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Covid might be stalking the land but in many areas there’s no let up in activity. Especially in sustainability.

The pandemic looks to have stirred up new opportunities for companies in the position to expand and pivot into new markets. In June, SEEK’s marketplace for selling businesses observed the highest month ever of traffic and enquiries to buy businesses.

EnergyAustralia has bought the remaining shares Echo Group after acquiring a 49 per cent share in the solar and LED company last year.

The move suggests the Australian gentailer is moving into energy and environment saving technologies, such as LED lighting, battery storage and energy monitoring.

Echo Group will continue to operate independently under its current house of brands including Cherry Energy Solutions, eko energy and littil.

In other M&As news, Ross Garnaut and Raymond Spencer, the owners of Sunshot Energy, have picked up the energy retail business of billionaire Sanjeev Gupta’s clean energy company SIMEC Energy Australia, Zen Energy.

Gupta’s clean energy company SIMEC Energy Australia, the Australian arm of GFG Alliance, has de-merged into two separate businesses, SIMEC Energy Australia and ZEN Energy.

Gupta’s GFG Alliance will keep the energy development business, SIMEC Energy Australia, but the energy retail business, ZEN Energy, has been split off and sold to minority shareholders Ross Garnaut and Raymond Spencer.

On the sustainability front the vibes are also strong and good. Not like the GFC. Yet.

For Edge Environment, which recently announced a senior hire with Dr Viv Heslop appointed to head one of the company’s six new business units, there’s no sign of a drop off in interest on sustainability. Unlike sentiment during the GFC.

Ken Lunty, the company’s director of operations said on Monday that so far, appetite for his company’s services, especially in strategic consulting, has been strong.

Many clients have been affected by Covid and everyone has found it necessary to “do more with less people” so sometimes quality might suffer, but the mood and sentiment is “quite different” to the GFC, he said.

“A lot of companies are sticking to their sustainability ambitions and though it’s obviously tough times for everyone some companies are pivoting and doing well and most are sticking to their commitments. Not much has changed since before Covid.”

Of course, if JobKeeper is pulled or the government investment in infrastructure changes it might put another spanner in the works, he said.

“But for now we feel that clients are sticking to goals. Even aged care facilities clients that might be expected to be feeling very stretched right now are keeping to their sustainability programs.”

Mostly, the work is in strategy, a unit headed by the company’s Max Van Bien.

Other clients are in the built environment, food and aged care and finance and infrastructure. There’s also significant work for Transport NSW through metro stations and strategy such as to develop life cycle tools for the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia. Building materials are a strong focus and here the company is working with Holcim to develop carbon neutral concrete.

There’s been a lot of work in the circular economy and the resources recovery space, Lunty said, and part of this was designing for reuse. For instance, if you build a car park now it would be more than prudent to plan to adapt it within 10 years or so. “There’s no point building it for 100 years.”

The same goes for products, Lunty says.

Less clear to predict is the property world and it will certainly have challenges, especially around how people adapt to the new normal.

“Will there be knowledge hubs and information hubs? There’s been a lot of adaptation already. People have been really resilient.”

But the future was hard to see.

When Covid first started a lot of things were put on hold. But people adapted and quickly got into a new routine, Lunty said.

“We never really lost any jobs … jobs were put on hold and then they ramped up.

“We’re not really slowed down on anything. I could not pinpoint that anything has changed or that people have stopped thinking about sustainability.

Some consultancies decided to internalise some things, taking care of certain work themselves. But others have not stopped. “They can see a really strong link between sustainability and efficiency. Even us: I look back now and see I was flying every two weeks and how unneeded that was.”

There’s also been more consideration for others. The thing about this challenge compared to the GFC, he said, is that “this challenge doesn’t discriminate”. Everyone has realised they have to adapt and be resilient and support others.”

The canaries in the coal mine

In design circles where architects are considered the canaries in the coalmine, it’s likewise all systems go. At least one practice, Cox Architects in Sydney, says that in infrastructure and bigger projects, there’s no let up. For now.

“As a practice we’re still very busy,” says design director Joe Agius. “ But I think things next year might be quite different.”

Agius says the company was busy doing work started prior to Covid but that there was not “a huge amount in the pipeline” particularly in the commercial and private sphere, and particularly in universities where, “understandably, projects have been put on hold, especially those in the early planning stages and I doubt they will be coming back for a while”.

Residential projects under way were continuing but “a couple” have been put on hold.

But amid it all government projects remained strong. “We’re sustained more by the work we are doing for the government sector primarily around transport – metro related and obviously Western Sydney.

And so far employment levels of around 200 people, have held firm and the company has “not lost a single employee”.

“To be quite frank because we are quite diverse in the sectors we work in we were quite resilient in the GFC.”

In part it was a similar scenario with government-related work key areas such as transport, Western Sydney the Metro rail and TODs (transport oriented development). Health has a long pipeline again articulated pre Covid. “There’s a lot of work there.”

But there will naturally be a limit to the government’s capacity in what it can roll out, and there are many other areas that need attention – “and rightfully so”.

What was dangerous for architects, he said, was when they were too “siloed” in one area.

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