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A word from Rom

Only connect
Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Officer
Green Building Council of Australia

The theme for this year’s Green Cities was ‘connect’ – and it proved a chance to connect both physically, through incredible networking opportunities, and intellectually – to new ideas that will help us move beyond business as usual.

We now operate in a borderless world of technological wizardry – a place where people, ideas and capital are unrestricted.  This has far-reaching implications for our cities – and for our industry.

As our keynote speaker, acclaimed urbanist Larry Beasley said: “it’s a dog eat dog competition among modern cities” in which “what your city feels like is a determining factor in its success or failure.”

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle told the audience that “making our city more sustainable is directly connected with our future prosperity.”

But creating places that people love – that they connect to – demands more than a focus on energy efficiency and water sensitive design.  We need to, in the words of Larry Beasley, “put the soul back into the city.  It’s about “bringing back the human touch”. 

Larry Beasley CM speaks to our loyal Green Cities attendees at an exclusive Luminairies morning tea.

Rob Adams fired us up with a reminder that the critical factor in making a dynamic, exciting, liveable city is people.  Rob’s spent the last thirty years redesigning the streets of Melbourne so that they are places that people want to be.  “None of this is a mystery, none of this is difficult” he said.

We are nevertheless poised at a time of “great opportunity and great obligation”, as Lend Lease’s CEO of Property, Tarun Gupta, so eloquently put it.

The challenges we face are enormous.  Rob Whelan, CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia, had us sitting on the edge of our seats when he showed us the graph of what he called the “inexorable climb” in costs of natural catastrophes due to increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.  The solution, he said, is more resilient buildings, because “if we are going to live in places that are exposed to extreme weather, we need to build for them.”

The opportunities are just as great.  Carnegie Mellon University Professor Vivian Loftness encouraged us to design for ‘environmental surfing’, and Harvey Bernstein shared with us how 77 per cent of global building owners are now willing to pay more for healthier buildings. 

Architect and biomimicry expert Michael Pawlyn encouraged us to look to nature for inspiration, challenging us to see “nature as a design sourcebook that has benefited from 3.8 billion years of development process, with all its products withdrawn from the market.”

We heard about how the investment structures are starting to fall into place, with green bonds on the rise.  And Michael Salvatico, Vice President of MSCI, pointed out that the US$10 billion spent on green bonds in 2013 is expected to climb to $100 billion in 2015.

One of the great themes of this conference was the need to drive cultural and structural change – within our teams, within our organisations, and with our relationships with governments – that encourages connections over competition.

'Conscious capitalist' Craig Davis inspired our audience to humanise our workplaces at the end of day 1.

Entrepreneur and ‘conscious capitalist’ Craig Davis warned us that the future of our industry is deeply connected with our “awareness and sensitivity” to humanity.  “What is the point of having sustainable buildings if the people aren’t?” he asked.  He spoke of the need to “shift from a hierarchy to a network.”

Many speakers underscored the need for us to create ‘ecosystems’, with collaborative partnerships at the core.  Jillian Broadbent, Chair of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, predicted a future in which “governments are less directive and more facilitative”.  She also talked about the benefits of connecting disparate groups to foster new ways of thinking – talking about the sustainable solutions to be found from linking old engineers with young data analysts, for instance - the 'Medici effect'. 

Other speakers agreed.  Anna Skarbek, during the Women’s Leadership Breakfast, shared the lessons she’d learnt from neuroscientists and novelists.  Holly Ransom spoke about how industry leaders are learning to connect with disruptive innovators to create new business opportunities, and about how a burning sustainability problem of GE’s was solved through a competition that was won by a Singaporean dentist.

The message is clear. While our industry is hyper-connected, we will never have all the answers, so we must connect with other industries and other ideas.

The industry's leading ladies were in the spotlight on day 2 at the Women's Leadership Breakfast.

One of the most striking thoughts for me over the two days came from Reuben Berg, the founder of Indigenous Architecture and Design Victoria.  Reuben pulled out a tape measure to represent the 68,000 years that indigenous people have lived in deep connection with the land, and then compared it with the tiny 200 years or so since European settlement.

Reuben emphasised that we have much to learn from aboriginal people about connection to place, and connection to the environment.  But he also reminds me that we have much to learn from people with other points of view, other ways of living, other ways of working.  And it’s only through connecting that we’ll discover what they are.

Green Cities is co-hosted by the Green Building Council of Australia and the Property Council of Australia and supported by Principal Sponsor, Lend Lease. In 2015 Green Cities was held in Melbourne from 17 – 19 March 2015 a the Grand Hyatt.

Co-hosts Ken Morrison, Chief Executive Officer, Property Council of Australia and Romilly Madew, Chief Executive Officer, Green Building Council of Australia with Geoff Dutaillis, Group Head of Sustainability at Principal Sponsor Lend Lease.