Listen to this 17-minute podcast about greener supply chains - courtesy of Sydney's Eastside FM and the Total Environment Centre.
"Whether you're a self-employed tradie or a huge development company - a revolution is sweeping the construction industry! Robin Mellon explains the online resources available through the Supply Chain Sustainability School covering the environmental and social impacts of waste, water, energy and more."
With thanks to Ruth Hessey from the Total Environment Centre / Eastside FM
This article first appeared online via the Property Council of Australia on 09 August 2017
Social impact, ethical practices and economic value are headlines of an expanding sustainability agenda, says the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s chief executive officer Robin Mellon.
Every business or service has a supply chain, whether you’re selling coffee, clothing or construction materials. In some cases, these supply chains are quite simple. But increasingly, especially in large industries like construction, supply chains are complex and frequently inscrutable.
Mellon says Australia’s property and construction industry faces five main areas of supply chain risk: governmental, regulatory, economic, reputational and environmental.
“Each of those risks will ebb and flow depending on your business, but as the scope of sustainability continues to grow, so do the risks.”
Shifting community expectations, investor demand for transparency and increasing pressure on corporations to demonstrate good corporate citizenship are just some of the factors influencing supply chain sustainability, Mellon says.
“While in the past our industry was focused on environmental sustainability, today we are considering more social and economic factors,” he says. These include modern slavery, social value and economically-sustainable business models.
A recent survey of members of the Supply Chain Sustainability School found 52 per cent of respondents thought sustainability was a more important issue in their businesses than it was 12 months ago, and 49 per cent have already begun to engage their suppliers earlier.
“Seventy-nine per cent of businesses now have a sustainability plan in place within their organisations. This may not mean much in itself, but compared with five or 10 years ago, this is a massive shift,” Mellon says.
A new worldwide guidance standard for sustainable procurement, ISO20400, was released in June 2017 and broadens the definition of ‘sustainable procurement’ to include economic and social factors, alongside the environmental. Mellon says the standard’s impact “will be felt through big business first, but will trickle down to all small businesses through our supply chains over time”.
Issues like modern slavery, which “few people were talking about five years ago” are starting to dominate discussions, he adds.
“There’s a massive and immediate reputational risk involved in discovering that the materials in your building were created through forced labour, for example.”
The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimated that 45.8 million people in 167 countries are in some form of modern slavery, a term that includes debt bondage, forced labour and human trafficking. An inquiry is underway into whether the Australian Government should establish a Modern Slavery Act, similar to that established in the United Kingdom in 2015 which requires companies with a turnover of more than AU$59 million to report on their compliance annually.
Big business in Australia is already backing the introduction of an Act, and Mellon says it will “drive changes in both business and personal behaviours”.
“When large companies with influence over extensive supply chains make changes, people listen. Whether we are talking about carbon, certification of materials or modern slavery, a large company can change an entire supply chain in one move.”
Mellon says he’s inspired by the work of some industry leaders, who are embedding social value into their decision making. He points to Mirvac, which surveys its suppliers annually – “whether they are providing toilet paper or legal services” – to ensure each meets its vendor code of conduct and aligns with the company’s broader social impact agenda.
“Big organisations wanting to include social value in their decision making have a huge ability to change things for the better,” he adds.
Mirvac’s Song Café in Sydney’s 200 George Street, which operates as a social enterprise with all profits supporting YWCA initiatives, demonstrates the social impact the industry can make on supply chains and local communities, he says.
Mellon also points to the work of John Holland, which is currently rewriting its sustainability strategy in light of the new international standard and best practice procurement examples, and which insists that every preferred supplier be a member of the Australian Supply Chain Sustainability School “so that everyone involved in a project can be speaking the same language”.
In the instant information age, any oversight, irresponsibility or malpractice down the line can be exposed and shared on social media in the blink of an eye. In this environment, companies can’t afford to be complacent, Mellon says.
His message is simple: “You can’t flip a switch and go from knowing nothing about sustainability in your supply chain to knowing everything. It’s a journey – and one we are all on. But there is free information out there to help people upskill – about energy and carbon, waste, biodiversity, sustainable procurement or modern slavery. If you learn just one thing a month, soon you’ll know a whole lot more.”
Recently I was fortunate to moderate a panel at the Sydney Architecture Festival entitled, appropriately enough, ‘Where does your stuff come from?’; the topic of one of my recent Sourceable articles and the core of my work leading the Supply Chain Sustainability School. Despite being the same day as the AFL Grand Final, the session drew a good crowd and promised to be an interesting exploration of the supply chains behind everything from foundations to furniture to fashions: http://www.sydneyarchitecturefestival.org/program/where-does-your-stuff-come-from
But what happened next was unexpected; whilst I thought I knew which direction the speakers and conversation would take, I was wrong. Each of the four panelists was asked to introduce themselves and outline what they do, what they’re passionate about, and why it would matter to them where their ‘stuff’ (materials, resources, skills etc.) comes from. Preliminary introductions unfolded smoothly. And then, surrounded by beautiful furniture and great minds, we disappeared into a fascinating world of stories. Stories of Aboriginal design, the links between sustainability, beauty, spirituality and function in boomerangs and buildings, heirloom products, handprinting and restorative development, and the development, evolution and skills behind the knowledge, routine and physical jobs around NSW.
