Paul Wall APHA CEO
Paul Wall

Exclusive: At a panel event on energy in Sydney last Friday, Paul Wall, head of group sustainability and energy at Dexus, let slip that his company had jumped aboard the net zero challenge with a commitment to achieve this by 2030.

The move makes the company a fully-fledged member of the race by several industry peers to reach similar targets. It’s a competitive spirit that’s well known in the industry and has driven the sustainability transformation of companies at the top end.

In a briefing this week at the company’s headquarters to explain the target, Wall outlined the key elements of the strategy were first to improve energy efficiency, next to source renewables and third, “where absolutely necessary”, offsets.

Wall discussed the strategy and positioning his team has created for the board and shareholders, with its demonstrations of high performance to date including the number one position for global listed office property and third for all participants in the 2017 GRESB sustainability rankings.

Technology and smart buildings

Running alongside the net zero challenge is the fast advancing world of sophisticated technology, data capture and sensors that will tailor outcomes to customer experiences.

Whatever is coming – and no one is really sure about the shape or content of emerging technology – what’s certain is that it will deliver the next big leap in not just energy efficiency and emissions reductions but business efficiency for tenants.

In the end how this will look and how it is implemented, Wall says, is up to the property owners and managers, with their potential to embed technology in the fabric of the building and create the long-heralded but slow to emerge “smart buildings” of the future.

The smart building story is that everything inconvenient or wasteful will be removed by technology, Wall says.

“We will have a customised experience for our customers which will match their needs and preferences.

“If we look at every office screen and where the lights are on and there is no one there… in 2030 buildings will be much more reactive and smart; they’ll react to our customer needs.”

A lifecycle upgrade program will be part of the long-term thinking to tailor deliverables to customer needs. Industry sources say much of the kit in plant rooms these days is overspecified because equipment is far more efficient than previously.

Keeping up with the emerging technology providers is a challenge, Walls says, adding that there are no clear front runners emerging.

“If you look at voice activation and sensor technology and biometric scanning… all this is going to react exactly to customer needs and preferences. It will be much more reactive.”

Dexus is also taking fast-moving developments that include drones and flying cars seriously, so much so that it’s now pulled out a full-time resource from the IT department to keep tabs on development. Previously this was the domain of the facility managers – another example of the shifting job descriptions, not to mention shifting jobs, being driven by emerging technology.

Healthcare to be targeted

What also emerged during the briefing is that the net zero target wouldn’t be just for commercial and industrial property that makes up the bulk of the company’s portfolio, but would also apply to its brand new foray into one of Australia’s most important and politically significant sectors of the economy – the fast-growing healthcare sector.

Along with other large institutional buildings such as universities, museums and sporting facilities, hospitals were a key focus of Victoria’s Greener Government Buildings program that the former Baillieu government inexplicably dropped and which the Andrews government was slow to bring back and even slower to kickstart.

The fact that this sector has been under the radar as a target for energy savings is a scandal in the making. Not only are taxpayer funds struggling to meet the expanding needs of an ageing population but a big whack of available budget is likely being flushed down the financial toilet. 

Wall is clearly happy about the challenge.

“There are great opportunities for procurement for electricity now that the [national energy guarantee] seems to be heading in the right direction. It could open up some real opportunities for us and give us price certainty over occupancy costs.”

It’s also increasingly expected that companies show they’re taking environmental, social and corporate governance seriously.

“Certainly our investors are expecting we manage our environmental risk and are increasingly seeing society expecting responsible management from supply chain partners.”

Offsets not key

Wall was keen to stress that offsets were not going to be a major part of Dexus’ strategy.

“There’s not a lot of business benefits [to offsets] other than the claim to be carbon neutral – and they need to be repurchased every year.

“We’d rather reduce our emissions and support the renewables sector and exploit the opportunities through renewables.”

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