Davina Rooney

When Davina Rooney was nominated for the premium sustainability award from NAWIC last month, one of her endorsements said she was an “unsung hero” in the sector.

Today Rooney can shrug off that epithet; she can consider herself “sung”. In late August she won the premium Acoustic Logic Award for contribution in sustainability from NAWIC (the National Association of Women in Construction) at a gala event in Sydney before all her peers.

All the same, Rooney, Stockland’s national sustainability manager, is hardly unnoticed.

Among her numerous roles in the industry are membership of the Property Council’s National Sustainability Roundtable and the Green Star Steering Committee and she’s acted as a mentor for a Green Building Council of Australia’s Future Green Leaders Scholar. The mentorship would have impressed the judges who look for collaboration and helping other women achieve their potential.

Tellingly, Rooney is also board shadow to Stockland chief executive Mark Steinert, a role you don’t normally see handed to a sustainability director, no matter how grand the title is designed to sound.

Rooney had a flying start to her career with awards including 2014 Future Leaders Award from the Property Council of Australia, the University of Sydney Engineering Young Alumni Award 2007, and at the start of her career with Arup, a company fellowship that saw her spend 18 months in London and also lead the design of the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas.

At a meeting this week at the Sydney headquarters for the group, Rooney outlined some of the ways she approaches sustainability and the ways she sees that her work with Stockland can influence a greater range of stakeholders.

To jump in at the deep end, let’s talk about money.

After the GFC put pressure on many property companies, Stockland included, Rooney makes no bones about the need make a strong business case for sustainability.

Commercial viability must be key or projects will otherwise remain mere pilots, she says in comments key to her award submission.

Stockland’s sustainability strategy, which she authored, is a demonstration of how sustainability can “amplify results” in each area of the business and “deliver the brand promise of a ‘better way to live’”, she says.

In fact, in a “breakthrough” piece of thinking, Rooney has made the case for showing that sustainability projects that exceed financial hurdle rates can exceed capital budgets, because these are accretive to the groups income. That is, they’re worth it.

“This has been a breakthrough that has allowed many projects to succeed,” she says.

It’s proving that sustainability can deliver the brand promise of a “better way to live” in particular meeting the company’s first of three strategic pillars – to “grow asset returns and customer base” and that this is “all about Stockland’s customers and their community”.

Other “tangible proof points” of her strategy is that key projects for the company have exceeded financial hurdles required and that in the past 10 years there have been $60 million in savings achieved.

In the finance related area Rooney has also managed sustainability assurance for the company’s green bond, Australia’s first corporate green bond.

“The key focus has to be on customers and their community” and proving that sustainability can enrich the value chain, Rooney says.

It means more connected messages and more connections all round. Something like sustainability itself.

But the award is also about recognising influence.

A look at what the company is doing at some of its projects shows that the potential to influence stakeholders is something increasingly at the forefront of the way it operates. And this in a quite intentional way.

At its master planned Cloverton project in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, for instance, Rooney and the broader team are working on how to turn around the usual outcomes to those that stimulate healthy sustainable communities.

Media spokesman Greg Spears says it’s a chance to develop a more walkable community, which will encourage future residents to consider “having one car instead of two, and walking for short trips around the community to future cafés, retail facilities, schools, parks and playgrounds”.

“We had a three day seminar to refine the town centre concept. It’s so big it straddles three different LGAs [Local Government Areas]. We brought in planning and transport experts to brainstorm how best to create a community that is sustainable and healthy?

Curtin University sustainability guru professor Peter Newman was invited to address the group.

The site is huge, a massive 1100 hectares that will eventually host 11,000 homes and 30,000 residents, and will take about 20 years to reach completion.

Stockland's Davina Rooney accepting the sustainability award.
Stockland’s Davina Rooney accepting the sustainability award.

On schools there is a massive opportunity to think long term because you are planning for decades to come. So do you use the old models or look for something new? Do the buildings have to be single storey and ground hugging or can they be tall and release more open space? Can the facilities be used by the community after hours?

The company sent Lauren Kajewski to New York on a study tour to bring back the best ideas in education and it’s now working with the Queensland government on integrating these.

Rooney says the strategy is to collaborate intensively with stakeholders and professionals.

The workshops might be a wake up call for some stakeholders, but Rooney says there are strong “pockets of excellence” among government agencies that the company has worked with. The benefit from hearing each other’s ideas and better understanding the connectivity of the different elements in urban planning are immense, Rooney says.

Under the influence heading you could also place some interesting work such as the partnership of Stockland with Bowls Australia to expose many of the 11,000 people in the company’s retirement villages to the benefits of a more active lifestyle.

Or Jamie’s Ministry of Food that has been given a peppercorn rental in one of the company’s shopping centres to demonstrate healthy cooking and eating.

Elsewhere, Rooney is dealing with some highly technical issues.

Among these is the collaboration with CSIRO to radically improve the efficiency of solar cooling.

This is related to turning heat from the sun into “coolth” and in a way that can double the efficiency of solar cooling to make these project commercial viable.

Rooney says it’s a “brain explosion” area, even for her engineering mind, but very exciting.

Again, the focus is on practical application or making the business case stack up.

And for Rooney and Stockland, that’s clearly a winning formula.

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