Looking good, doing better: men’s fashion with ethics, style & sustainability
Recently I chatted with Kevin Harper, founder and manager of clothing label We Are Harper, about what he’s trying to do with his urban brand of menswear. Though I’ve known Kevin for around fifteen years, his new venture covers a number of social, economic and environmental objectives we’re seeing become more prominent in the media. As the Harper website says, “each time you spend money, you cast a vote for the type of society you want to live in. What you buy, and from whom, is a marker of the value you place on equality and self-determination.”
Kevin grew up around Sydney’s Northern Beaches and, whilst he’s always been passionate about fitness, swimming and the outdoors, he initially took the traditional path of university, degree and a position within risk management and the business sector. Working in a highly corporate environment brought home to him that the purpose of most businesses was simply to make money. It wasn’t until he was made redundant that he realised that what would make him happiest would be doing his own thing; starting a business in line with his own values.
As I mentioned in my ‘Purpose 2015’ review, 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 yet businesses with real purpose seem to be few and far between. We Are Harper seems to be one of those rarities; an organisation with great style, true purpose, and a determination to tread lightly, live consciously and spread the word.
The range of men’s clothing from We Are Harper includes soft, bamboo-cotton T-shirts in a range of colours, stylish black and white tank tops or racer-back tops, and baseball caps; all are beautifully made and available online. I say this not to advertise particular products, but because it’s great to see a slowly-growing range of high-quality products that someone has sourced ethically, thinking about every step in the supply chain from raw materials to production to transport and, in fact, right through to end-of-life when clothing might be recycled or simply composted.
All of the Harper range feature the small red heart logo, since to Kevin “wearing your heart on your sleeve signifies that you value quality, comfortable products that respect the communities we operate in and the planet we all share.”
Kevin is a passionate advocate for conscious living or, in other words, not just accepting what’s in front of us but being aware of the impacts and consequences of the choices we make, whether it’s the coffee we buy, our preferred method of transport, or the clothes we wear. “Good value doesn’t necessarily equate with cheap”, he explains. “Good value is well-made and should last. Cheap clothing may mean you end up buying the same thing several times over because the original fails, and often things are ‘cheap’ because someone, somewhere is working obscene hours in terrible conditions,” Kevin concludes.
The Harper shirts are certified by the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF), an independent, non-profit organisation that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers. To be affiliated with the FWF manufacturers must comply with the eight labour standards that form the core of the Code of Labour Practices, including no child labour, living wages and freedom of association. Although Kevin looked at having shirts made in Australia, he says pragmatically that “high labour charges mean they wouldn’t be affordable for most people, so for now it's best to use certified quality manufacturers overseas to give us a level of certainty about the impacts and conditions throughout production.”
Kevin loves the feel of the shirts, saying that they are “way softer than regular cotton, and the anti-bacterial nature of the material helps reduce odour”. The first range of T-shirts is 70% bamboo and 30% organic cotton. Kevin explains that bamboo “is technically a grass and the fastest growing plant in the world, takes up less space than other crops, doesn’t require fertilisers, absorbs more carbon dioxide and uses way less water and much less land to produce.”
What does the future hold? Well, next steps include combining the existing range of new clothing with some recycled, vintage styles. Positioning ‘pre-loved’ alongside new clothing will encourage the conversation about not having to buy new all the time – if it looks good and feels great then it shouldn’t matter whether the product is ten years old or ten weeks old. Beyond that, Kevin want to explore themes of life and leisure, perhaps with homewares and furnishings that have responsible, ethical supply chains.
So, what are you waiting for, guys (and gals)? Have a look at the We Are Harper site, examine their ethical, social and environmental objectives, decide to make more conscious decisions about the products you purchase, and look good wearing your (very stylish) heart on your sleeve!
Published first online in Sourceable, 16 March 2016: https://sourceable.net/think-you-know-how-to-collaborate/#
As the cycles of development, disruption and innovation seem to spin ever-faster, we are told more and more about the need to collaborate. Put simply, that would mean ‘working together’. But is that still enough, or does effective collaboration need more finesse, more fluidity and more focus?
In his first statement after being elected Liberal leader, Prime Minister Turnbull urged Australians to embrace disruption, saying “the Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative. We can’t be defensive, we can’t future-proof ourselves. We have to recognise that the disruption we see driven by technology, the volatility in change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.” I’d suggest that now is the time to be truly agile, and disrupt not just our thinking but the ways we collaborate.
The recent SustainAbility report, Orchestrating Change: Catalysing the Next Generation of Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration for Sustainability, examines the role that collaboration has played in the sustainability movement, asks how far and how fast collaboration can take us, and looks at how collaboration must change to succeed across multi-stakeholder initiatives and universal challenges.
This excellent report reminds us that “a favourite slogan of climate change activists in 2014-15 captures the current mood: To change everything, we need everyone” and that “with the recent arrival of the UN’s ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement on climate change, demands for and expectations of such collaboration are rising still more”. It clarifies that “a new generation of collaboration needs to be aligned, diverse, fluid, networked, transformative and temporary”. I couldn’t agree more; we need to examine how we are collaborating, not just whether we are collaborating.
Firstly, collaboration should be a coming-together of minds, but not always the same minds; diversity is key if we are to address familiar themes in different ways. I’m a big fan of The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concepts, and Cultures, a 2004 book written by entrepreneur Frans Johansson, that uses the term ‘The Medici Effect’ to describe the innovation that occurs when different disciplines and ideas come together.