Speaking in the session were designer, artist and film-maker Alison Page, architect and sustainable development advocate Caroline Pidcock, furniture design curator, storyteller and our host at the CULT showroom Richard Munao, and business strategist, design thinker and jobs-for-the-future advocate Tony Stephens. A gender-balanced panel – well played Sydney Architecture Festival!
Alison outlined concepts of design from an Aboriginal perspective, noting the materials used, the traditions embraced and how communities each have a unique cultural identity and spirituality that needs to be reflected in the built environment. Caroline talked of handprinting; where a range of positive business impacts from best practice products to sustainability programs can balance an organisation’s footprint. Richard referenced the importance of authenticity and longevity in design, particularly in the creation and passing down of heirloom products and pieces. And Tony spoke of the importance of the skills and narratives within engineering, architectural and technical services here in NSW and the need to build on infrastructure investment domestically and expand internationally; whilst the Jobs for NSW initiative focuses on fast-growing SMEs and start-ups, the real ‘wicked problem’ is how to transition regional SMEs away from older industries and into newer ones. Their challenge is to create 150,000 new jobs in the four years to March 2019, and these need to be sustainable, lasting jobs.
The session also focused on the issue of beauty, and how we need a bit more of it in all our lives. I’ve said many times that the buildings we love will last forever; Sydney’s Bourke Street Public School, the Brisbane Arcade and Adelaide Town Hall aren’t just functional structures but places of beauty and inspiration, brimming with stories of their development and survival, and for this reason they will be maintained, repaired and truly loved.
With CULT’s stunning furniture and design around us, and conscious of Alison Page’s words about Aboriginal design blending function, beauty, spirituality and sustainability, we also examined increasingly popular rating tools such as the Living Future Institute Australia’s (LFIA’s) ‘Living Building Challenge’. LFIA Board member Caroline Pidcock explained how the design and architecture fraternity is embracing the concept of not only doing ‘less bad’ but developing buildings with a positive, regenerative impact. The Living Building Challenge recognises and rewards buildings around not only categories of their Place, Water, Energy and Materials use, but also themes of Health and Happiness, Equity and Beauty – including elements of Spirit, Inspiration and Education.
And behind all of these themes were woven the stories – those stories of buildings we love, stories of materials and their sources, stories of crafts and traditions, and stories of history and heritage. The conclusion? That whether we’re talking developments, designs, dresses or desks, people are showing more and more interest, and attaching more and more value, to the stories behind their production.
Mass-produced items may be cheaper and easier to obtain, but there are rarely stories behind them; there is rarely a connection. Heritage pieces, crafted items, carefully sourced materials and truly sustainable developments hold more stories, and the market value of these is growing around Australia. More to the point, Australia’s ability to tell these stories (and to verify them) will stand us in increasingly good stead worldwide. The value of these stories lies in their ability to show the ‘provenance’ or chain of custody of the item or service, the demonstration of awareness of the supply chain, the emotional involvement which often outweighs any economic drawback, the knowledge that a higher quality product will last longer and therefore be a better long-term decision (“buy cheap, buy twice”), the awareness that something is line with our own inherent principles and, to be blunt about it, the ‘bragging rights’ that come with such a choice.
So the panel, audience and I got to a conclusion, confirming that there is a growing demand for stories, beauty and quality, as well as a better blend of all three. As architect Richard Buckminster Fuller pointed out so accurately many decades ago, “When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”
[Excerpts from this article first published in Sourceable online on 2 November 2016.]
(Article first appeared in Sourceable on 1st June 2016)
Over the past few months, since stepping into the role of Chief Executive Officer at the Supply Chain Sustainability School, I’ve been asking a few questions about Australians’ knowledge of their supply chains.
Not just questions like “do you know where your stuff comes from?” but “how much do you think your suppliers know about their environmental impacts?” and “can you tell me what your ‘supply chain’ looks like?”
So whilst the school exists to provide the building blocks of free sustainability education to the construction and infrastructure sectors, I’ve been asking about supply chains in general – which country things come from, what modes of transport have been used, and which products (if any) can actually verify their supply chain. For many organisations, the lack of knowledge is startling, and this is an area of major risk. I believe Australia is faring pretty poorly in this area.
As outlined in EY’s recent report, Let’s Talk Sustainability, “the last decade has seen an increase in external scrutiny over how large corporations engage with their supply chains. While the origins of this stem from the well-known ‘sweat shop’ exposés of the 90’s, the scope of issues has evolved considerably in recent years. A long list of disasters and shocks from the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, appalling tin mines in Indonesia and the horsemeat scandal in Europe has exposed the inadequacy of traditional supply chain governance. While many international companies have been working to implement and improve their supply chain management approaches, Australian companies have lagged behind.”
So few people actually know where their things come from, whether those are consumer goods or construction materials. Many have indicated that supply chains are ‘the next big opportunity.’ So what are some issues of price and risk, and what are the next steps you can take?
