Update from Alex: Two days of disruption

29 March 2016

Last week I was immersed in the future – at Green Cities, the Green Building Council of Australia’s annual sustainability conference for the built environment.

It started with a bang: Australia’s PM, Malcolm Turnbull, spoke and was firmly behind the sustainability of cities and their importance to the nation’s future. The recent creation of a Minister for Cities, strong support for mass transit (which is a U-turn from the previous leader), and a clear indication that sustainability and liveability of urban areas are critical priorities – this certainly indicates that Australia’s new leader is politically astute, focused on the longer term and ready to meet the challenge.

The theme of this year’s conference, now in its 10th year, was disruption. Challenge, innovation, agitation and a strong dose of collaboration underpinned a packed programme. Senior industry and Government officials pushed to get their point across in five minutes, audiences asked difficult questions at the Q&A sessions, and some ‘off the wall’ ideas made for a thought-provoking, entertaining and enlightening two days. Highlights included:

  • A collision of private and public commitment to sustainable cities: “Wellbeing is becoming central to the planning of our urban areas” from Dexus; “Really thoughtful, conscious urban design” plans from Rob Stokes, NSW Planning Minister; and the idea that energy systems need to rapidly catch up and decentralise to serve urban areas.
  • "Singapore, already known for its advanced attitude to sustainability, is embedding both sustainability frameworks and smart-city frameworks during Government planning of whole towns" – Dr Cheong Koon Hean, Chief Executive Officer of Housing & Development Board in the Singapore Government.
  • There’s a “wall of capital” ready to invest in easy, non-risky and replicable projects underpinned by sustainability, said Cath Bremner, Head of Sustainable Finance at ANZ. She also said the market potential for green bonds is $41bn in Australian cities alone.
  • A need to increase the creative use of ‘idling’ infrastructure and buildings, such as ‘The Stub’ (an abandoned fragment of Sydney CBD’s road infrastructure) for social enterprise.
  • The internet of things has prompted a “massive transformation” in the building and construction sector, said Deb Noller of Switch Automation, and “big data is shaping the performance of buildings, but after successful CBD disclosure in Australia, they are looking for the next transformation”.
  • Which country is doing the best in terms of sustainability? Tai Lee Siang (of Singapore’s Ong & Ong and also incoming Chair of the World Green Building Council) named Japan: despite the difficulties of building sustainable cities in such a short time (since WWII), “Japan’s culture of sustainability is in-built over generations and forms a strong foundation for resilience and change”.
  • “We need smart metropolitan governance and greater collaboration across government departments and agencies.” – Lucy Turnbull, Chief Commissioner of the Greater Sydney Commission focusing on her new role overseeing Sydney’s planning.
  • The way we think about districts is changing: Rob Naylor from Veolia stated that “districts are not defined by local authority boundaries, but are motivated by synergistic opportunities, and turnkey diagnostics and analytics support different ways to operate, through sharing and collaborating and provoking across buildings”.
  • Place activation, the next step after place-making, has changed how students respond at Curtin University in Western Australia.
  • Affordability is a fairy-tale, most housing will be owned by housing corporations… and the Insurance Council of Australia has commissioned a resilience rating tool for residential buildings.

Inspiring stuff! This is a chance to integrate the best of what others are doing into NZGBC’s work. Watch this space…