The title refers to the Medici dynasty, a wealthy 15th-18th century Italian family whose support of painters, poets, philanthropists, physicians and philosophers helped shape innovation and lead to the Renaissance. The book explores the contributions of disruptive and unexpected innovations from people without particular acquaintance of a sector. Maybe it’s time to stop talking to the same people about the same things and expecting different outcomes, and start mixing things up a bit; recent biomimicry-inspired innovations show what’s possible when different minds come together.
Secondly, introverts and extroverts both have a place within the process of collaboration, even though they develop and communicate ideas differently. A recent Economist article, The Collaboration Curse, asked whether “the fashion for making employees collaborate has gone too far”. Whilst “the point of organisations is that people can achieve things collectively that they cannot achieve individually”, the article notes that “the cult of collaboration has reached its peak in the very arena where the value of uninterrupted concentration is at its height: knowledge work”. I’m a firm believer that collaboration is valuable, but that it should not make ‘deep work’ (or as Professor Cal Newport puts it, “the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task”) impossible. Time to think is becoming a rarity amidst the push to collaborate in meetings, on calls and by e-mail.
Thirdly, real collaboration between organisations is vital; not just polite workshops at which we all admire the problem and then continue with our own work, but opportunities to challenge each other’s preconceptions, plans and purpose, especially when there is a strong business case for doing so. I’ve recently been hearing the word ‘coopetition’ used in meetings (a mash-up of ‘co-operative competition’), indicating collaboration between business competitors in the hope of mutually beneficial results. We need much more of this; to change everything we need everyone, after all. But as I’ve pointed out before, there’s been a splintering of the sustainability sector over the past decade, with multiple small agencies all moving in a similar direction but almost determined not to collaborate in case such a thing led to amalgamations (and no, I’m not commenting on NSW local governments here). Organisations, alliances and industries must evolve with the problems they are trying to tackle. The SustainAbility report mentioned earlier warns us to “balance growth in the total number of initiatives against the scope and potential impact that any one can have”.
Lastly, if the way in which we work is changing, then the work environment is certainly looking different. Flexible working arrangements, the ‘age of everywhere’ and activity-based workplaces can all facilitate collaboration, so we must learn to balance the work we do best alone and the work which benefits from a meeting of minds. Australia’s green building industry has already made amazing progress by collaborating, often about the very buildings they occupy.
The oft-quoted African proverb ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together’ was explored in Romilly Madew’s recent lead article in the GBCA’s Green Building Voice, in which she stated that Australia’s green building industry has reached spectacular heights “by testing ideas, taking risks, mastering new skills, embracing new thinking, challenging the status quo and by working together”. This progress (fast AND far) has involved both energetic collaboration and physical change to our built environment, and is to be encouraged.
In conclusion, we already have the collective knowledge to overcome so many of our current obstacles. We must remember that, whilst valuable, collaboration should not be undertaken at the expense of individual focus, and that collaboration is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
Do you agree? I’d welcome your comments on how you collaborate best …
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.
Much as it would be lovely to have an unlimited credit card and bottomless pockets (that's not a fashion thing, trust me, it's a financial limitation), I recognise that we cannot all rush out and buy an entire new wardrobe each month. However, the principle of buying one or two good suits each year, especially from a good designer or tailor round (and around the sales), will help you build up a good selection in time.
One of my Sydney favourites when it comes to look AND affordability is Brent Wilson. Again, I've bought one suit a year from him over the past six years, and they're all really different - different weights, different fabrics, different colours and very different styles. Refreshingly, at Brent Wilson you can buy a second pair of trousers when you buy a suit, meaning not just that you'll get a bit more wear out of the suit but that if you're travelling for a few days you'll have a freshly-pressed pair of trousers to keep you looking sharp (even if you're tired and cranky you can still look good!).
Brent seems to be making it into the bigtime now, dressing celebrities like PRINCE, and appearing in his own regular photoshoots (honestly, put some clothes ON sometimes, would you - you're really showing some of us up!) - but his stores and his lines are still accessible and affordable. Best of all, he’s got everything from conservative jackets and suits (best for government meetings or performance reviews) to glorious modern plays on traditional styles with great colours and patterns. In the photo I’m wearing one of Brent’s blue windowpane three piece suits – and I love it. Go have a look at his work . . .
In an earlier post, I mentioned Billy Wood, the self-styled 'Head Honcho' of Woody Roo. I first met Billy in the Bondi Markets one Sunday a year or two back, and was taken by his traditional styling with modern flair, great materials and quirky touches such as jacket linings, pocket squares and shirt-and-tie combos made from the same material (which I happen to love, despite knowing what some of my colleagues think!).
For me, it's the sustainability angle of his designs and clothing that really fascinates me. As his website states:
"WoodyRoo is proud to have every piece crafted in Sydney by Australian hearts and hands. Being 100% Australian made is a huge part of what the label is about. Premium fabrics have been sourced from around the world, including superfine Australian wool suiting sourced from the grazing pastures of New South Wales, Japanese cotton drills, linens, and Italian shirting. WoodyRoo's work is full of pride knowing that the gentleman lives… ". My friend Lisa Heinze, author of 'Sustainability with Style' looks at issues of product, provenance and proof in her book, so it's good to be able to walk the talk just a little bit.
Wearing an Australian-crafted suit to represent the Australian green building industry whilst overseas gives me great pride - and they look awesome, too. I've got suits made by Billy in light tan, dark green and navy blue, and ties in pretty much every shade under the sun. Love good suiting, love locally made products, love old styled new!
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.