When it comes to price, there are many who simply think that ‘cheap is good’ and in some cases that can be right. If Farmer A is selling apples at the market more cheaply than Farmer B because there is a glut of apples on those trees right now, that might indeed be good. But often something cheap is cheap for a reason – because you are not actually paying the real price for it. The labourer who’s working long hours in poor conditions is paying for it through low or no wages, the natural environment is paying for it because of the pollution left behind that might be so hard to restore, or the owners of the natural resources are actually paying for it because of price-fixing.
So it’s time to start asking a few uncomfortable questions. Why is something cheap? It could be because the supplier has managed to achieve maximum efficiencies in every aspect of what they do, or it could be because there’s something ‘not quite right’ in some parts of the production line. Do you want to know? Can you afford not to?
This knowledge, or lack of it, is a major risk. According to Deloitte in their 2016 Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) survey, whilst “procurement risk is on the increase,” cost reduction remains the top priority for CPOs and “sixty two per cent of CPOs do not believe their teams have the skills and capabilities to deliver their strategies.” These figures are echoed in this year’s Hackett CPO study, which shows that although “market risk is increasing,” their top priority for 2016 is still to “reduce and avoid procurement costs.”
So decisions are made primarily on price, not on long-term suitability, knowledge of supply chain implications or exposure to risk. Is that the reality of business today? But whilst both of these surveys show the major focus on cost-cutting, procurement teams are struggling with organisational strategies and market risks are increasing.
But take heart that there are some great examples of small, medium and large businesses looking through their supply chains to redefine what best practice means to them. Sydney-based clothing label We Are Harper knows where everything is made, with products certified by the Fair Wear Foundation. Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) member Solopak has been examining every link in their supply chain, particularly around its Earth Renewable cleaning products. And Mirvac is forging ahead with Vendor Codes of Conduct, Procurement Policies and an annual Supplier Report. What can you can do right now? Well, start with three things:
Start asking questions about your supply chains. These can be simple, yes/no questions, or more complex ones.
Find out what you know and what you don’t know, and discover the amazing free and paid resources that already exist. The Supply Chain Sustainability School is one, providing free sustainability education online. The School gives you access to over 250 free resources, and you can complete a free and confidential self-assessment to identity your company’s strengths and weaknesses.
From there, you’ll be provided with a tailored action plan to help grow your knowledge and shift behaviours in areas that affect not only your supply chain, but your industry sector. You’ll be able to track your progress, receive the regular school newsletter, complete follow-up self-assessments, re-assess your action plan, provide feedback to the school on new topics you want to learn about, and attend free events run by the school and its partners.
There is also valuable information from agencies such as Sustainability Victoria who provide a range of services and advice and Construction Skills Queensland.
It’s time to verify your supply chain, and you can start by engaging with third party certification schemes that verify products and materials such as GECA orGreenTag GreenRate, finding out more about the Steel Stewardship Forum or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), or certifying your development using Green Star or infrastructure project using the Infrastructure Sustainability rating tool.
Depending on who we are, what we do, where we live and how we work, we might not have a whole lot of choices in our lives. But we can certainly start to make more active choices around the things we buy, the food we eat, the materials we use, and the purchases our organisation makes.
Can you look me in the face and tell me you know where the timber in your building came from? Can you assure me of the conditions within the factory where your shoes were made? Can you promise me that the water used in your production process was in line with your organisation’s environmental targets?
It’s time we took a closer look at the supply chains that get everything to us, from our morning coffee to our evening meal, and from the clothes on our back to the buildings and infrastructure that underpin our lives.
Media release – Wednesday 9th March 2016
NEW CEO TO LEAD AUSTRALIA’S SUPPLY CHAIN SUSTAINABILITY SCHOOL
An industry leader with extensive experience promoting sustainability in the built environment has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of Australia’s Supply Chain Sustainability School.
Robin Mellon, who was formerly Chief Operating Officer with the Green Building Council of Australia, has stepped into the new role with the aim of increasing supplier engagement on sustainability within the property, construction and infrastructure industries.
Launched in March 2015 with the support of key industry partners, the organisation builds on the success of the United Kingdom’s Sustainability School, established in 2012.
Co-Chair of the School and founding partner John Holland’s Manager for Sustainability, Renuka Sabaratnam, said appointing a ‘champion’ represents the next step in the School’s growth and evolution.
“Robin’s collaborative style and extensive networks will enhance our ability to work with both the public and private sectors to raise understanding of sustainability,” Renuka said.
Rod Petre, Co-Chair of the School and founding partner Mirvac’s Procurement Manager Construction, said Robin was selected for his reputation, industry knowledge, and broad experience working to educate the sector on best practice sustainable construction.
“Working with someone of Robin’s calibre will help us deepen the understanding of sustainability and create a ‘multiplier effect’,” Rod explained.
“As smaller companies increase their understanding of sustainability, project teams will benefit and be able to deliver better outcomes,” Rod concluded.
Robin said he is proud to be part of an industry-led initiative that unlocks the potential for so many organisations to create real value, providing free learning options for companies of every size.
“Sustainability offers great opportunities for us all – but we need to understand our supply chains better and realise we can’t address these issues alone. Bringing the best resources and tools together in one place to build everyone’s skills and knowledge from the fundamentals upwards is the fastest way for us to create the buildings, communities and infrastructure we need for a sustainable Australia,” Robin concluded.
