarily exciting space. We have the capacity to lead change and be at the forefront of our transition to a sustainable world. And we work in an industry that is accustomed to innovation, and has good governance and frameworks in place. Our industry understands how to manage projects small and large, is prepared to take risks, and brings large numbers of people together.

These are the exact things we can call on to make steps towards sustainability and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Esther Bailey is sustainability program leader (buildings) at the City of Sydney.