Are we ready to fast forward to the future?

22 Mar 2017

Human ingenuity and intelligent optimism will help us create better places for people and planet was the overriding message from the 11th annual Green Cities conference.


The next three years will define the future

Futurist Chris Riddell kicked off the day with an exploration the megatrends and slow-moving currents that are propelling us down the information highway.

“The next three years of innovation and change will shape and define the next 100 years,” Riddell said.

“Borders and time are being broken by technology” and as they do, we are finding spectacular solutions to complex problems.

The conference theme ‘Fast Forward to the Future’ brought with it the requisite discussions about high-tech wizardry – autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and augmented reality among them – but the real story was how a solutions-driven industry was mapping a pathway to a sustainable future.

And that pathway will be a zero carbon one.


Walking the journey together


Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Officer of the Green Building Council of Australia, launched A carbon positive roadmap for the built environment – a discussion paper which charts a course for “efficient, comfortable and healthy buildings, energy security and a thriving renewable energy industry, jobs growth in emerging sectors, and enhanced biodiversity.”

Success stories fuelled the air of optimism.

The Better Buildings Partnership is saving $36 million a year through emissions reduction, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told the audience. Battery storage is increasing exponentially, said Tesla’s Cleve Schupp. Vancouver has Canada’s fastest growing economy and its largest investment in green infrastructure, explained Councillor Andrea Reimer.


Sustainability, savings and wellness


“The built environment can deliver $20 billion in savings and half of the National Energy Productivity Plan by 2030 with the right policies,” said Amandine Denis-Ryan, head of research at ClimateWorks Australia. Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison moderated a robust conversation on unlocking the key to finance, and argued that creative thinking was required to mobilise money from every possible source.

For Rick Fedrizzi, Chairman and CEO of International WELL Building Institute, “wellness” was the next big opportunity for building performance.

Fedrizzi pointed to recent Harvard research, which examined the impact of indoor environment quality on brain function, revealing that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101 per cent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation than in conventional building environment.

Later, Madew and Fedrizzi announced a range of joint initiatives which would advance the health and wellbeing movement in Australia.


Equitable density


Denser cities could lead to better, more sustainable cities, the audience also heard.

‘Starchitect’ Joe Snell said density was “inevitable” but didn’t need to be scary, while Lendlease’s CEO of Property, Kylie Rampa, argued that good density brings with it vibrant street life, access to transport and jobs, and better places for people.

“Rather than seeing density as a second choice, we should be looking at density as the vehicle” to make our cities better as they grow, said Michael Rose, Chairman of The Committee for Sydney.

Penny Sharpe, the NSW Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage, said a denser future was “undeniable” – but that it needed to be shared equitably. “When you look at where density is increasing, it’s in Labor Party areas.”

Sharpe lamented the “failure to plan” which meant people were finding it harder and harder to get their kids into schools and local sporting competitions, or to even see a doctor. “People like living in dense areas, but they wonder how much more they can take,” she said.

The panellists agreed it was time to “reframe the debate” about density.


Dealing with big data


Big data was another opportunity to analyse and solve many sustainability challenges.

“We are moving from a world full of data to a data-driven world,” argued serial disruptor Catherine Caruana-McManus.

Colette Munro, AECOM’s chief digital officer said the problem with data is that it “shows some inconvenient truths” – whether that’s buses running 60 per cent empty or buildings missing the mark on energy efficiency. We must face up to those truths if we are going to create greener cities, she said.

Speaker after speaker encouraged the audience to communicate the “co-benefits” of climate action. Scott Langford, CEO of St George Community Housing, said investment in sustainable social housing could build capacity in communities and liveability in our cities.