Chief Executive Officer
Supply Chain Sustainability School
M: 0434 495 388
About Robin Mellon
Robin Mellon has combined his passion for the environment, qualifications in real estate and finance, and experience with heritage buildings to become one of Australia’s acknowledged experts on sustainability in the built environment. Robin has extensive experience working in both the private and public sectors, and has held senior positions within industry associations. As the former chief operating officer of the Green Building Council of Australia, Robin drove the adoption of the Green Star rating system for buildings and communities, and spearheaded government and international relations. As the chair of the World Green Building Council’s Asia Pacific Network, Robin helped other countries establish their own green building councils. An accomplished presenter, educator, awards judge and media commentator, Robin is determined to leave the planet in a better shape than it was when he found it.
About Australia’s Supply Chain Sustainability School
The Supply Chain Sustainability School was established in 2015 to increase sustainability knowledge and competency along the construction and infrastructure supply chains. With an emphasis on supporting small-to-medium enterprises, the School provides free e-learning, information and face-to-face training for construction and infrastructure suppliers, contractors and service providers. Companies signing up can access a wealth of free resources and tools to meet increasing sustainability demands and performance benchmarks, and to help build clever, collaborative and competitive construction and infrastructure sectors. www.supplychainschool.org.au
Read the media release on the School's website here: http://www.supplychainschool.org.au/about/news/73/NEW-CEO-TO-LEAD-AUSTRALIAS-SUPPLY-CHAIN-SUSTAINABILITY-SCHOOL
(An abridged version of this article first appeared online in The Fifth Estate on 10 December 2015)
This week I attended the inaugural ‘Purpose’ conference (7 & 8 December 2015, at and around the Eternity Playhouse in East Sydney www.purpose.do) – the creation of Wildwon’s Sally Hill and Yvonne Lee and their team – and learnt more, experienced more and was challenged more than at any other event I’ve attended recently.
The line-up of speakers included Powershop’s CEO Ben Burge, Adara’s CEO and Founder Audette Exel, KeepCup’s CEO and Founder Abigail Forsyth, Circular Economy Australia’s Founder Candice Quartermain, Etsy’s Managing Director Helen Souness, Sendle’s CEO and Founder James Moody, EY’s Managing Partner of Climate Change and Sustainability Services Matt Bell, and Bank Australia’s Managing Director Damien Walsh – amongst a multitude of stellar presenters, dreamers and visionaries. The all-inspiring, all-singing, all-quoting sustainability expert Matt Wicking acted as facilitator, and kept things on-time, on-point and on-message.
Many decades ago, the American industrialist Henry Ford noted that a business should be “an instrument of service rather than a machine for making money”, and the conference dialogue stayed around this theme; how best to manage a business with purpose, that looks after both its shareholders and its stakeholders, and that stays true to its values and objectives.
So what key points did I take home after two Purpose-ful days?
1. It’s all about the ‘why’ – businesses must be clear about who they are, what they do and, most importantly, why
It may seem obvious, but many organisations are clear about what they do then struggle to communicate why they do it. So strengthening the ‘why’, out of which can flow the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, is imperative. Matt Perry from Conscious Capitalism Australia was clear that “business success needs higher purpose, strong leadership, authentic culture and stakeholder engagement” and speaker after speaker confirmed that people everywhere are crying out for a different way of doing business; and the future success of business is going to come from humans, not technology alone.
That different way is not just purpose-driven, but sets out a vision of how we want things to be. Matt clarified that “As taxpayers, where do we want our money invested to create a better future? Subsidies shouldn’t be given to things that have no future.” Creativity expert Suzanne Boccalatte went on to explain that organisations should “put the purpose first and do the design and branding later, when the ‘why’ is totally clear”. Only then can your strategic directions be communicated.
2. Stay true to your purpose, even as things change around you
Organisations start, grow and evolve, but many forget about or overlook their purpose in their attempts to chase dollars, or simply get distracted by an ambitious strategic plan and lose sight of core values. Try to remember why the organisation exists. For example, Bank Australia exists to create mutual prosperity for their customers, not to ensure massive returns for shareholders; Managing Director Damien Walsh’s advice was to “be prepared for your purpose to change over time”, noting theirs altered considerably during their evolution. As Eleanor Glenn from Common Cause Australia added, “Lead with your purpose – the money is just an enabler – and strengthen your intrinsic values (and those of your customers) along the way.”
And don’t be afraid to learn from your mistakes (instead of just covering them up). As StartSomeGood’s CEO and Founder Tom Dawkins pointed out, “Success gives false learnings; you think you know why you succeeded but often you don’t. Failure can teach you so much.” Social Traders’ Head of Market Mark Daniels pointed out that, while working in a socially disadvantaged area of Melbourne, he’d learned “procurement is the greatest untapped tool for social change” and that management behaviours should learn to change with the business and the market.
