Property Council boss, Ken Morrison

It’s fair to say the building industry is ahead of the curve in terms of cutting its carbon emissions, but with the new IPCC outlooks, is change happening fast enough? 

INTERVIEW: Property Council of Australia chief executive Ken Morrison described this week’s IPCC report as a “stark call to action”. 

However, he said already Australia’s property industry was leading the world on sustainability and within the industry many had made ambitious emissions reduction or net zero targets.

“I think there’s a lot of runs on the board when it comes to the property industry — and there should be too,” Mr Morrison told The Fifth Estate.

“The built environment represents nearly a quarter of Australia’s emissions and accounts for around half of Australia’s energy use.”

He said it made sense for companies to be stepping up and forging a path, as well as it made sense for policymakers to have a keen focus on the built environment. 

“The Property Council with our allies has been for a long time now championing a best practice set of frameworks which could maximise emissions reductions across the property sector and the broader built environment.”

He pointed to the Every Building Counts toolkit, created in conjunction with Green Building Council that offers policies that “should be” implemented across all levels of government to drive emissions reduction in line with the Paris Agreement. 

Among a long list of recommendations aimed at federal government were:

  • Setting out a long term vision for net zero buildings and extend the Trajectory for Low Energy Buildings to 2050
  • Accelerate the shift to high performance buildings with targeted financial incentives, such as supporting green loans and innovative finance products to drive high performing homes and retrofits
  • Improve compliance, monitoring and enforcement of the National Construction Code and support renters with minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties

Another key recommendation was to investigate energy performance improvements for existing buildings.

The focus swings strongly to existing buildings

Mr Morrison said tapping into the existing building stock, rather than focusing on the much smaller portion of new buildings would be crucial to achieving meaningful emissions reduction in the sector. 

“We need to incentivise retrofit arrangements and we also need to incentivise good practice ownership and management of property,” he said. 

Australia’s had a solid history of achievement across the commercial space, referencing the internationally recognised NABERS rating system and Green Building Council’s Green Star suite of rating tools. 

“I think the missing piece here is to get the same type of framework, to drive change across smaller projects, volume home builders, and individual dwellings. 

“And that’s a tougher ask because you need to solve a larger number of problems when you’re dealing with direct consumers, as either owners or their households or as purchasers of property.”

Good work involving government was already occurring to achieve that aim, but this should be accelerated with an eye to meeting emissions reduction targets as early as possible. 

According to Mr Morrison there is also a gap between the commercial property space and the remainder of building stock when it came to retrofit 

“We’ve had fantastic success with taking existing building stock and underperforming older assets and really making them far more energy efficient,” he said. 

“So we need to take those learnings and apply them to those sectors where we haven’t yet made those transformations.”

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  1. Ken Morrison is on the money. The immediate climate challenge in the building and real estate industry is the retrofitting of older and existing building stock. The technology and know how is available, but too many owners are passive and the minimum Australian planning and building standards are too low. Urgent Leadership is required at all levels of government to raise standards and create a supportive framework for effective investment.