What we learnt at Green Cities 2018.

What is the potential for the property and construction sector to deliver us a cleaner, greener world? A built environment that uses less energy, and makes clean energy; one where people live well, one that promotes good health; that makes sustainable living easy.

These were some of the theme’s explored by leaders across Australia’s development sector, politicians of all persuasions and levels of government, campaigners of progress and others at Green Cities 2018: Australia’s largest and most comprehensive sustainability conference for the built environment delivered by the Property Council of Australia and the Green Building Council of Australia.

Let’s dive into our 5 biggest takeaways from Green Cities 2018.

Energy is shifting

While it might be no surprise that coal and gas are economically unviable, are destroying our environment and are widely disapproved of by the public, debate continues to rage as to what happens next. Ross Garnaut from solar and battery storage company Zen Energy sees a future beyond wind and solar farms. As the world is on its way to energy consumption with zero net emissions, hydrogen is set to become a major source of energy. South Australia already has a tender in place for 6 hydrogen fuel cells, and CSIRO last year invested majorly into hydrogen energy research. While it sounds like a technologically complicated process, hydrogen energy production emits only oxygen and water. Some very manageable bi-products that don’t clog up our atmosphere, hooray!

Australia is well behind

I know this, you know this, does the government know this? Whether they or not they do, is up for debate, but one thing is for sure – industry is charging forward alone to bridge the renewables gap caused by years of apathy in the halls of pariliament. Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Mark Butler gave us the latest on Australia’s progress. In 2013 the UK introduced a price on carbon; recent mapping based on the current carbon price floor places the decrease in its carbon emissions at 61% by 2030. By comparison, on our current trajectory, Australia is set to decrease our emissions by just 5%, despite the government promising a 25% reduction. Butler also discussed that under the current construction codes, new buildings in Australia will be on average 20% less efficient than new buildings in China and the US. Meanwhile, Managing Director of Stockland Mark Steinert discussed the property giant’s intentions to begin the largest property solar installation in the southern hemisphere, investing $25m in rooftop installation across their buildings, to provide 25% of their power.

Investors are diving deeper

Gone are the days where investors want to see just your charts and graphs; ‘Driving Ethical Investment Beyond the Boardroom’ taught us that there are now a few more factors to take into consideration. The Investor Agenda provides guidance to investors worldwide, on how to ensure their investments are future proof and working towards the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement. Emma Herd from the Investor Group on Climate Change disclosed that now more than ever, investors are mobilising around global climate change policy and are demanding full disclosure from companies about the true impact they’re having or creating, on the environment. Herry Cho, ING Bank’s Head of Sustainable Finance for the Asia Pacific said that yes, it’s great you’ve made a commitment to combating climate change, but investors want to see you actually investing capital into this goal. Green bonds are now on the rise to hold businesses accountable.

It’s time to stop saying the s-word

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘sustainability’? According to Tim Gartrell, the mastermind behind the Kevin ‘07 and Australian Marriage Equality campaigns, for most people it’s not much. Sustainability, much like the words ‘eco’, ‘green’ and ‘recyclable’, according to Gartrell and his peers’ research leaves consumers feeling dazed and confused by its vagueness and overuse. What does sustainability really mean? Quite literally, it’s an ability to sustain the current state. But if we look at how things are currently going in our environment, this isn’t really our ambition. So how do we (as the session was titled) ‘win hearts and minds’? Gartrell says it’s by framing stories and narratives that people can digest and take action on. We need to reassess the power of the word ‘sustainability’ and find a way to reach people that can really cut through. As for what that is? Watch this space.

Green buildings mean more than you think

Often when we see pictures of ‘green buildings’, we see greened rooftops, solar panels and wooden surfaces — but there’s a lot more to Australia’s largest industry, and it’s quest to shift from carbon emitter to a carbon “capturer”. Romily Madew, CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia proclaimed: “zero carbon is coming, don’t be afraid”, as property industry leaders listened on. Panels discussed the importance of health promotion through green infrastructure, heightening awareness that the places we spend our time in have the ability to improve public health. The International WELL Building Institute is certifying buildings globally, based on their ability to do just this. Investors and leaders discussed the role of private developers in making sustainable design decisions and the clear return on investment from building environmentally conscious buildings. Sustainable construction supply chains are now a large consideration, and ‘green steel’ was cited as a key material and emerging industry in Australia. These discussions supported a key point from the conference: that we are shifting from looking at ‘green buildings’ to looking at a green built environment, from top to bottom. It’s an exciting time for property.

Green Cities 2018 was full of ideas, conversations and pledges for the future of our environment. We learnt a lot and can’t wait to continue working with leaders in the energy, property and environment sectors.

Talk to us about sharing the story of your green development, green city or green world.