Transform. Urgency, trust and collaboration. E waka eke noa.

02 April 2019

Be warned, it was a week of incredible transformation and it’s been hard to keep the words off the pageIt's a long read.

by Joanne Duggan, NZGBC

Just days after Aotearoa had been changed forever, here I was in Sydney attending a conference titled ‘Transform’ alongside fellow Kiwis and New Zealand Green Building Council whānau, Warner Brunton from Mott Macdonald, Fiona Short from Warren and Mahoney and Barbara Nebel from Thinkstep.


Fiona Short, Warren and Mahoney


So many words mirroring what I could feel from home, take the lead and then help others to follow. It is urgent we must act swiftly, do so with strength but show compassion, be respectful and collaborate. Reach out to others, build partnerships, we need to look at people differently and work together.

There was a definite energy in the room as three key themes emerged: Urgency, Build Trust and Collaboration. The urgency in action, building trust with transparency and ethics at the heart of what we do, and finally create lasting change through collaboration and partnerships.

Professor John Thwaites, Chair, ClimateWorks Australia opened the conference posing the question - What are the big transformations that are needed to meet our goals by 2030?

Professor John Thwaites, ClimateWorks Australia

Urgency “It's an honour to be here, now let's get to work!" - Gabriel Taylor 

The undercurrent of the sessions and many conversations was around a growing sense of urgency and action. The effects of climate change on our landscapes, economies, businesses, and lifestyles are no longer “if and when” but “now and how”. The challenge ahead can seem so large we might feel despondent – even as we are taking many strides forward.

Investa’s Nina James buoyed the audience as she unpacked the shift in investor sentiment. “The conversation on sustainability has become financial. When the money moves, everyone moves,” she said.

It was refreshing to hear California Energy Commission’s Gabriel Taylor’s opening words ‘I’m not going to throw graphs and data at you, I am going to tell you a story.” When people see the issue as too big, they’ll do nothing and accept the consequences. When we look too far into the future people will put off acting today. Our challenge is “not just to show that action is necessary,” Gabriel said, “but also that success is possible so that we energise people to act”. There was certainly a clear rallying cry, it’s about people, let’s start telling the stories. And, as he left the stage the theme of urgency echoed “it’s an honour to be here, now let’s get to work!”

Gabriel Taylor, California Energy Commission

Nicole Bradford from Cbus Super Fund commented that the years of sustained effort have proven that success is possible. Do not lose sight of those successes as you step up your action in what is undoubtedly the “critical decade” ahead.

When we look at taking action there are so many priorities that it’s challenging to understand those with the greatest impact. But as Elizabeth Proust AO from the Board of Lendlease, observed: “those who focus just on short term are damaging their businesses in the long term.”

So, this brings me to the second theme, from that sense of urgency to acting responsibly. Talks ranged from building trust and transparency to ensuring ethics are at the center of our decision making. From the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to digital transparency on social media platforms and to the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Build Trust “Societies that stayed true to ethical principles are those that have survived.” - Samuel Redmond 

Ken Morrison, Chief Executive Officer, Property Council of Australia talked about the trust deficit. It’s a poisonous thing, it’s endemic and we are certainly not alone in the property industry. People will always question you doing the right thing, as they know you are forced to make a profit. This causes mistrust. “I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not sure I believe you, because you are really here to make money.”

Stockland’s General Manager of Sustainability, Davina Rooney, and the GBCA’s incoming CEO, referring to the TCFD stated “I didn’t write it. World Green Building Council didn’t write it. It’s more than just a glossy sustainability report” it's about transparency and building trust. 

This theme continued during the panel discussion around sustainable investment driving change. You shouldn’t have to talk about responsible investment, all investment should be responsible. People, planet and profits need to be aligned. You can’t have one without the others. Why would you invest in something for your retirement when it damages the world you will retire in? People are asking more questions. It’s no longer just about profit.

When we bringing ethics into the centre of decision making, we have to ask “How would you measure up if you had to ‘bring out your dead'?" Is what we’re doing going to cause harm”. What good is the return we are delivering to our shareholders unless we deliver a return on society? Those that focus on the short term, damage their business for the long term. Make a profit in a way that respects your customers, your staff, your shareholders, your community.

Vivid Technology’s Samuel Redmond summed it up nicely 'Societies that stayed true to ethical principles are those that have survived, let’s be sceptical of the future, and constantly ask the question of ourselves ‘Is this good enough? Is this the best that we can do?’

Trust has to be built to create real change, so, in talking about building trust the conversation dovetails nicely into the third theme. Collaboration, when creating trust we naturally start having new conversations that lead to 

Collaboration “Reach out to those you regard as most radical.” - Sam Mostyn 

Sam Mostyn, sustainability advisor and board member of Mirvac, the Climate Council and Transurban, emphasised the importance of partnerships and collaboration in uncovering new value. Sam urged the audience to “reach out to those you regard as most radical” – the competitors, disruptors and “those who you once saw as the enemy”. You’re missing an opportunity, we need new conversations, we need to act quickly and collaboratively.

It is important not to starve capital from companies who are transitioning. Capital is not just for those that are already at net-zero carbon emissions. This was also mirrored in the Transforming Materials session, we need to hold hands with suppliers, support them to help create the change. Change is hard and requires different leadership.

Davina Rooney emphasised “No organisation is an island you don’t exist by yourself” and the “fabulous collaborations” across the industry “our property peers are doing amazing things”. 

Davina Rooney, Stockland

Romily Madew’s closing remarks were powerful, focus on the urgency of the task, place systemic thinking and partnerships at the centre of your strategy, and keep your eyes on the horizon. She is now passing the baton of CEO of Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) into the capable hands of Davina Rooney. The GBCA and the sector are clearly poised for transformation.

It was motivating to see the level of action and engagement from our friends across the Tasman, to see so many people engaged, motivated and part of the conversation. There were spontaneous hugs from new friends in the room, admiration of our leadership in Aotearoa and acknowledgment of the sadness yet hope our country was experiencing.

The events of the week showed just how much we can do to lead. We might be small, but we are a mighty nation. One that has been changed forever, hopefully forever for the better. How small we are, but how big an impact we can have. 

I look forward to seeing our Green Building Council friends and whānau step up to our challenges next week at the Green Property Summit , ka kite ano i a kōutou. 

I’m very happy to talk about Transform learnings if you wish to contact me.

E waka eke noa | We are all in this together.

Full summary of all the Transfrom sessions here .