Jane Henley back in town. Green building past, present and future

04 February 2019

by Joanne Duggan, NZGBC

As we are moving into a bold new year in 2019, touching base with Jane Henley, the inaugural CEO of the New Zealand Green Building Council was just meant to be.

Jane was travelling home on a personal trip for Christmas, so we grabbed the opportunity to sit down with her. Enthusiastically she gave up her time to meet with us and some of our wonderful members between her already busy schedule.

The New Zealand Green Building Council started back in 2005, in a bold move by the industry to improve the quality of our built environment. Organisations such as Property Council, BRANZ and SBN were instrumental in these early days.

Jill Solomon, our Operations Director, is the only surviving employee since Jane led those initial years, so for the wider team, it was refreshing and inspiring to hear stories from the early years - stories of the people and industry groups that set us up, providing the platform of where we are today.

Jane was appointed CEO by this early group of people and set the challenge of founding the organisation. She set about getting people together, and creating a passionate network, one of the most powerful tools we have today.

A lot of you reading this will remember those early days, Jane working with the early adopters and creating a network, getting everyone under the NZGBC umbrella, and embarking on a crucial five city roadshow, championing collaboration, talking to the best of the best, sharing knowledge and experiences. The decision was also made to adapt the Australian Green Star tool for Aotearoa. It made sense.

Neil Purdie, with Aurecon at the time, recalled working on the Landcare Research building well before Green Star. Looking around for something better than our poor building code, and wanting to engage in a more collaborative approach. He recalls generally people not talking to each other. But, when Green Star was introduced it brought the industry together, creating a common language, where previously, people just didn’t get it.

It changed the way people worked and communicated. Adapting Green Star to NZ was incredibly productive, the first version of the Green Star tool worked brilliantly and became the guide. Neil believes the social benefit created by the Green Building Council has just been enormous, especially in terms of the community. There‘s nobody in the mainstream construction industry that doesn’t understand it now, and if they don’t, they are pretty much on the margins.

Jane moved on from the New Zealand Green Building Council to become the World Green Building Council CEO. Jane is now based in Washington DC working for the World Bank as Global Operations Manager – Green Building Programmes. These days, she is meeting with the likes of big global building owners, who state “buying any certified building reduces their due diligence by around 200K, so if there’s a decision to be made, choosing between buildings already certified and those that are not, it’s a no brainer, they choose the certified building every time”. Her work is in developing countries, it’s here where 80% of construction around the world is currently happening.

One of her motivations to this move, was she felt green buildings weren’t connected to the finance industry enough. She thought that was a gap and wanted to jump in that gap. She’s hoping to see a lot more action in this area over the next five years and is encouraged to hear of movements in New Zealand towards this. She was also excited to hear of the governments Kiwibuild programme, in every country she works in, there are initiatives like this, initiatives that are hugely important. However, she does think it will change and diversify over time.

Jane was excited to see the work we are doing in the residential space. It’s got to be about people. She believes, the more you can translate it into something people can relate to, the better. We must have the people side of what we do, it provides connection to the community and why we are here.

Jane challenged us, and herself, about how broad we go. She has learnt that we need to stay focused on why people do things. It’s really easy to get caught up in stuff. It’s really important to put yourself in other people shoes, it’s something we don’t do enough of. The more we go to the why, where does the demand come from? And why would someone make that decision? It clarifies our thinking a little bit more.

She’s learnt from working with leading developers in different countries, the biggest impact we could have is to get all the people in the room, all together, making the design and build process more collaborative, and getting the disjointed construction industry to work together.

It was nice to stop and reflect on all that’s been achieved. Neil Purdie, now with Southern Cross Hospitals, believes we haven’t given ourselves enough credit for driving change. Improvements in buildings now have happened as a result of Green Star, what was uncommon has now become common, with changes in building specification now often standard.

Jane believes that what’s unique to Aotearoa, is that we are small, we can move really quickly, we can change quickly, focussing on being really smart about who we want to be We are older now, we can be who we need to be, and, more importantly what the market needs, and what kiwis need.

We’ve grown up a lot since 2005, and we need to be even bolder to move forward. We know those who choose to simply forget the past miss out on achieving their fullest potential. So much has been achieved, providing strong foundations for taking the next steps, ensuring we are constantly raising the standards of buildings and homes in our beautiful county.

“You have to know the past to understand the present.” – Carl Sagan, scientist

Watch out 2019! #BeBoldNZ

Image credit: International Finance Corporation