3. Keep things personal – make sure your organisation’s values are truly in line with your own
This message was exciting to hear. Audette Excel reminded us that “you get to carve your own path if you decide you want to have a life with purpose” and to “be one hundred per cent yourself – stand in your own power and shine”. As she put it, confirming your organisation’s purpose often starts with “that scary moment when you step outside your own tribe and come face-to-face with your own prejudice”. Frightening but enlightening.
Hello Sunday Morning’s CEO Chris Raine said, “If you're at an organisation where you're not inspired by the purpose, you need to leave and find one where you are”, and this theme was echoed by many speakers and audience members alike; people want to be inspired by their work, not tolerate it. The ‘wealth’ aspect might seem daunting, but the ‘health’ benefits of an organisation with purpose and values in line with your own are clear.
As the Wildwon team pointed out, “business doesn’t have to be bullish, ‘blah’ and blue-suited … it can be hopeful and inspiring”. All of the “explorers and adventurers of this brave new world of business” who attended were reminded that they are “the future of business … surrounded by people breathing life back into the culture of companies, the character of ‘business’ and into our economy”. And that was, indeed, something to feel good about.
By the end of the first day, ‘#Purpose2015’ was trending at number one for Australia on Twitter, and the conversations around the gender-balanced audience and panels (a long time since I’ve seen both of those!) continued to reflect those bursts of inspiration that the speakers had stimulated.
From the beautifully laser-cut name tags to the elegantly lit fluffy white clouds hanging around the Eternity Playhouse, and from the stylish coffee cart right outside the venue to the signposts helping you find each location, the whole event was professionally curated and run not just with intent but with the determination to rub together the best minds in the business. Mission accomplished.
I will be there next year, KeepCup and values at the ready.
(N.B. If you're searching online for more information about the conference, please try not to confuse ‘Purpose 2015’ with the new Justin Bieber album. Whilst I’m sure the latter is just great, I did not spend two days listening to it but instead found my inspiration in the former.)
So tell me about YOUR purpose - are you clear why your business exists?
The Art Gallery of NSW was a great venue for last week’s Green Globe Awards 2015, with winners providing a dazzling display of some of the best in sustainability that NSW has to offer. But was this ‘just another awards night’ or can these accolades tell us something more?
As Chair of the three groups of expert judges once again, I had the honour of reading, assessing and discussing many of the submissions, and making recommendations about not just the winners but the ‘winners of winners’. And three things struck me:
1) As I noted in my opening remarks, there has been a lack of leadership at federal level in the sustainability space over recent years - although this is starting to change, with the appointment of Jamie Briggs as Australia’s first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, and Christopher Pyne’s move to the new position of Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, putting buildings and innovation firmly back on the agenda. However at state and local levels we have been seeing the emergence of true environmental leadership, from the guidance of Rob Stokes, now as NSW Minister for Planning, and Mark Speakman, who hosted the Awards, as NSW Minister for the Environment and Minister for Heritage. The NSW Sustainability Advantage program, the Action Matters campaign, and the Saving our Species program are all great example of leadership in action. And at local government level, it was wonderful to see councils from north to south as well as way inland demonstrate their dedication, from Lismore’s ‘A Model of Sustainability’ to the City of Sydney’s ‘Zero Waste Program’.
2) The sheer breadth of the initiatives entered into the Awards this year was amazing – from childcare facilities to university faculties, from food production to transport enterprises, from dust reduction efforts to manufacturing efficiencies, and from heritage buildings to major infrastructure projects. In particular, many of the winners showed how sustainability was part of their DNA, not something that they considered an ‘extra’. The Small Business and the Premier’s Award for Environmental Innovation winner (photo above) showed exactly that:
A family-owned small business based in Byron Bay, Brookfarm produces gourmet macadamia products for local and export markets. Brookfarm has made sustainability the cornerstone of its farm and bakehouse operations, the company's branding, growth and business success. Brookfarm has installed 288 solar panels on its bakehouse, has saved 160 kilolitres of water a year through harvesting and recycling of rainwater and, as part of its rainforest regeneration program, has planted more than 30,000 trees on the farm that have stored over 2,310 tonnes of carbon. The company has now reduced its waste per tonne of product by 25 per cent, increased its waste recycling by 23 per cent, is a pioneer of biological controls in macadamia farming and has eradicated or dramatically reduced chemical, pesticide and synthetic fertiliser use.
Don’t forget: this is a family-owned small business showing real leadership in NSW.
3) When you’ve got your head down, and you’re busy looking at your current strategy or the details of a particular project or both, it’s easy to forget just how many people are powering positive change across the state. Minister Speakman, as he thanked the judges and judging chairs for their efforts, noted that each of the judging chairs had probably taken a week of their time to assess, judge, discuss and recommend the entries - and I wouldn’t have changed a single minute of that time, as it is a unique way of seeing what people consider leadership, of finding out what innovation is approaching, and of seeing how many, many small efforts can amount to one huge difference here in NSW. So try to take a moment to keep your head up, read about some of the initiatives that have won awards, and see what you can learn about how buildings can be run, how businesses can succeed, how the environment can be protected, and how both individuals and international enterprises can improve.
My thanks to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) for running such a great awards program and an exhilarating awards night, and my congratulations to all of the finalists, highly commended entrants, and the winners. The work of the NSW OEH teams keeps the aim of the awards relevant, the dedication of the judges helps to select the cream of the crop, and continued collaboration with industry-leading and industry-benchmarking organisations such as the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) helps to support, connect and promote the Green Globe Awards.
