Business as usual for Lend Lease

By Kylie Wilson-Field, Journalist
Friday, 22 June, 2007

Lend Lease is a leading retail and community residential property group integrated with strong investment management and construction management businesses around the globe. They are also one of the world's leading sustainable organisations and in 2006 appointed Maria Atkinson as the global head of sustainability.

Atkinson is internationally recognised as a passionate advocate for green building. Previously the founding CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia, Atkinson is a board member of the Australian Building Codes Board and the Banksia Environmental Foundation.

In a recent interview with Waste Streams, Maria discussed the vision for Lend Lease and how important sustainability is for the future of the building sector.

What policies does Lend Lease have for sustainability?

MA: I think for us to be a sustainable organisation, we need to know where our significant impacts are. We report on our impacts and measure our performance to show that we are increasing the positive and decreasing the negative. We are also setting up a governance model, which we hope other organisations and government can follow.

In terms of policies, we are looking at social entitlements and environmental protection. There are hundreds of policies that dictate the way the organisation should work, but the main thing is to see consistency so that economics and risk don't become the dominants. Addressing the environment and social impacts are very important.

What does Lend Lease propose to be the long-term outcomes?

MA: Our aspiration is that in becoming a sustainable organisation, we end up with a culture that is healthy, with more understanding, acceptance and appreciation of the impact on people. At the end of the day, Lend Lease believes that if you have the culture, then you have the capacity for change. We have an aligned culture with people understanding sustainability and responding to it.

What incentive is there for companies to become sustainable?

MA: When it comes down to what incentive there is for organisations, you have to look at businesses that are sustainable. They attract a stream of talent that gets to apply innovation. Those individuals have the qualities of leadership and are not tunnel visioned, they are broad and understand how big sustainability is. For Lend Lease, the result has been good economic competency. We are winning big jobs (Lend Lease is building the greenest Olympic Village in the history of the games, for London 2012), and doing very well. The culture within the organisation is really healthy and it's for the long term, so people have a long-term perspective. If you are not addressing sustainability and challenging yourself to deal with what your area of impact is and what your contribution is, then we believe you won't be in business. Learning and doing things differently has a cost associated with it, but we believe you can't afford not to do it?

In March 2007, Lend Lease announced that it was developing a carbon trading scheme mechanism for the building sector. Can you tell us about this?

MA: Anyone that talks in Australia about carbon trading, like the State and federal governments, always leave out the built environment because energy efficiency isn't very sexy. It's complicated and it's a fundamental, yet it's easier to talk about carbon offsets through tree planting and nuclear energy, which we are told are the big, powerful silver bullets that will make this whole sustainability issue go away.

When you talk about energy efficiency you start to get down to the mums and dads, homes and lighting, heating and cooling and it's all a bit complicated and boring for the politicians because it's not a one sentence grab. We have been advocating that the built environment, for example, although it's a diffuse emitter, consumes electricity and by consuming electricity to operate buildings you produce greenhouse gas emissions. We believe that, if you really want incentives for the industry and for change within the industry, then a carbon trading scheme is the way forward.

In March, Origin Energy launched their Carbon Reduction Scheme. This is Australia's first industry-developed voluntary national carbon trading scheme to allow offsets to be achieved through energy efficiency, rather than the traditional offsets of tree planting and renewable energy projects.

We advocate that more needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment and, with the potential for broader application, this mechanism has significance for the global property industry.

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