Time to transform

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.

These were the three overarching messages to emerge from our first Transform conference last week.

The energy and enthusiasm in the room was electric. But the undercurrent of each session and each conversation was a growing sense of urgency.

The effects of climate change on our landscapes, economies, businesses and lifestyles are no longer “if and when” but “now and how”. Consider the 200-plus heat wave records smashed in Australia over last summer alone. The challenge ahead looms so large we could feel despondent – even as we take long strides forward.

But the California Energy Commission’s Gabriel Taylor’s words were a clear rallying cry. When people see the issue as too big, they’ll do nothing and accept the consequences. And 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”.

If urgency was our first theme, interconnection was our second. Whether we were talking about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals or digital transparency on social media platforms, reconciliation or distributed energy, the bottom line was systemic solutions.

“It’s not good enough to look at these challenges in silos,” John Thwaites, Chair of ClimateWorks Australia, said as he set the scene. We must be thinking about the “connections between the economy, the environment and a fair society”.

Sam Mostyn, sustainability advisor and board member of Mirvac, the Climate Council and Transurban, emphasised the importance of partnerships 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”.

Stockland’s General Manager of Sustainability, Davina Rooney, and the GBCA’s incoming CEO, emphasised the “fabulous collaborations” across industry – our Carbon Positive Roadmap and the WorldGBC’s Advancing Net Zero project among them – that are “part of the answer to these very big questions”.

Seventeen years of sustained effort has shown 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.

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

Gabriel Metcalf, CEO of the Committee of Sydney, pointed to Australia’s billion-dollar opportunity to sell our green building expertise globally. “Take what you’ve learnt in the green building sector and apply it to other sectors. Don’t wait for them to figure it out.”

And Australia Post's Susan Mizrahi and Professor Veena Sahajwalla from UNSW's SM@RT Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology showed how clever thinking and amazing new products – from recycling satchels to tiles made from waste glass and coffee – that are driving the circular economy.

But as we bring together that sense of urgency and the need to think systemically, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. There are so many priorities that it’s challenging to understand those with the greatest impact. But as Elizabeth Proust AO observed: “those who focus just on short term are damaging their businesses in the long term.”

As Transform came to a close, we called on the industry to spend the next year reassessing and recalibrating. Look through your projects and priorities with a long-term lens. Are you focused on net zero? Will your current projects help you get there? Or how will you help your clients get there? Are you collaborating with the right people to get the biggest impact?

The Green Building Council of Australia’s Future Focus program is also addressing this next critical decade. We are asking you for feedback as we set a new course for Green Star and develop a new set of priorities centred on net zero. Have we got it right? Work with us to share your feedback.

As I pass the GBCA’s baton into the capable hands of Davina Rooney, our organisation and our industry are poised for transformation. I urge everyone to join our industry in March 2020 at Transform, having carefully considered how what you are doing today aligns with the urgent, interconnected and long-term challenges ahead.

TRANSFORM 2020 will be held on 24-25 March.