Be proud of the leadership role that NSW is taking, and celebrate our sustainability successes!
By Tina Perinotto, published in The Fifth Estate, 20th August 2015
After eight-and-a-half years, Robin Mellon, the Green Building Council of Australia’s renowned chief operating officer, is heading off in a new direction.
First stop a long overseas sojourn in Sri Lanka to “see the elephants, the temples and the tea plantations, and do a lot of eating”, relaxing and to undertake a reboot. And then, who knows?
The Fifth Estate wagers he will land somewhere back in the industry, so deeply embedded does he seem to have become in the space.
But before Mellon can reset his internal computer, there’s a bit of defragging that needs to be carried out. Hence an exit interview to get a few things off his chest.
First, to be absolutely clear, now that he’s free from the constraints of the advocacy game, Mellon would like it known that he does not think much of this current federal government. It’s a “pathetic excuse” for leadership, he says. On climate, for example, the government simply “won’t take the lead”.
He says conservative British MP and former Environment Minister in the UK Lord Richard Benyon put it best recently when he said the Abbott government’s response to climate change was “incomprehensible” and “bewildering” (a sentiment the majority of Australian population seems to agree with, given recent opinion polls pointing to a surge in support for climate action).
“Abbott’s dismissal of climate science and his belief that Australia must choose between economic growth and tackling climate change speak to a distorted vision of what it means to be a conservative,” Benyon said.
“True conservative values include distaste for over-regulation and enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism. But they also include a respect for sound science and economics, a belief in protecting the natural world and a responsibility to do the best for the biggest possible number of one’s citizens.”
Mellon would have quite a deep understanding of conservative British politics, perhaps more than the avowedly Anglophillic Abbott could rightly lay claim to.
His background is as a valuer in the Department of Environment and Planning at the City of Westminster in London, marketing and property management at Woodhams London, and policy adviser for the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK, before moving to Australia fourteen years ago.
Mellon says Benyon is “as blue as they come”, and he’s nailed the issue.
The choice, Mellon says, is not between development and the environment.
“It’s not buildings or green buildings; it’s both. It’s about green building, a productive workforce and a sustainable economy. If you want to, say ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.”
The recent emissions reductions targets announced by the federal government were a “disappointing excuse for emissions reductions, making it 26-28 per cent by 2030 with Abbott’s ‘captain’s pick’ of 2005 when everyone else is at 2000 [levels] because that’s easier.
“When you couple that with the woeful emissions reductions fund, which frankly had nothing in it for buildings…” Mellon trails off.
The ERF could have been good for buildings, Mellon says.
Together with the weakness on same-sex marriage, it all adds up to more reason for people to ignore the federal government and simply “get on with it”, he says.
Certainly local councils are doing that.
Mellon says some are doing outstanding work.
“I take my hat off to them,” he says.
A recent workshop in Melbourne on resilience organised by the City of Melbourne’s new chief resilience officer Toby Kent, who is part funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Network, was particularly inspirational.
“Councils are leading the world, not just in Melbourne,” Mellon says.
In evidence, he says, was a load of commitment.
“Not just admiring the problem, but people putting things together, a spirit of collaboration that together we can achieve something much greater.”
Mellon also liked the broader sense of resilience in the discussion – a sense that a resilient community is critical to bouncing back after a disaster.
“Resilience, not just to floods and so on, but looking to having jobs, and residents and community in the future. It speaks to a better quality of life.”
Brisbane bounced back after devastating floods because it had a resilient community. In some places, such as the poorest parts of New Orleans, the community did not go back.
Mellon loves to visit places such as Gosnells in Western Australia and Melton in Melbourne where “world class buildings” such as civic centres, sports facilities, libraries and learning hubs have been developed by the local councils.
“The point is that Australian councils are really leading the charge now although I have no doubt the Abbott government would use these developments to say it means the market is working perfectly well without any intervention.”
What’s more important, he says, is that “any idiot” would look at these initiatives and say, “How do we create the best policies and market conditions to foster them and spread them around the country?”
There’s another issue he wants to bring up, and that’s the unintended consequence of success of the green building and sustainability sectors.
It’s around the fragmentation that’s happened with a growing host of organisations setting up and competing for the same space.
The industry, Mellon says, “will probably not sustain many more of these organisations.
“It’s not that the GBCA is an early mover and everyone should support the GBCA. But I see more fragmentation. There is a limit to the size of the market.”
If there are 200 organisations all after the same members, and all after the same pot of sponsorship, it’s going to be harder to make progress as a whole.
The answer, he says, is greater collaboration. If organisations are aligned then maybe they should start to work together instead of working on their own small patch.
The fallout is a waste of people’s energy, goodwill and trust.
Division may be what a very conservative federal government is going to rely on.
“I’ve never been prouder of Australia… as when the built environment put in one submission to the Emissions Reduction Fund” under the banner of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council.
For the GBCA the path is inevitably one of greater collaboration – with other ratings systems such as Living Building Challenge, WELL and One Planet Living. Each has their own emphasis and part to play, he says.
