Green Property Summit Review

Published 14 May 2021

Recently two of our sustainability champions, Richard Donaldson and Sarah Leggett, attended the PCNZ Green Property Summit. Topics covered included; the built environments impact on human health, embodied carbon and its social impact, the post-covid world of our office environments, and the financial impact of green building and resilience. Congratulations to the PCNZ and the NZGBC for putting together such a comprehensive programme.

The quote of the conference came from Graeme Finlay of Warren & Mahoney:

The upcoming period of carbon reduction is the largest economic opportunity in our lifetime.

How’s that for a call to action for those only interested in money! Because we know everyone else is already there. Overall the team thought it was a fantastic event with insightful speakers and great networking.

Key Topics

  • Healthy Buildings – How can we do better? Built environment impact on human health.
  • What is Carbon Zero; How do we do it? Including measuring the Social Impact.
  • Green Dollars and Sense – Sustainable Finance Solutions.
  • Green Market Insights from an Economist – Our Behaviours and Changing Demographics.
  • Wellness in the Workplace and Performance.

 Insights

Healthy Buildings – How can we do better?

  • Dr Joseph Allen – Associate Professor at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. Joseph covered healthy buildings and their impact on human health and also the design response to COVID-19. Further Reading.
  • The built environments impact on human health, e.g. toxic chemicals. For example, concrete is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions globally, for perspective air travel is only 2.5%. 
  • Not just the health of our buildings but also the cognitive function and how our indoor spaces can encourage occupants to take the stairs and improve productivity. Such as layout to encourage occupants to take the stairs etc. Apparently, we spend 90% of our time indoors!

What is Carbon Zero; How do we do it?

  • Graeme Finlay (Warren and Mahoney Architects) talked about their journey of being a carbon zero company for more than 13 years and their design philosophy of creating buildings that are low embodied energy as well as low in operational energy. Graeme quoted “We have one chance to impact the embodied energy of building a building, and 60 years to make it efficient in operation”.
  • Becky Lloyd, Chief Executive of ToiTū Envirocare also outlined what they do in the certification space and some examples.
  • Countries representing 2/3 of the global economy have committed to carbon neutrality. The market has changed and the market settings will follow as governments implement change.
  • 28% of a buildings carbon emissions are before occupation(ie: construction), 70% during occupation over 60 years and the remaining 2% is for emissions related to water consumption over 60 years. Our enduring impact on the environment is profound as we create tomorrow’s buildings.
  • 5 Steps to Operational Carbon Neutral: (i) Energy Efficient design and operation, (ii) Eliminate the use of fossil fuels, (iii) Renewable energy generation, (iv) Purchase certified clean energy and (v) Purchase carbon offsets.
  • 6 Steps to Neutrality of Embodied Carbon: (i) Waste less, (ii) Use less, (iii) Use natural, (iv) Use local, (v) Use low carbon products and (vi) Purchase carbon offsets.
  • Climate-resilient communities being key to create a lower emission Aotearoa.
  • There was a discussion on the potential of timber/CLT in structures, although not a new innovation, there has been a growing uptake. However, there is a need to measure the social impact as well as the embodied carbon when looking at the impact of these ‘Green’ designs.
  • At the office level, sustainability transfers to cost-saving, you start with a pile of bills and look at ways to reduce them. 
  • With the cost of renewable energy (solar etc) greatly reducing over the years, the old cost models don’t really work anymore.
  • Gas boilers will be phased out, more efficient electrical supply will be necessary for the future.
  • A movement towards re-purposing buildings rather than demolishes and rebuild.
  • Microsoft is on a path to offset all emissions created by the company since its inception by 2050, with others following suit. More here. 

 Green Dollars and Sense – Sustainable Finance Solutions

  • Panel discussion from finance industry leaders and how they are approaching sustainability in the financial markets.
  • Discussion on why building green makes sense for future resilience.
  • The shift in demand from tenants, lower operational costs, certification allowing transparency between owner and occupier.
  • Need for certification and financial products now being developed for the corporate and household level to incentivise sustainability initiatives.

Green Market Insights from an Economist

  • Shamubeel Eaqub provided a great context for the challenges we face.
  • We have had significant regime change over the years. What will the GFC and Pandemic bring?
  • Great Depression: Social democracy & welfare state.
  • Exchange rate crisis: monetarism.
  • Oil shocks & stagflation: neoliberalism & independent central bank.
  • GFC & Pandemic: nation building?
  • Changing demographics are making it hard to get a consensus and therefore decisions and progress. (approx. % of voting age population today: Millenials 30%, Gen x 26%, Boomers 27%).
  • Carbon emissions from transport have gone up over 15% in the last ten years. Our behaviours do not yet reflect the desire. Change is needed.
  • Lessons from Christchurch’s rebuilding – massive dwelling growth outside of the CBD (or anywhere near it) is locking in bad habits.
  • Perhaps we are designing cities wrong considering the way New Zealanders like to live. We are a strong car transport country, not public transport.
  • Somewhat controversially, Shamubeel believes cities are not a thing of our post covid future even though more and more companies are providing flexible working arrangements, and that humans crave connection and thrive in community living.
  • He summarised:
    • Climate change must cut across every policy decision
    • Where and how we live is critical
    • We need a coherent “Nation Building” lens.

 Wellness in the Workplace and Performance

  • Duncan Young - Head of Workplace Health and Wellbeing, Lendlease discussed the more personal side of Wellness and his firm’s commitment to it. It was very insightful and comprehensive.

 The trajectory of your life bends in the direction of your habits. - James Clear

  • We need to build wellness into our everyday lives.
  • Create habits and routines deliberately as we seek to move towards a better self.
  • 3 steps: (i) Build awareness, (ii) foster curiosity and (iii) create lasting change.
  • Or put another way: (i) epiphany, (ii) changed environment and (iii) making change tiny.

Exemplar Projects?

  • 82 Wyndham St is first Carbon Zero certified building
  • Two case studies, Melbourne water park and Waste Management Head Office. 

Overall highlight and low light?

  • Great speakers and great networking.

Anyone worth following who was a good speaker?

  • Dr Joseph Allen – Associate Professor at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. Joseph covered healthy buildings and their impact on human health and also design response to COVID-19. – link here to his research institute website.
  • Shamubeel Eaqub – Economist. Believes cities are not a thing of the future post COVID 19 even though more and more companies are providing flexible working arrangements, and that humans crave connection and thrive in community living, but perhaps we are designing them wrong considering the way New Zealanders like to live.
  • Duncan Young – Head of Workplace Health and Wellbeing at Lendlease. A passionate advocate of the positive impact of workplaces on health