The People Project: Phill Raso, City of Perth

29 Jul 2019

Phill Raso, CitySwitch Program Manager for the City of Perth shares how he's helping WA building owners and tenants to improve their sustainability performance.

Can you walk us through your career so far?

I started as an outdoor instructor in Victoria, taking people into wild and remote places to learn about nature. I was a gym instructor for several years and still have a strong interest in health and fitness. I was a bushfire firefighter and have seen first-hand the magnifying effects of climate change in some of Australia’s worst fires. I’ve been a high school geography teacher and a sustainability officer in a school, and spent several years teaching sustainability at Murdoch University. I then helped to design and create a program that assists schools to meaningfully improve their sustainability performance. Now, I am the CitySwitch Program Manager for WA at the City of Perth, where I assist Perth building owners and tenants to improve their sustainability performance.

How have you seen the conversation around sustainability in the built environment evolve over the years?

The conversation around sustainability has been evolving at an exponential pace, especially in relation to the drivers, motivations and language of building owners and occupants.

A decade ago, sustainability was about the moral imperative to act on climate change. Then people started arguing the business case for driving down operational costs through energy efficiency. The price of solar PVs continued to fall and people spoke about taking control of their costs and emissions with onsite renewables. As we learnt more about the link between green buildings and productivity, having a happy, efficient and healthy building became a driver, especially at the top end of town. In more recent times, investors and regulators have started to scrutinise the exposure of businesses and building portfolio owners to climate risks making risk mitigation a strong driver. Now, with a broad acceptance of climate science in society and a generation of climate educated school kids are warning us that they’re only a few years away from joining us in our offices, we’re going to see new drivers in play.

The interesting thing is that none of these drivers disappear over time, they’re all still evolving with social, technological and regulatory advancements. We just see different drivers emerge depending on where people are on their sustainability journey.

How has City of Perth worked with GBCA to tackle key challenges in the built environment?

A major piece of work for the City of Perth has been the development of a new City Planning Strategy, used to guide the growth of the city over the next ten to fifteen years. Key to the development of this work were meetings and conversations with the GBCA for their guidance on sustainability in the built environment.

GBCA’s Green Building Day has also been an annual highlight in Perth and the City has valued being able to attend and present at these events. In the most recent Green Building Day, it was an honour to be a panellist for a special breakfast event held specifically for local government.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?

Getting started in sustainability was a challenge, even with a Masters degree in Sustainable Development. The job market for sustainability generalists is tough. I do my best now to assist others to get started in that role, because I know how hard it can be.

The challenge comes down to this: everybody needs to be a sustainability specialist in whatever they do. If you’re an architect, design sustainable buildings; if you’re in health, raise the profile of climate risks to human wellbeing; if you’re in IT, consider the lifecycle of your IT assets. It becomes counter-productive to have one sustainability generalist (or even a sustainability team) in an organisation if hundreds of their colleagues are inadvertently entrenching unsustainable outcomes.

The organisations that do sustainability well have sustainability generalists up next to the CEO where they can integrate sustainability into decision making as well as across the organisation, all the while watching the global landscape for risks and opportunities. Seeing Chief Sustainability Officers become commonplace at the top of organisational charts is the next challenge for sustainability generalists. 

What about the triumphs?

The CitySwitch Program has been very successful for over ten years and it has been incredible to be a part of that, providing the resources and assistance for tenants to occupy buildings in ways that supports sustainability. We’ve grown and progressed alongside the GBCA and NABERS, all working towards the same goal, whilst playing supporting roles for each other.

I look fondly on the success of Healthy Offices eBook that I was involved in conceiving in a partnership between CitySwitch and our media partner, The Fifth Estate. We actually had to hold off on completing the book until enough interest had grown in the topic of making buildings healthy and productive for occupants. I think we got the timing just right and we now see a lot of action in this area and some amazing follow-on work being done on the ways occupants interact with buildings.