And on the subject of ratings, Mellon is keen to say how important it is to keep pushing the ratings agenda.
If you design and build to GS standards, he says, “then prove it, otherwise you won’t be believed.”
He thinks verified ratings will be the future, countering the trend for companies to claim they’ve built to GS standards but have saved themselves the expense of official ratings.
In the future we will have more ratings, across a greater range of products, he says. You can already see the strong makings of this trend in third party certification for items such as furniture that is “mainstreaming” sustainability, he says.
As evidence, he points to IKEA, which now claims it will make its entire supply chain green. This means green products will be making their way “through to everyone’s living room”.
Besides, having the ratings is a way to stop accusations of greenwash that can emerge very quickly with items that are not rated.
What about the opposite – having a green building and not promoting your green credentials? This has been a trend picked up by people such as Danielle King of Green Moves Australia in an article penned for The Fifth Estate, There’s great value in green credentials, so why are commercial agents so shy?
That’s changing, Mellon says. Marketing for homes and communities are starting to show Green Star ratings in the collateral, often with descriptors of what a 6 Star Communities rating means, for instance.
What about his move then? We know it’s come about because of restructuring within the organisation.
Mellon totally endorses the evolution of the GBCA.
“Every business goes through a period of reflection and reassessment.”
He thinks what will happen is that the GBCA will increasingly turn outwards. He hopes the industry and aligned interest groups will do the same and be part of greater collaboration.
“Not just in Australia but internationally” in order to achieve greater objectives.
The GBCA is very well positioned for the next stage, he says. It’s strong financially, it’s got good transparency, it’s taking aboard feedback and it’s got good governance.
In fact, “some of the best governance I’ve seen in any organisation,” Mellon says.
That’s an attribute that Mellon has clearly had a role in creating, judging by the comments from industry observers hearing about his departure. And partly the restructure is a function of the leaner more efficient organisation that chief executive Romilly Madew recently cited after the departure was announced.
And that’s not a bad juncture to sign out on.
In late May, the Australian Government released the Infrastructure Australia Audit, which explores how the nation will cope with an expected population of 30.5 million by 2031.
The audit underscores the importance of making our cities work. Cities are expected to contribute $1.6 trillion to the economy by 2031 – a 90 per cent increase on their current input.
The audit also gives us a clear picture of the future we face if we don’t get serious about sustainability, with skyrocketing congestion costs, high emissions and rising inequality just the start.
Over the last year, the Green Building Council of Australia has brought together some of the nation’s ‘city builders’, along with industry leaders and policy makers, for a series of forums which tackle the big question: what makes a city great?
In Sydney, Lord Mayor Clover Moore is proud of the City of Sydney’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution through green retrofits, with vast reductions in energy usage achieved through the installation of solar arrays and efficient LED streetlights, and thousands of square metres of green walls and roof space that is improving air quality across the city.
“Great cities don’t come by accident,” Moore said. “They emerge through choices we make and the commitment we bring to ensuring they are sustainable, equitable, inclusive, stimulating and beautiful.”
In Melbourne, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is leading an ambitious Urban Forest Strategy – a plan to increase urban canopy cover from 22 per cent to 40 per cent by 2040. Significant investment in street furniture and paving for footpaths and streets is also helping to enhance the pedestrian experience of Melbournians. Doyle argues that “making our city more sustainable is directly connected with our future prosperity.”
In Brisbane, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk is looking at centralisation.
“As our cities grow up and become more dense, we need to embrace opportunities for centralisation - cooling, water, waste, energy,” he explained. “Great cities must also prioritise all four modes of transport – public, pedestrian, cycling and cars – rather than prioritising one at the expense of all others.”
The federal member for Perth and former WA Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, stressed that the design and quality of the buildings within our cities would dictate their future success.
“There is a balance we need to achieve between planning regulation and best practice development that will ensure our buildings, streets and open spaces make up a real community and not just a collection of separate assets,” she said.
Great work is being undertaken all over the country, yet all of the leaders highlighted the need for a truly holistic approach to sustainable development in our cities. They also emphasised the importance of creating community within our urban areas.
As federal member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt eloquently put it, “Great cities need to be designed by and for the people that actually live in them, not just by committees or ‘ministers on high’ far removed from the effects of what they do. There needs to be control over density and assurances that what actually gets built is appropriate; so that it benefits the many not just the few.”
His comment are reminder of the risks we face in our quest to make our cities both green and great.
The first is the risk of diminished or conditional access. How do we ensure that sustainable cities and their benefits don’t become the exclusive privilege of the wealthy?
Enhancing the efficiency of our existing residential developments, and encouraging people to think beyond the ‘quarter acre block’ is a good start. The City of Sydney’s Smart Green Apartments program and the City of Melbourne’s Smart Blocks initiative both aim to make existing residential buildings more cost-effective and efficient while minimising their environmental impacts.
Another risk for great green cities is our narrow focus of investment. The majority of our Green Star-rated buildings are within in the office sector. While nobody would argue that green offices are a bad thing, creating truly sustainable cities demands green buildings outside office hours. But this is changing; we now have more than 100 Green Star-rated university and school projects, 40 multi-unit residential developments and five community developments - some that will one day have their own postcodes and be home to many thousands of people.
