By Maria Atkinson, Maria Atkinson Consultancy
13 March 2014 – “There’s a lot of talk about green buildings but they are still a relatively new concept in Australia and at the moment a lot of people in the industry don’t know how to build green or who to turn to for advice.”
Hard to believe I said that just over 10 years ago.
It was October 2003 and, as the founding chief executive officer of the Green Building Council of Australia, I was looking forward to Australia’s first green building conference.
We’ve obviously come a long way since then, and we should celebrate that progress.
But have we, as a movement, come far enough? And can we be sure that we’re heading in the right direction and focusing on the right things? Or have we reached a sort of fatigue after that first rush and now we’re stagnating, resting on our laurels?
Avastone Consulting refers to the five Gears of Gearing Up, starting with compliance.
To pardon the pun, I think we can tick that one off! While there will always be some who will stay stuck on the tick-a-box approach to just complying, most have moved beyond this.
I think it’s fair to say that in achieving compliance, many have realised that there are efficiencies which can be achieved, and moving up another gear, even new market opportunities. The raft of 5 and 6 Star Green Star certifications and the co-benefits of productivity linked to health and wellbeing, and market valuation speak to this.
But while we celebrate certifications and the unequivocal shift from niche to mainstream for commercial offices, is that enough?
Have we progressed to the point where sustainability is integrated; where strategy and sustainability are one and the same?
And even further, how many of us have reached that holy grail of recognising that we need a whole new system, a new way of thinking, a new economy?
As Avastone puts it: “Embracing the complexity of sustainability calls for understanding it at a new level of consciousness.”
For the food industry, it’s farm-to-fork as consumers increasingly demand to know the provenance of food.
In the fashion industry, it’s fashion houses that ensure sustainable fabrics, ethical manufacturing, and labels that tell the consumer not only where the garment was made, but about its social and environmental credentials.
So, for the property industry, it is not just about complying with government regulations or achieving credits for certification, or about measuring impacts and a commitment to building green.
Nor is it just having a sustainability report; in fact, it’s perhaps when there is no need for a separate sustainability report – not because it doesn’t matter anymore, but because it’s an integral part of the company’s business strategy, operations and culture.
It’s when the CEO lives and breathes sustainability – supported by an engaged board, when the motive is doing good rather than less bad, and when corporate values are lived – rather than mere words on a website.
This is when sustainability goes beyond the company’s corporate headquarters or the buildings that are designed, built and managed – where the value goes to the communities in which the organisation operates and to the outer reaches of the supply chain.
So while we have come a long way since that first conference in October 2003, from my vantage point, we still have a long way still to go. Let’s keep a focus on sustainability in line with social viability and competitiveness and, with renewed enthusiasm, let’s demand leadership theory and practice that facilitates the transition to real sustainability.
Maria Atkinson AM is a sustainability consultant, advisor and investor. She was a co-founder and the founding CEO of the GBCA, a former global sustainability executive for an ASX50 company, and an internationally recognised expert in sustainability.