TRANSFORM 2024's top takeaways

27 Mar 2024

More than 600 brightest minds and best practitioners in the business gathered in Sydney and online for TRANSFORM 2024. If you missed the buzz, we’ve summarised some of the top takeaways to help you accelerate action in your own backyard and amplify your impact.

1. Seize the nature opportunity

Tony Goldner, Executive Director of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures, captured the zeitgeist of our two-day conversation with a call to arms – and funds. The world needs to spend about $700 billion a year to halt and reverse nature loss over the next decade, Tony said. Every business must step up – and doesn’t mean just elevating corporate reporting and CSR initiatives or “trying to stay one step ahead of regulators or consumer expectations”. Australia is “uniquely placed” to play a global role in pioneering new products, business models and financial instruments. How do we do it? Read our article, Nature: Agenda item number one, in this month's Green Building Voice.

2. Elevate experimentation

Our powerhouse panel of leaders pondered this question. Regulation will only take us so far. “It’s not up to the government. They are slow movers... It’s up to us. Full stop,” said Cbus Property CEO and GBCA Chair Adrian Pozzo. Innovation in the property industry is still perceived as risky business. The real estate sector is “reluctant to trial things… we’ll go to cost benefit before we go to any other benefit,” Dexus’ Deb Coakley noted. But investors increasingly want to know how any proposal is “additive” to sustainability goals. Returns will get a proposal “in the door” but not “over the line” anymore. What does experimentation look like? Look to Dexus’ all-electric tower for Atlassian at Sydney Central Station and Cbus Property’s low-embodied carbon development at 435 Bourke Street for inspiration.

3. Embrace the retrofit revolution

A “supercharged” retrofit conversation is underway as regulation, reporting, ratings and tenant requirements converge, said ADP’s Alex Sear. Embodied carbon is a new “decision-making metric” that is driving developers towards retrofit, Built’s CEO Brett Mason added. The word “circularity” has entered the industry’s vocabulary and Built has started “designing buildings now for their second life later”. Interface’s Lisa Conway has also watched the market shift over the last two years, as has Dexus’ Ramana James. “It’s not a tsunami,” Ramana said. Yet. The business case is emerging; ADP has found commercial-to-residential conversions can save around 40% of a development’s embodied carbon, and accelerate construction timelines by around 12 months. But anchor tenants must start preferencing retrofits, the panel agreed.

4. Think about our legacy

Australia is made up of 300 nations that are connected by a “common thread” – and this thread is a cultural system centred in Country, Yerrabingin’s Christian Hampson observed. Country is the code that unlocks the largest and oldest environmental database in the world. It has millions of authors, rich with wisdom, and a story that continues to grow with each new generation. How do we read this code and amplify this powerful language of Country to create a better collective future? We start by “being good ancestors,” said architect Anahera Rawiri (Ngāti Whātua).

5. Create housing for common good

Vienna has two million denizens, and two thirds of those live in some kind of public or cooperative housing. “We are a city of tenants, but a city of tenants who are proud to be tenants and will never be stigmatised,” said the City of Vienna’s Michaela Kauer. How have the Viennese achieved this? It took 100 years, a good governance system, a stable financing scheme and strong tenancy act, underpinned by a firm belief that housing is a “human right” and therefore the responsibility of the state, Michaela said. But the result has been what the Viennese call “common good housing” – housing for the people and planet. The Australian dream versus the Austrian reality.

6. Translate procurement into powerful case studies

Leaders from companies at opposite ends of the supply chain – InfraBuild and Lendlease – took to the stage to nut out some of the challenges of embodied carbon emissions. Lendlease’s pioneering use of low-embodied carbon aluminium for the façade of One Sydney Harbour – a collection of three residential towers in the Barangaroo precinct – is instructive. “It took us three attempts to reduce the embodied carbon significantly on that project,” said Ann Austin, Lendlease’s Head of Sustainability for Australia. The solution system was unimaginable on tower one, a far-off possibility on tower two, and able to cut embodied carbon by 34% on tower three. The lesson from this? “The way we [as an industry] currently procure is a barrier… because we don’t give people time to go away and rethink and test alternatives,” Ann said. InfraBuild’s Steve Porter said ambition like that shown by Lendlease encouraged manufacturers to take risks and innovate. This ambition sent a clear signal that, without transformation, “our relevance to our current customer base won’t be there”.

7. Turn reporting into real world impact

Australia’s largest companies are moving to mandatory climate disclosures in line with the International Sustainability Standards Board. Meanwhile, the Australian Sustainable Finance Institute is developing a sustainable finance taxonomy to “realign capital flows towards sustainability,” said the Institute’s Nicole Yazbek-Martin. The built environment will be among the “first cabs off the rank” when the taxonomy is released, supporting more “rigour and maturity” so the market can see the “opportunity side of the equation”. There are currently 600-plus ESG frameworks and sustainability standards around the world, Frasers Property’s Paolo Bevilacqua noted. The GBCA has recently inked an industry-first international alliance with UK-based BRE and the USGBC to enhance alignment between BREEAM, Green Star and LEED. Greater alignment in reporting is turning this “acronym soup” into a “hardy and thick stew” that people can digest, Paulo said. How will we know if these reporting frameworks are working? Paolo brought it back to basics. Australian property companies can be world leaders in climate reporting, but ultimately the message of success is “whether we are emitting less carbon”.

8. Use business as a force for good

“We never set out to make sunglasses. We set out to help untrash the planet,” 13-year-old Harry Robinson told the TRANSFORM audience in the final session of the two-day conference. When Harry learnt about the world’s plastic pollution problem – one million plastic bottles is sold around the world every minute – he wanted to do something. Harry’s father Nik, together with his mother and brother, set up purpose-led sunglasses brand Good Citizens Eyewear. It took more than 2,500 failed attempts to turn a single-use plastic bottle into a pair of sunnies. But today, every pair of Good Citizens glasses is 100% recycled, saves 28.5 plastic bottles from ending in oceans and landfill, and avoids 10 kilograms of carbon. Good Citizens is the most awarded eyewear in Australia “because we broke the rules,” Nik said. Nik’s advice to our crowd? “Go back to your work, be that amazing leader and inspire because you are all legends.”