A third risk is disconnected decision-making. We need more connected thinking and a consistent, collaborative approach to city development. The Green Building Council of Australia believes a Minister for Cities would ensure a more integrated approach to the planning and delivery of critical infrastructure for our economic powerhouses, and drive the reforms needed to connect policies and programs across all levels of government.
As our population grows, our nation is changing. We must accept this reality, and embrace the opportunities that bigger cities present. Doing nothing will cost more than the $53 billion annual congestion price tag outlined in the Infrastructure Australia Audit. Doing nothing will mean cities that are less liveable, less productive and less sustainable for all of us.
Our cities are more than a collection of buildings – they are the engine rooms of our nation’s productivity, prosperity and future potential. As Bandt said, “we don't just build buildings, we create communities.”
Resilience – the capacity of people, communities and systems to survive, adapt and recover from anything on a spectrum from slow change to major disasters – is not something innate.
We aren’t simply born resilient. We learn resilience.
Resilience reflects a community’s ability to persevere in the face of change, and to learn from the past to strengthen the future. Resilience is a critical characteristic of any 21st century city – whether it’s Detroit facing bankruptcy, Venice coping with rising tides, Rockhampton mopping up after floods or Lagos addressing an exploding population.
The Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program has recently awarded its second round of grants to cities that have “demonstrated a dedicated commitment to building their own capacities to prepare for, withstand, and bounce back rapidly from shocks and stresses.” The Foundation's support includes funds for a “chief resilience officer” in each city, as well as assistance in the development of a resilience plan.
The cities currently being supported range from financially-stricken Athens to flood-prone Bangkok, and from the sprawling megapolis of Mexico City to the socially-inequitable Accra in Ghana. Sydney and Melbourne are also in the mix, and the City of Melbourne has recently appointed its own Chief Resilience Officer, Toby Kent.
The idea is to help cities become more resilient – and to share their lessons with other cities around the world.
However, there is no faster way to learn about resilience than to face the full impact of climate change – as cities and communities around Australia know well.
Rob Whelan, executive director and CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia, captivated the audience at Green Cities 2015 in March when he presented charts illustrating the accelerating costs of natural catastrophes in Australia. Two things are driving what Whelan called the “inexorable climb” in insurance costs – extreme weather events from climate change and population growth.
“The risks from climate change are exacerbated by socio-demographic factors such as population growth and the rise of mega cities,” Whelan said. “Within 25 years’ time, more than half the world’s population is expected to live within 100km of the coast – and sea levels are rising fast. That’s potential five billion people in harm’s way.”
Whelan said the vast majority of those in the insurance industry are convinced that climate change is “a real and present danger.”
“These events are significant, they are impacting the economy, they are impacting communities, and we need to address that here and now,” he said.
In Australia, the cost of extreme weather events will be $25 billion a year by 2050, according to Deloitte Access Economics. Queensland has been bearing the brunt of these extreme weather events, and has the insurance bills to match. Whelan pointed out that the federal government’s proposal to further develop Northern Australia – right in the pathway of the nation’s most intense cyclones – must consider adaptation and resilience from the outset.
“If we are going to live in these places, we need to build for them,” he said emphatically.
According to Catherine Carter, the Property Council’s ACT executive director, planning for the future requires buildings that are not only resilient to climate change, but also adaptable to changing community needs.
“We need to build with flexibility in mind, so that we can transform offices into apartments, or hotels into art galleries when we need to. The evolution of workplaces has radically altered the way we build offices, and our communities are changing as more people embrace apartment living. Who would have thought to integrate a childcare centre in an office in 1970? We can’t predict where we’ll be in 40 years – so we need buildings that can adapt,” Carter said.
Lend Lease recently launched its Climate Change Adaptation and Community Resilience report for Barangaroo South, which outlines the climate change effects that are likely to affect the $1.2 billion precinct. Lend Lease has adapted the design of Barangaroo South to mitigate these impacts.
An expected increase in the number of extreme heat days, for instance, is being addressed by the selection of materials along boardwalks with a high solar reflectance index. Public realm areas have been modelled for sunlight exposure and wind movement to find the balance between winter and summer comfort, with tree-lined promenades, street awnings and drinking water fountains being integrated into the design.
Stormwater infrastructure has been upgraded and building facades have been designed to withstand intense storms and winds, while the ground plane was raised to address sea level rises of 0.9 metres, the level predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Lend Lease is building a community – one that will be the workplace of a third of Sydney’s CBD and home to 2,000 residents – to stand the test of time.
“We need to create frameworks that help our communities adapt and be resilient," said Anita Mitchell, Lend Lease’s general manager of sustainability for Barangaroo. "We need to embrace innovation and think through how we design and build in a changing world.”
So if change is the only constant, it is best we learn to be resilient to the changes that will be happening around us, our families, our businesses and our communities.
Robin Mellon is one of Australia’s experts on sustainability in the built environment and is determined to leave the planet in a better shape than it was when he found it. Robin believes in a Better Sydney – better buildings, better communities and a better quality of life.